Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reaping the Whirlwind

I was born on a muggy July morning in Flint, Michigan back in 1962. As the day of my birth drew to a close, the skies darkened and a thunderstorm approached. This storm was so severe the curtains blew into the room at a 90-degree angle to the windows. The nurses started talking about evacuating some of the patients, but before they could make a firm decision in that regard, the storm had blown through.

If my life were a work of fiction, this would have been a perfect bit of foreshadowing. It was perhaps inevitable, therefore, that I would have a lifelong fascination with severe weather in general and with tornadoes in particular. Perhaps some of the excitement was picked up from the adults around me. The Beecher Tornado, the last single tornado to kill over 100 people in the United States, was still fresh in their memories. When there was a tornado watch or warning, I could sense the adults getting extra wary, which, for a young child, is sort of exhilarating.
I also remember the annual springtime ritual of seeing those tornado preparedness films in elementary school. I loved every somber, serious, cheesy second of them!

Despite my desire to see a tornado, I have been unsuccessful in that regard. I came close once on a canoe trip on the Rifle River in the early 1980’s. The sky got hellaciously dark and a powerful gust front whipped through snapping fully grown trees like dominoes. I didn’t see a tornado, though I later found out one was sighted mere miles from my location.
Another time, fittingly on my birthday, there was a severe storm outbreak in Michigan the likes of which occurs “once every 500 years” according to one news story. But did I see anything? Of course not!
Then, a couple years ago, nature seemingly extended its middle finger my way when an EF-2 tornado damaged the house in which I grew up. But could it have happened in all the years I lived there? NOOOOO!

I would love to go on one of those storm chasing tours. Some have warned me they might actually be rather dull. I know, however, that I would thrive on it. The thought of driving for hours through places like Nebraska, rather than discouraging me, makes the entire scenario all the more tempting. For me, stopping for a pizza in, say, Tulsa while monitoring the latest convective outlook smacks of true Americana. I know I would revel in every minute of it. What some would find boring, I would find delightful. And to see an actual tornado would be an excellent payoff. (Actually, I would enjoy the experience even if I didn’t see a tornado, but let’s face it; I’d still like to have the image of a whirlwind tickle my corneas before I shed this mortal coil.)

I wouldn’t, though, want “my” tornado I see do any real damage. The thought of it destroying lives or property would be a downer, despite its magnificence. If it could maybe just toss around a few random tumbleweeds in an empty field, I’d be happy.

Maybe someday…

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