I’ve been mighty glad to be living in Arizona this week as I’ve read the news of the tornadoes that have wrought such devastation in the Midwest and South. We occasionally get some temporary flooding during monsoon, and wildfires, but mostly you have to deal with the heat in all kinds of ways, some of which are annoying, but, unrespected, can cost you your life. But nothing like tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, or major earthquakes. And I have to say, I kind of like that.
My dad was up in Minnesota and Wisconsin for work last week, and he was delayed by a day getting home because of storms in Minneapolis. The airport was shut down, power was out in places, and there were storms again the next day, after he’d gotten home. He escaped through a narrow window, it seems.
I’ve never seen a tornado in person, mostly because I’ve never been that stupid or that unlucky, and I don’t need to be told twice to take shelter. Stormchasers boggle my mind, but then I’ve never been an adrenaline junkie; if I hear the emergency sirens, I’m in the basement (if there is one) with a radio, snacks, and my woobie. I don’t stick around to see the funnel cloud; I’m a curious sort, but not that curious. I’ll watch the videos on YouTube, from an extremely safe distance; they’re scary enough. But I’ve been in or near several tornadoes, because I grew up all over the Midwest, and you can’t avoid them forever. Tornado drills at school, and conversations about what to do at home, are part of growing up there.
There was the time my mom, brother, and I were at my grandma’s cabin at the mouth of the Brule River when one came across Lake Superior from Duluth. Our cabin sits perched high on a hill above the river, like this:
(It’s possible that the hill is not quite that steep, but it’s plenty high enough, and since I was little, I’ve been banned by my mommy from going down to the bottom of it, lest I tumble into the swamp and never be heard from again. I have never gone down there.)
There is no basement, and no place to go in a bad storm, so when my mother saw the saplings out the window being bent double down to the ground in the wind, the three of us and the dog quickly found ourselves under the old brass bed, having pulled the mattress down with us and put it between us and the springs. We must’ve been pretty young at the time, because I can’t remember the last time any of us were small enough to fit under a bed, let alone under a bed with a mattress (even a thin one). We couldn’t see much but could feel the cabin being buffeted as we waited it out. It was scary enough at the time, but it never occurred to me that we wouldn’t come out of it. I wonder, now, though, what my mom was thinking…alone with 2 kids in a tiny one-room cabin that really wouldn’t withstand the full brunt of a tornado if it actually made it to us? We laugh about it now, but at the time…
Another time, I was older, and out at our other family cabin (also in Wisconsin), playing games out in our pop-up camper with a cousin on a warm, overcast day. While we were in there, we heard the rain plinking on the roof and the wind picking up. It started blowing so hard we decided to go into the cabin, before we waited too long and ended up soaked trying to get in. My cousin entered first, with me behind, and I was barely through the door when a tree came crashing down on the camper, blown down by the wind. Then we heard the sirens go off, but we’d already seen the worst where we were. (Well, the worst weather-wise; I was too young to understand the special misery of filing an insurance claim.)
The last one I remember being in was when I was in college, in Lincoln, Nebraska. I had gone over to Scott’s and was waiting for him to get off work. I don’t remember if it was raining when I got there, but while I was there, the sirens went off. His apartment was garden-level anyway, so I went out the back door deeper into the building, in a hallway with no windows between his place and the laundry room, and I waited. I never heard anything outside, but the lights went out. I waited for awhile, and then went back into the apartment and waited there a bit longer, but there was no power, and the phone didn’t work either, because of it. I had driven over, because it was late, but decided to walk the 2 blocks back to my apartment to see if I had power there and to try to call him. The storm had passed by the time I stepped out the door, but the roads were impassable–downed tree limbs everywhere. I had to give wide berth to a power line broken but still live in the street as I picked my way through the debris. The power was still on at my place, and I called him to come there; he wouldn’t have been able to get through to his place anyway.
I have had some close calls, but I’m very glad that’s all they were…when I watch video of tornadoes, it terrifies me at a visceral level, because there’s just nothing you can do but hole up and hope for the best. Natural disasters fascinate me for that very reason: the Earth may be molded by us, and abused by us, but no matter what we do or think, it will never truly be mastered by us.