Oil Paintings of Florida


John Sterpe


Swept Away  1999       page 3

  Almost immediately, I was in water up to my chest, but I had one hand on that tent. All I could think of was my keys and wallet were in it. I wasn't afraid of drowning. I remembered how benign that bayou looked earlier and I just couldn't believe I could drown in it now.
  Barbara was on the bank yelling at me to let go of the tent. I assured her I was alright and that I almost had it all under control. I kept struggling with it. Barbara came closer and yelled a time again to let go. I can remember seeing her face clearly. She looked pissed! I think she told me to let go one more time before I let go. How different things must have looked from her vantage point. I had some trouble climbing back up onto the bank. The topography had changed completely in the last ten minutes.

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   Barbara, Katie, and I all ended up at the door of Harold's tent at the same time, it seemed. We were all wet and shaking and just started pulling our clothes off. While Mike and Harold started going through their stuff to find us dry clothes, the wind and rain was really starting to hammer the tent. Water was bubbling under the tent and we thought it might go any minute. Katie began describing she and Barbara's exodus from their tent. She said they were sitting on opposite sides of their tent to hold it down in the wind. She realized they were in trouble when she felt a wave break against her back. They had real trouble getting out because they couldn't locate the zippers on the flap. I don't know how much time had passed before Katie asked excitedly, "Where are the Johns?" .What a horrible, sinking feeling. I had not seen or heard them at all out there while I was trying to retrieve my tent.
Did they get out of their tent? I had trouble getting out of
Harold's tent when I chased after my tent. Did they have that much time to get out and could  they get out? If they were out there, they were going to be plenty cold and would be hypothermic before long. I looked out of the tent and there was nothing left on the beach. No tents, no boats. Nothing. The waves were now breaking over where the tents had been.
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Cape Romano sunset
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Cape Romano sunset
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Cape Romano sunset

I couldn't get a sense of all of the places where there was water. I could see the waves breaking three or four feet in front of Harold's tent. I couldn't really hear them because of the howling of the wind. They seemed to be missing Harold's tent by a very narrow margin
although it seemed like we felt water bubbling under the tent from time to time. My tent with all of my stuff in it had washed away right above where we were so I was beginning to be concerned that we were next. I couldn't actually believe that we were still there. Later, Harold told me that he had been sitting by the back door of the tent with his hand on the zipper. He was ready to take off if his tent started to go. Looking back, I wondered why no one insisted on going out to look for the John's. It would have been a stupid idea, but the reaction would have been normal. We assured ourselves that they knew what to do.
We just didn't know if they had gotten out of their tents in time to do it. We just seemed to know we needed to stay where we were and to stay warm. So, we waited while the lightning flashed, the rain poured, and the wind whipped around the tent. Through all of this, we had completely forgotten about Dalia and Mark. They seemed to be pretty self-sufficient so we hoped that they had managed, somehow. Finally, the wind began to drop. I started getting a signal from their campsite. Someone was flashing a light from the area where Dalia and Mark were camped. They were still there! Shortly after that, we heard Marks's voice. We couldn't hear exactly what he was saying but we knew he was talking to someone in the bayou. Within seconds, we heard John S'. voice. Somehow, as they were being washed away, they had managed to climb onto the kayaks that had been tied to their tents.

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