Bringing Autumn Home

If I had a blog, today I would write about the way fall arrives in our home on The Greenwood.

Yesterday fall arrived at The Greenwood. Following a forty-seven year tradition, Mom and I put up our autumn decorations. This may seem like a fairly bland occurrence, but for me, it is wrapped in a thousand memories of happy autumn days.

Kids_0013Our tradition started when my siblings and I were toddlers. In those days, we lived in a little ranch style house just outside Rolla and Mom wanted to fancy up (or cover up) our classic 1970’s brown refrigerator and equally attractive cabinet doors with something that honored her love of the natural world. To that end, she started saving calendar pictures and carefully cutting photos from magazines like Farm and Ranch, National Wildlife, and Missouri Conservationist. Mom changed the pictures every month and we anticipated the changing of the photos with great excitement.

As we grew, so did the tradition. When David and I were in school, our artwork was added to the mix as were more substantial items like silk flowers, seasonal figurines, and fragrant candles in vessels painted with seasonal decor. By the time we were in grammar school, coming home to find that Mom had put up the next season’s decorations was as exciting in September as putting up Christmas in December.

090116_2152Over the years, I’ve picked up on Mom’s idea and now my part of the house changes with the seasons as well. I honor each part of the year, but I have to say, putting up my fall adornments is my favorite ritual. Whatever the weather outside, once my home is wreathed in leaves and silk mums, fall has arrived.

We need traditions to mark the transitions in our lives. In today’s largely virtual world, it is easy to get disconnected from the cycles of nature, even from the flow of the day. We no longer break our fast together, pause at noon to gather and say grace, or sit undistracted at the dinner table, sharing the news of the day. Our lives are lived together, but apart. The technology that, in one sense, unifies the world also tears at the fabric of family life. We scarcely notice the weather unless it inconveniences us and the change of seasons are marked solely by a change of wardrobe. It is no wonder that the world is in chaos.

090116_2154Will hanging pretty pictures on the refrigerator stop global war? Will putting out the Ghost Lamp (now almost 50 years old) at Halloween stop suffering and human greed? No. But imagine what would happen if we all slowed down long enough to care that we are moving from one season to the next. If we took time to look for the change in the autumn light, the coming of migrating birds, the silence that comes with the first flakes of snow. If we took time to cherish the world we live in, perhaps we would be less cavalier about its destruction. By the same token, if we took time to cherish our family, to look into one another’s eyes and share the joy and pain that resides within us, perhaps we would stop the senseless abuse, neglect, and violence that escalates with each passing day. I can’t make any promises, but I know the peace of heart and mind taking part in my family’s traditions gives to me and it is something rare and beautiful; something that makes a difference in my world at the very least.

Late this afternoon, after my little piece of the planet glowed with the fires of autumn, I settled into my reading chair, my Labrador Gus snoozing on the bed, and listened to the rain beating a gentle tattoo on the roof. Soft light glowed from every corner and shades of burgundy, gold, and ochre called me to settle in and enjoy this perfect start to my favorite season. I have peace. I have love. I feel part of something greater than myself and it is all because I know where I belong and I have a path to follow that will always lead me home.

 

Going With the Flow

If I had a blog, today I would reflect on the start of a new year in the wake of the Flood of 2015.

The Little Piney from the Bridge at Newburg

The Little Piney from the Bridge at Newburg

Missouri is about rivers. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 named rivers and creeks plus countless back-road streams that come to life when rain is abundant. On Christmas night 2015, it started to rain. It came down in buckets for three days and nights, leaving us with a grand total of 11.26 inches. Even the tiniest stream became a roaring river, closing back roads and interstates, washing away homes and cars,  and changing the lay of the land in ways I never imagined.

Yesterday, we visited our own river: The quarter-mile of the Little Piney Creek that is our southern property line. We wished we could see the Piney when it was up and rolling, but the myriad side-streams kept us away until yesterday afternoon; until the moment we were witness to the raw and merciless power of Nature.

Before & After

Before & After

To put it bluntly, the river and the valley that lies beside it is unrecognizable. The pasture that once fed our cows and sheep is now a beach. The river gouged a new inlet, six or seven feet deep and fifty yards long, into the field, buried or ripped away the fences, and left a giant sycamore, uprooted by the flow, resting on its side where the river bank used to be.

 

The New Channel

The New Channel

The pathway that meandered through the green mansions of sycamore, river birch, and paw-paw trees is scoured clean of underbrush. Great masses of sticks, leaves, and vines are draped around tree trunks, six or seven feet above the ground. Feet of sand cover the ground and everywhere, great trees lie upon the ground, felled by the raging stream.

The Path to the River

The Path to the River

At the river’s edge, the sand bar where we picnicked, swam, and sunbathed on steamy summer days is reformed. Here, the sand is gone; replaced by stones from miles upstream. The path we used to drive down is blocked by downed trees and made almost impassable by a huge hole filled with river water.

 

A New World Order

A New World Order

It is sobering to see an entire landscape changed overnight; taken from the world of the familiar and replaced with something barren, battered and bruised. This morning I stepped into an alien world and I felt afraid. Standing on the banks of the Little Piney I faced the fear that haunts us all: The fear that we are not in control.

Nature, biology, random human violence all force us to admit that however neat and tidy we make our personal lives, nothing is certain; nothing is forever. In the blink of an eye, our world can change forever – and that is what keeps us awake at night.

The Sycamore

The Sycamore

In the face of The Flood, stepping across the threshold into a new year feels less comfortable than it has in the past. I can pretend that my vision of 2016 is accurate: That I can set goals and see them realized; make plans and see them bear fruit and walk confidently ahead on a familiar path, knowing that the foundation of my life is secure, but the Little Piney tells me to be careful because life isn’t safe. In fact, life is terribly unsafe. It is unsafe for children, unsafe for adults. Life is unsafe in any direction. Life is unsafe at any speed.

So how do I move forward? How do I face this brave, new world? The Piney offers me wisdom in her rebirth: The disaster came, but The Piney didn’t resist. She rose and fell, changed her course, and even made footprints in a foreign land. The river flows on without fear of the next flood. Even today she is coming clear again. In a few more days, her voice will be softer and, come spring, little green things will begin to poke through the choking sand and reclaim their rightful place among the budding trees. The Piney says, “Ride out the catastrophe, then start again.”

Things on the river will not be the same. New paths will emerge, old trees will fall, and water will make its home where once there was dry land, but, if we are wise, we too will adapt to the change. Even in this microcosm of life, we will find new bliss. Summer will come and one fine afternoon, we will traverse the fallen trees and muddy pools and sit beside the laughing waters once again. The wood thrush will sing, cardinals will find refuge in the brush piles, and otter will find crawdads under rocks that have come from many miles away. Life is change. Change is life. All we can do is go with the flow.

The Little Piney Renewed

The Little Piney Renewed

Sauntering Towards the Holy Land

If I had a blog, today I would write about my autumn idyll.

White Iron Lake - Ely, MN

White Iron Lake – Ely, MN

I love the morning after an autumnal storm. The thunder and lightning passed with the darkness and daybreak brings calm. The dark skies that troubled my dreams are breaking into soft piles of white, gold, and magenta that run with the freshening wind, leaving blue sky in their wake.

Mom at Rookie Pond - Ely, MN

Mom at Rookie Pond – Ely, MN

I have seen a hundred mornings like this in the North Country, when the first breath of Canadian air rushes south to bring the first breath of autumn to a summer-weary land. As the clouds part, the dark water of the lakes begins to come to life and sparkle with blue. The wind carries only a few sounds now: The chirp of crickets, the call of blue jays and the raspy voice of ravens in search of food. The mellow sun is warm on my back, but as it dips beneath the clouds, I am glad to have a fleece jacket in my day-pack.

Diamond Drops

Diamond Drops

Today, I am a thousand miles south of “Up North,” writing away with doors and windows flung open to welcome the chill in the air. The mellow light has come too, and my desk is dappled with golden light.

Quiet Time

Quiet Time

When I got up this morning, my first thought was, “Oh wow! I can go for a walk and clean at the barn, and start my fall photo essay…” But once I finished chores, I was overcome with a sense of peace so luxurious I was called to sit and write and listen to the blue jays and crows calling in my woods. “This is not a work-day,” my soul assured me. “This is a day to revel.” And so I have.

 

The Holy Land

The Holy Land

Days like this make it clear what Thoreau experienced on Walden when he wrote, “And so we saunter towards the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever it has done, and shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn. ”

So may it be.

 

 

Loved By the Sea

If I had a blog, today I would write about my love affair with the sea.

When we get a warm-spell this time of year, my imagination turns from dreams about dogsled racing to adventures on the sea. As with dogsledding, my practical experience on a sailboat is limited, but it doesn’t take much to start a love affair with the wide and beautiful sea.

Me in My Room at Boca Grande

Me in My Room at Boca Grande

When I was a kid, most of our summer vacations were spent at the family beach house on Casey Key, in Florida. The Beach House was on a private beach, so we had miles of sand and surf to entertain us on our two-week sojourns. Back in the 1970’s, beaches were still covered in shells and if we weren’t swimming, we were adding to our seashell collections. On those warm tropical evenings, we would sit in silence and watch dolphins play in the surf or wait for the ghost-crabs to emerge from their sandy tunnels for a night of hunting. Those were days to remember, days I replay often in my dreams and wish I could experience one more time. I couldn’t imagine loving the ocean any more than I did on those rarefied days of childhood, but that was before I stepped aboard a sailboat.

With the exception of canoeing Missouri rivers, boating was foreign to me. The only other boat I’d been on board was the ferry that took us from Washington to British Columbia and the rolling waters left me more woozy than excited. Then came the summer of 1981: The summer we went to Boca Grande. Because other family members had booked the family beach house during the time Dad could get off work, we set out sights on a little cabana near the town of Boca Grande, on Gasparilla Island in southwest Florida. I was thirteen years old and, for that one summer, I felt good about myself. I was thin, and tan, and looked good in my little white shorts and tank tops. The boys at the bait shop flirted with me and I life seemed full of endless possibilities, as if nothing could stand in my way. Those days didn’t last, but “for one, brief shining moment” the world was my own.

Sailing Away

Sailing Away

Mid-way through our trip, Dad booked us a day-trip on a sailboat called The Epicurean. This was part of Dad’s dream: Buying a sailboat and spending summers island-hopping around the Caribbean. Mom had doubts about three months on the open water with two teenagers and a Labrador retriever, but to our delight, she was willing to sample the boating lifestyle for a day. Once Dad mentioned our sailboat dreams to our captain, our day was interspersed with Sailing 101. In some ways, I think it was the boat-jargon that fascinated me most. As we sailed south, past Cayo Costa, I walked around The Epicurean memorizing sailboat “anatomy” and in no time I knew where to find the bow, pulpit, mainsail, boom, keel, and transom. I practiced tying bowline knots and learned about “tacking into the wind.” By the time we reached The Cheeseburger in Paradise Bar at Cabbage Key I felt like a real sailor.

It would be ten years before I’d discover, and fall madly in love with, the music of Jimmy Buffett, but dining on Cabbage Key was an unforgettable experience nonetheless. The open-air restaurant looked like  your typical island cabana until our eyes became accustomed to the low light and we realized the walls and ceiling were covered with dollar bills, each with the name of the donor written across its face. As the bills fell to the ground, they were collected and sent to assorted charities. That seemed magical, in-and-of-itself, but when a bill came to light on Mom’s plate bearing her name, we knew we were on a truly mystical voyage.

Storm Clouds Rising

Storm Clouds Rising

After lunch, we sailed to a deserted island and swam to shore, where we looked for shells and basked in the afternoon sun, then sailed around some of the other islands that dotted this edge of the Gulf. The wind dropped late in the day and although we had a motor for emergencies, we took advantage of the doldrums and dropped anchor. Clouds were building, rising high above us on the tropical air, and the sun shone like a spotlight on our little patch of ocean, and we cooled our sunburned bodies swimming in a pool of emerald green. Our reverie ended with a loud clap of thunder and we hurried to set sail before the storm broke. The wind came up quickly and the sails filled, sending us over the choppy waves at great speed. Thinking back, I suppose I should have been afraid, racing ahead of the black clouds with lightning flashing all around, but on that day, the storm thrilled me. I stood in the bow, soaked with spray, as we shot through the Pass and saw the marina ahead. The sheets of rain had washed the salt from my skin and I felt reborn, sleek and dripping with life.

It has been almost forty years since that day and although our dreams of bare-boating around the tropics never materialized, I still long for the sea. I will go back to the ocean; to walk beaches and bask on sun-warmed sand, but I won’t recapture the glory of that one perfect day. Instead, I will hold it in my heart and remember what it was like, if only for a moment, to be young, and strong, and loved by the sea.

 

Ely Part II: Holy Ground

If I had a blog, today I would continue my stories about my journey to Ely.

September 30, 2006

Our Breakfast Table

Our Breakfast Table

By all accounts, this should have been a lesser day on our vacation: Rainy, in the 40’s with, a howling north wind, but for us it was perfect. We let our morning start slowly – with coffee and scones, shared beside the fire. Our cabin is paneled with knotty-pine and on a blustery morning like this, it seems to generate its own golden light. As we basked in its glow, Mom, Kindra, and I talked and laughed and reveled in the luxury of free time.

Jim Brandenburg's "Brother Wolf"

Jim Brandenburg’s “Brother Wolf”

Around noon, we braved the gale and made a trip to town for groceries and a little shopping. We’ve been to Ely so many times, visiting the stores that line Sheridan Street is like catching up with old friends. My favorite haunt is the Brandenburg Gallery – the storefront for nature photographer Jim Brandenburg. Jim made his mark on the photography world through his twenty-year tenure with National Geographic, but when he retired, he came home to Ely to indulge his real passion: Photographing the elusive timber wolf. I could spend hours sitting in rapt silence, contemplating the extraordinary work displayed at the Brandenburg Gallery. It is work like Jim’s that inspired me to become a nature photographer and an afternoon in the Gallery refreshes me more than week in the finest spa and I leave with my creative energy renewed.

Christmas Eve on Lark Lake

Christmas Eve on Lark Lake

The rain slowed late in the afternoon and we drove north of town on Highway 169, “The Fernberg” as it is called by locals, to reconnect with another old friend: Ojibway Lake. When we first visited Ely, in 1997, we rented a cabin for Christmas and Ojibway Lake was our “jumping off point.” Our host, Steve Lampman, took our gear to the cabin by snowmobile, but we made the 4-mile trek on foot. Dressed in down coats and Steger Mukluks, we walked across the frozen waters of Ojibway and Triangle lakes to Lark Lake, where our cabin was nestled among the balsam and spruce trees. It was a trip to remember and the beginning of our love affair with The North, so it was fitting that we pay homage to the place where all our adventures began.

The Uncommon Common Loon

The Uncommon Common Loon

Ojibway Lake is about twenty miles from Ely and The Fernberg winds along like a chain, connecting the jewels of lakes and forests. As we drove along, we recited the names of lakes and side-roads – a rosary of sorts to honor the places we hold dear: We passed Fall Lake, Otter Road, Tofte and Garden Lake, Black Wolf Road, and, at last, Ojibway. The gravel road to the lake was exactly the same as it was the first time we came; even the two dead birch trees I photographed so long ago still stand like sentinels watching over the lake. We parked the car and walked to the end of the long dock and gazed down the waterway towards Triangle and Lark Lake. The wind still blew a gale and our rain jackets weren’t enough protection from the cold. We had just turned to leave when we heard another sound, a tremolo, high and clear as a bell: The call of a solitary loon. He was here past his time, the others of his kind had already gone south to the Gulf of Mexico for the winter, and his clarion call brought tears to my eyes. It was as if he waited for us, to give us welcome before he too took flight to warmer climes. We thanked our intrepid friend and said good night to Ojibway. Warmth was calling us home too.

Holy Ground

Holy Ground

Sitting on my bed tonight, listening to the rain pattering on the fallen leaves, I wonder if I’ve ever been so much at peace. The cares of the world seem a thousand miles away and I am grateful for the release. I want to hold this feeling in my heart as long as I can and perhaps take it back with me when I return to outer world with its burdens and cares. There is magic at work in these primeval forests, a mythic force that comes from the Earth Herself. This is one of the “Thin Places” where the veil between the mortal and spiritual worlds can be transcended. This is Holy Ground.

 

Renewing My Vows

If I had a blog, today I would write about my morning of dancing in the rain.

Today I renewed my baptismal vows; not standing in a baptistery or having my forehead sprinkled before a congregation, nor even being immersed, as I was the first time, in the river that crosses our farm. Today I renewed my vows in a deluge of summer rain.

Rain's Happy Place

Rain’s Happy Place

I’d been cleaning at the barn all morning and was covered from head-to-toe in sweat and dust, which was rapidly turning to mud as it collected in the crook of my arm and in the creases round my neck. I was wrapping up my morning’s work when it began to sprinkle and I hurried to get the horses settled in their fresh, clean stalls. By the time I had all five horses ensconced in the barn, the sky opened up and down came the rain! Raindrops danced merrily on the tin roof of the barn and the gutters overflowed like waterfalls. I stood in the doorway, breathing in the sweet air when an impulse to run out into the downpour overwhelmed me. The grown-up side of my brain protested, “You’ll get all wet!” but it was too tempting, to rare an opportunity to let it pass my by. I slipped off my sweaty clothes and dashed out into the storm. I lifted my face skyward to receive the cool water as it rushed from the sky. I could almost hear the drops sizzle as they landed on my sweaty skin. Muddy rivulets ran down my arms and legs, carrying away the grit and grime of my morning labors, and by the time the rain slowed to a sprinkle, I was washed clean – in more ways than one.

Life has been busy the last few weeks (months, years…) and once again, I’ve let the cares of the world take precedence over my time in Nature’s care. I’ve been wrapped up in my day-job as a financial officer for a dental clinic, in issues with my own finances, and petty worries about day-to-day living that have driven me to distraction. I’ve taken a moment here and there to say, “Hello,” to the magnificent spider who lives in the garden and I’ve been aware that the barn swallows and purple martins have left for southern climes,  but I haven’t taken time just to sit and let Nature envelop me, comfort and soothe me and that is what I need.

Diamond Drops

Diamond Drops

The sun is shining now, making the world sparkle as if bedecked with diamonds. Standing on the patio, listening to the chickadees and titmice converse as they preen their rain-soaked wings, I renew my baptismal vows to Mother Earth: I promise, my Mother, to come to you with my worries and fears and lay them at your feet. I promise to spend time in the cathedral of the forest when my heart is low so I may become part of the Green World, where peace and joy abound. Above all, I promise to renew my vows more often, to set aside my daily round and give in to my heart’s desire when it calls me out to play in a deluge of silver summer rain.

Why Not Me?

If I had a blog, today I would write about the question: “Why not me?”

Thunder in the Valley

Thunder in the Valley

Yesterday afternoon I was wakened from my nap by the most glorious sound: Thunder rumbling through our valley. I looked out the window and the west was dark, a gusty wind pushing white scud clouds ahead of the storm. Then came the rain: A “real gully-washer” as my Grandmother Ruby would say. It rained for over an hour, giving us an inch of life-restoring water. Rain came again in the night, giving us another inch which brought our weekly total up to three inches. I have been on a rain-high all morning, reveling in the muddy barn lot, the wet dog prints on my kitchen floor, and the diamond drops that fell on me when the wind moved through the trees. It is a good day to be alive.

I don’t know why the rain chose us; why the little storm cells conspired to build over our county and not some other. I know for sure it isn’t because I made some big paradigm shift or overcame a spiritual barrier because I was as imperfect yesterday as I was any day during our drought. I suppose it is arrogant of me to think anything I do can influence the weather, but it seems to be human nature. We want someone to blame for disasters and someone to reward for their surcease. That would mean there is a control mechanism within our grasp, a way we can protect ourselves from the things that threaten us most, but I’m afraid we must accept the hard truth that there are things we do not understand and there are things over which we do not have control.

Nannah & Grandad circa 1955

Nannah & Granddad circa 1955

When my granddad Atkinson was dying of cancer, Nannah told me a story that has shaped my life ever since: When d was diagnosed with cancer in his late 50’s, Nannah responded as most of us would, by asking God, “Why him? Why us? Why me?” Then one day, another thought came: “Why not me?” Why were Tom and Zelle Atkinson more deserving of good things than anyone else? It changed the way Nannah and d faced the hard days ahead and it has changed the way I look at life too. From little things like, “Why did the rain pass us by?” to the big things like, “Why did I have a brain tumor?” I have tried to turn it around and ask why I was any more deserving of relief than the other good people in the world. It’s a hard philosophy to live and, often as not, I fall into the clutches of self-pity before Nannah’s wisdom helps me put things into perspective.

Rainy Afternoon

Rainy Afternoon

I am overjoyed that we got the rain. It was a gift to us, to our animals, to the land we love, but it was truly a gift; a bit of serendipity given to us by The Universe for reasons we cannot, and perhaps are not meant to, understand. Life isn’t all about us as individuals. We are part of something much greater: The living being that is the Earth. If she does not survive, neither will we, and sometimes we must do without so a need of a higher order can be met. I will give thanks for the rain, but I will not take credit for it now or chasten myself should the drought return. When good times come, I will marvel and ask, “Why me?” When life is hard I will muster the courage to say, “Why not me?” And whatever happens I will have faith in the wisdom of The Universe, in Nannah, and in me.

Dancing in the Rain

If I had a blog, today I would write about the coming of the rain.

A Perfect Morning

A Perfect Morning

It has been a dry summer here on The Greenwood. Since the first of June, we’ve only had a quarter-inch of rain and its absence has left our green-world crisp and brown. Since then, I’ve tried every rain-dance, rain-prayer, and rain-spell in the book, but nothing has worked. The weather, it seems, is a force beyond my control.

Summer Evening

Summer Evening

Last night, with a forecast that promised rain, I was tempted to beg, plead, dance, cry, and threaten any deities who would listen, but then I stopped. I had been down this path so many times before and my cosmic temper-tantrums never worked. Maybe it was time to try something new; something radical. Maybe it was time to trust the wisdom of The Universe over that of my fragile human mind.

When I said my prayers, I skipped my traditional “begging-prayer,” and instead, said an “I trust you” prayer. As much as I wanted rain, I would trust that The Universe knew better than I and would provide what the Earth needed instead. I went to sleep with a lighter heart, though I was unsure what the morning would bring.

Mist on Hawk Ridge

Mist on Hawk Ridge

At 2AM I was was awakened by the sweetest sound imaginable: The sound of thunder rolling down the valley, followed by the sound of pouring rain. At last, the time had come.

We had half-an-inch of rain in the night and it continues to fall as “a gentle hickory” this morning. There is mist on Hawk Ridge, the air is pungent with the smell of damp earth, and none of it is thanks to me.

Although it goes against my nature to surrender control (or the illusion thereof), I find there is relief in the knowledge that I am not allowed to control everything. It is a lesson I am sure I will have to repeat, but for now I will rejoice in my epiphany: The realization that, hard as I may try, I cannot see all ends. As the raindrops splash on my face and run rivulets down my arms, I see the beauty in trusting a power greater than myself, one that allows for miracles in the most unlikely places. I can put away my pleas and bargains, my threats and bribes, and revel in the words of an unknown author when he penned: “Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain.” That’s the only kind of rain dance I need.

Cane Toad’s A Comin’

A Bolt from the Blue

Bolt from the Blue

If I had a blog, today I would write about my lifelong fascination with weather. What does this have to do with a giant amphibian native to Australia? Honestly, outside my quirky family, nothing at all, but we adopted this phrase as an omen of a coming storm after hearing the opening lines of a song called “Cane Toad Blues” on a documentary about these massive and, might I add, poisonous members of the toad family. Right here you see that I was destined to be a science geek. Any child who knows the lyrics to “Cane Toad Blues” and whose mother read National Geographic to her kids at bedtime was going to be a little off the grid. Given that I was raised on documentaries and real-life nature adventures, it was only a matter of time until my love for all things meteorological came to the surface.

Grandy and Gran in the 1950s

Grandy and Gran in the 1950s

My mom’s father was my first weather sensei. Grandy Kent was a man of few words and my only clear memories of him revolve around stormy days. Whenever storms were in the forecast, Grandy and I would watch the western sky and when the first anvil-shaped thunderheads appeared, we sprang into action. Granny and Grandy’s house was in a subdivision, but it overlooked acres of undeveloped land to the west, giving us a clear view of approaching storms. There was an old wooden fence at the edge of their property and Grandy built me a little seat on top of one of the posts so I could see what was happening far afield. I would sit on my perch, leaning back against Grandy’s chest, his arm holding me safely in place, and without saying a word, we would watch the storm roll in. We saw the white wind-clouds ride before the blue-black skies and listened for the first deep rumbles of thunder. I’d count the seconds between the flashes of lightning and the thunderclaps so I’d know how fast the storm was coming. The wind would rise, the smell of ozone heavy in the humid air, and then we’d see it: The curtains of rain as they danced over distant hills. As soon as we could hear the rain on the trees just beyond the field, Grandy would say, “It’s coming across the pea-patch!” and he’d lift me from my seat, take my hand, and we’d try to beat the rain to the back door of the house. More often than not we’d make it, but Granny Ruby was always standing by with big, soft towels in case out timing was a little off. It has been 40 years since those magical spring afternoons, but I can still feel the promise of rain in the wind and hear the patter of droplets rushing across forest and field on those magical days.. Grandy passed away when I was ten, but the love of storms he gave me grew into a passion that I carry with me today. The year before Grandy died, I saw a film in school about amateur weather-forecasting. It featured a boy who built his own weather station and made his own forecasts with a barometer, thermometer, and a cloud chart. I was hooked! I desperately wanted to make my own forecasts and started gathering books from the library telling me what to do. The one thing I didn’t have was a barometer. Amazon.com was thirty years in the future and living in a rural Missouri town didn’t present many options for this kind of purchase. The only barometer I’d ever seen was an antique brass model Grandy kept on his dresser. It was a “look but don’t touch” situation, although we would get readings together when I was at the house. Shortly before his passing, Grandy gave me that barometer. It was the best gift I was ever given and it sits proudly on the sideboard in my living room, advising me whether to expect “Rain, Change, or Fair.”

Inside the Storm

Inside the Storm

As the years rolled by, my whole family supported my love of weather. Mom, Dad, and Granny Ruby kept me well supplied with books on forecasting and Granny faithfully clipped newspaper articles about anything weather-related, which we pasted in my Weather Scrapbook. I wrote to every TV weatherman in our area and received wonderful replies from all. Dave Murry, a meteorologist in St. Louis sent me stacks of satellite imagery from severe weather outbreaks and I got volumes of Civil Defense pamphlets on all manner of severe weather. I knew nothing about sports stars, but knew the names and “stats” of ever tornado researcher in the field: Howie Bluestein, Tim Marshall, Kelvin Droegemeier, Gene Rassmussen, and Tim Samaras were my “team” and I haunted PBS for any documentaries they sent my way. Today, storm forecasting and photography are still my passion. Since my academic strengths were English and art, a degree in meteorology wasn’t in my future. Happily, with the advent of the internet, I can indulge my interests as an amateur and be part of the storm-chasing community without ever leaving home. It goes without saying that no storm enthusiast wants an EF5 tornado to form for their entertainment. Tornadoes are terrifying, destructive, and tragic. For me, as for many, the fascination is the study of something we still don’t understand. It is (for me) armchair exploration of uncharted territory and awe at the forces of Nature. So, when I get an iPhone notification from the National Weather Service that says storms are in the offing, I will go out and drink in the heady air. I will check the radar and the thermodynamic fields from the Storm Prediction Center, but, in the end, I will make my forecast based on the moment I hear the rain coming across the pea patch. Then I will call Mom and she’ll join me as we watch the clouds and make our judgment. If “Cane Toad’s A Comin’,” you can be sure we’ll be standing on the front porch, watching the storm roll in.