Unlucky Strike

Gary Rudd got zapped one day, and life has never been the same.

"I saw things that I knew I wouldn't get unless I had an education," he says. "So I set out to get educated. And I put myself through a lot to get educated, too. I used to carry around books under my shirt and stuff. With me, it was a 24-hour thing. And self-education was fine with me."

Garry joined the service at eighteen, got married, had kids. In his spare time, and after his discharge in 1967, he studied English, linguistics and diction so he "wouldn't sound like Jethro," and completed university courses in the humanities, biology, chemistry, math and animal husbandry. All told, he compiled 128 hours of college credits without earning a degree. "I couldn't keep up with the pace," he explains. "I kept changing curriculums until it finally ended up going sour on me."

He and his wife divorced, a close friend committed suicide, and his family troubles intensified. "It seemed like I was a blind kid being raised by a deaf family," he says. "I felt that if I stayed away from them long enough, they'd be glad to see me when I finally returned, but it never happened."

A shocking experience: Garry Rudd outside his Buena Vista home.
John Johnston
A shocking experience: Garry Rudd outside his Buena Vista home.

Early one morning, after a long night of partying, Garry nodded off as he drove to work at a tree-trimming company in upstate New York. In the crash, he cracked his ribs, shattered his hip and nearly died.

"That was a big awakening," he says. "After that, I decided to get my life started. I had to stop expecting things to happen and just do them."

One of the first things he did was marry a serious and resourceful nineteen-year-old named Linda. For their honeymoon, they visited Linda's father in Denver and fell in love with the mountains. Garry thought he needed a change of scenery, anyway, so they packed their clothes in two plastic garbage bags, grabbed his toolbox, and landed in Colorado for good in 1974. But in the beginning, they almost regretted their decision to move to Denver.

"We never went out after dark," Garry says. "We'd count our cigarettes to make sure we'd have enough to get us through the night. We believed everything we heard about the city."

Garry's still not much of a city guy. He's uneasy in crowds, uncomfortable behind a desk, unaccustomed to the urban bustle. A bandanna dangles from one back pocket, and a tin of chewing tobacco bulges from the other. He hates phones and, until recently, seldom used clocks, preferring to gauge the time of day by the angle of the sun.

"I've always been like that," he says. "It's hard to get me to come inside. I'm always trying to find something I can do outdoors."

All of those skills he'd picked up outdoors paid off, though. Garry easily found jobs cutting trees, selling lumber, driving trucks and welding. For five years he crafted stainless-steel boxes for a manufacturer that supplied Rocky Flats, but he quit after his boss refused to give him time off during deer-hunting season.

Then he took a position with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and spent the next decade building and designing bear traps, hatchery equipment, soil sifters, stream-cleaning devices and even a camouflage wildlife-observation trailer. With his Bayou background, Garry also became the designated cook at official DOW functions, where his barbecue was legendary.

Still, he longed for a job where he could apply his other talents and interests, including biology, farming and law enforcement. So in 1992, Garry became a wildlife technician working out of Salida. He hoped that he would be managing, cultivating and patrolling state lands; instead he found himself doing busywork such as map checking, fence mending, dumpster repairing and trash collecting.

"I basically waited around for something to do," he says. "I was paid to be available. I felt like an outsider. I felt completely ignored."

Garry's headstrong and outspoken personality didn't help matters. Eventually, he was literally put out to pasture, given the job of irrigating sixty acres of hay in the Ouray State Wildlife Area three miles southeast of Salida. But there, using techniques he'd learned as a kid, he started to thrive. So did the land, which eventually produced more hay than it had in years.

"I loved it," he recalls. "I'd just sit there with my lunch and smell the alfalfa blowing in my face and think, 'This is God's country. I could do it the rest of my life.'"

Essentially, lightning is the electrification of a cloud, caused by the right combination of water, heat, ice and friction. Moist air is warmed by the sun, then rises miles above the earth to form clouds. As water particles ascend, some become too heavy and fall to the ground as rain. Others continue upward on strong air currents until they freeze into hail, then drop.

Millions of collisions occur between the rising and falling rain, ice and other particles, transferring electrical charges between them. Rising particles become positively charged, while falling particles become negatively charged. The cloud turns into a huge battery, with positive charges at the top and negative ones on the bottom, along with smaller pockets of positive charges.

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