Monday, April 15, 2024

An Ominous Cloud

neil joiner, my turnA photo wouldn’t have done it justice, but I wish I’d tried. It was an ominous cloud, massive and peculiarly long. I left the farm just after midday on March 18 and headed toward home, going west on the Pinehurst-Hawkinsville Highway. A couple of miles before the I-75 overpass I slowed to a snail’s pace and stared in awe. 

Rain was predicted but this was no ordinary formation. A sharp point loomed dauntingly over Pinehurst, securely attached to an oversized spear that stretched toward Unadilla. Smooth edges provided a border almost absent of irregularities. A lighter shade of blue supported the long cloud from below with a medium-blue sky pressing down from above.  

I called my wife to tell her she might want to look out our front door. Although the tip of the point was not as well defined from her view, it seemed to begin across the road from our home. It’s difficult, however, to judge heavenly distances, which reminds me of a story I heard decades ago.

Steve English of Vienna was working in the criminal justice system when he told me about a recent courtroom episode he’d attended as an observer. Gary Christy, a mutual friend and District Attorney at the time, had skeptically cross-examined a defense witness in a murder trial. The incident had occurred on the Crisp County side of Lake Blackshear.

While fishing off his dock late one night, a man was shot and killed. The only witness was a 95-year-old woman whose account contradicted the prosecution’s version. She maintained the shooter acted in self-defense, even though he was on another man’s property and they had a history of conflicts.

Gary politely asked the elderly lady to recount the events of that night, which she did in minute detail. She had been looking out her kitchen window just after the ten o’clock news while getting a drink of water before going to bed. The men were waving their arms and appeared to be in a heated argument. “No doubt they were having some strong words, she said, “but the scuffle started when my neighbor grabbed his Zebco 33 and whopped that fellow on the side of his head.”

“Thank you,” said Gary with a disarming smile as he addressed the diminutive gray-haired woman. “If you don’t mind, I’ll summarize your testimony to be certain I’m clear on everything.”

“Help yourself,” she replied.

“You were at your kitchen window looking out toward Lake Blackshear about 10:30 pm. Is that correct?”

“That’s right,” she affirmed.

“The distance from your kitchen window to the end of the dock where the shooting occurred has been documented to be 407 feet. Do you agree?” he inquired.

“I’ve never measured it,” she said, “but that seems about right.”

“It’s also my understanding,” continued Gary, “it was a rather dark night with a heavy fog and there were no lights on at the dock or in the yard. Is that the way you remember it?”

“You’re right on track,” said the lady.

“Is it possible,” Gary asked delicately, “you could be mistaken about what you think you saw occur on the end of that dock 407 feet from your window on a dark, foggy night?”

“Oh, no sir,” she said. “I saw it clearly.”

“One more thing,” said Gary, adeptly disguising his confidence in the telling question he was about to present. “You apparently have exceptional vision, so I can’t help but wonder about something. Just how far can you see at night?”

“I don’t know,” she answered with a nonchalant shrug. “How far is it to the moon?”

Shortly after hearing that story, I saw Harry Hurt, our distinguished Superior Court Judge. Harry gently informed me that tale had been around for ages. Steve was so convincing I’d had no suspicions.

Wind, rain and house-shaking rumbles of thunder came with that ominous cloud, but late in the day a waning sun peeked through the ethereal quietness that sometimes follows a storm. Delicate fingers of light brushed soft pastels onto a canvas of tranquility.

Surrounded by a divine serenity, I was reminded that the darkest clouds are often a prelude to the sweetest light. A photo wouldn’t have done it justice, but I wish I’d tried.  

— Neil Joiner
Vienna, Georgia

Cotton Farming’s back page is devoted to telling unusual “farm tales” or timely stories from across the Cotton Belt. Now it’s your turn. If you’ve got an interesting story to tell, send a short summary to We look forward to hearing from you.

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