Adventures in Imperfection

Storm Chaser

I can hear your whisper and distant mutter.

I can smell your damp on the breeze and in the sky I see the halo of your violence.

Storm I know you are coming.

Robert Fanney

*****

I noticed the weary smile tugging at the corners of your chapped lips. The fever on your brow is evident and brought on by too many months inside your cabin. You’ve gotten tangled up in the blanket of a winter that has managed to smother the entire country in a year where even the warm climates couldn’t escape the ultimate rule of Mother Nature.

You’re not alone, my friend.

January 2014
January 2014

This winter has managed to wrestle me to the ground a few times, too and I’ve even seen happy, typically grateful folks flip the bird at fourteen inches of snow and feed gratitude to the wood chipper.

Where are my beloved Spring thunderstorms? The kind of storms that fill the sky with brooding clouds and the air with an electricity that’s palpable.  Brutal months of January and February make me crave the April landscapes of citrine green and neon blue that only a thunderboomer can produce and a camera can’t capture.

Time spent with my dad learning about weather patterns and forecasting were also hours spent learning about the man who built his life and made a living in spite of the forces he would never be able to control.

“That wind just switched. Been blowing out of the south all day.”

The strain in his eyes mirrored the stormy skies, so I asked him, “Is that good?”

Just depends. We need rain, but this feels like hail.”

“How do you know that, Daddy?”

“Because I have to know. Our livelihood depends on it.”

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Midsummer Kansas sky 2004

That day’s storm-soaked smell and the conversation with my dad started an involuntary and sometimes extreme journey that hovered around a love-hate relationship with the weather and life’s associated symbols.

As Dad had predicted, the storm brought wind and hail and shredded most of the wheat crop two weeks before it was to be harvested. It was one of many storms that changed harvest plans, landscapes and lives.

As I watched he and Mom pace in what I called the “worry porch,” I wondered how they would take care of us. The stress bounced off their shoulders straight into my little brain. Booming, boisterous thunderstorms used to terrify me as a child and the ultimate fear was nights without electricity as the seven of us hovered in the damp cellar around a lone hurricane lamp. Even after power was restored, the lingering smell of musty kerosene and the visual of Daddy’s worried eyes stayed long after sleep should have come.

Back up a few years to when my parents were on their honeymoon in Arizona and New Mexico. It was during that time that they received the news that Topeka, KS had been partially flattened by an F5 tornado–they often tell me that I was conceived that same weekend. The seed was planted and fate determined that I would always be a child/girl/woman fascinated with weather and gravely respectful of natural disasters.

Once I gained the experience that comes with living in Tornado Alley, terror was replaced by fascination and I became the less-than-wise girl sitting on the rooftop trying to get a good view (or photograph) of the funnels. During one extra active storm,  hubby finally had to drag me down into the basement reminding me that those tails drop without notice and that it’d snatch me out the door given the chance.

Little did I know that the funnel cloud I was chasing was also being photographed by my good friend about two miles away. Her photos below show the tail right over our home–this same storm continued on its path and flattened Joplin, MO a few hours later.

It’s not without guilt when I remember how giddy with excitement I was finally having caught a twister on my camera. I knew people who lost their homes that day and it was the shame that made me delete the pics and then borrow the images above from my friend.

Something broken inside me craves the storm. A deep, sensual, irrational desire to be within the vortex, feel the power at its source and live to take pictures and tell the story with my whole heart.

For me, tornadoes are an allegory for temptation–the lure of the unknown something on the other side. A cyclone wild and unharnessed that urges me to come in.  A seduction that excites and entices only to wreck or change a person if  the obvious warning signs of destruction and calamity are disregarded.

Which brings me to the day I completely ignored a blatant forewarning I should have been smart enough to recognize. On July 20, 2004 I was struck by lightning while walking into a hospital next to Kansas State University campus. Fortunately for me, the direct strike was to the crane I was standing under. The amperage of the strike knocked out power to the ICU and me on my ass.

IMG_6231
I took this picture (one of many) about two years before “the incident.”

I was indirectly hit just a few feet away from the same spot where a woman had lost her life just five years before. A woman who died while jogging in a lightning storm. She perished and I escaped with barely a scratch.  Nurses who witnessed the whole thing ushered me inside, checked for burns and diagnosed me with good health even though my burnt hair smell horrendous and my short-term memory was a little suspect.

The woman and I were presented with the same environment, five years apart with decidedly different results even though we both made poor decisions to “weather the storm” in the first place.  I couldn’t be late for my meeting and she needed to do her training run.  Alike in that she could have been going to a meeting and I could have been the one running. Alike in that we both had children, spouses and people who loved us.

Different in that I lived and she didn’t.

It triggers a bigger question around why God takes some people and leaves others? Why did I get to stay instead of her? Is life really that random or did it mean something?  My family (and co-workers who saw it) still laugh about it today, but everyone knows without voicing it that I was damn lucky…or blessed.

A person could run out of fingers and toes when counting the weather metaphors we use as second language:

  • Into each life, some rain must fall
  • You are the sunshine of my life
  • The winds of change are upon us
  • Grey skies are gonna clear up

Old age Experience has taught me that the inducement to be swept up by the gusts should be tempered or trumped by the reliable storm warnings. The smart woman tells me my beautiful life is mine because of weather-wise decisions. The rebellious girl pushes me to go out in the rain without an umbrella and ride the monsoon in fancy cowboy boots.

The two fight incessantly.

To me, weathering storms is all about appreciating the oxymoron and irony life brings us and using our inner voice to make wise decisions. Knowing when to take cover as well as determining when to stick it out.

There are the times we need DO to sit on the rooftops. That tail doesn’t always drop and the storm might be just a little squall that washes off the streets and puts the smell of Spring in the air or renews your spirit. Think of the calm peace and blue skies that appear only moments after a tornado leaves its mark.

Those blue skies always come. Always.

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Posted in parallel to The Storm on Ps and Qs.

47 thoughts on “Storm Chaser

  1. Absolutely and completely love this piece, Michelle. The way you wove your past, and your father’s wisdom, together into an allegory about the lure of life’s storms was wonderful. Your comparison of dangerous weather’s enticement to the lure of a sensual — and potentially damaging — experience was inspired. I have to believe the forces above deflected that lightning strike for a reason, if for nothing more than passages like these.

    Well done, Michelle 😉

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    1. WOW, Ned! Your kind words truly made my day. I fought with this piece since the beginning and it was only when I quit trying to be clever and just let the story tell itself that the right words came. I’m so pleased that you recognized the exact message I was trying to convey. Your words honor and humble me. 🙂

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      1. I think it was one of you best, Michelle. I could feel the inspiration in your words. Plus, I was standing outside during a thunderstorm, which didn’t hurt… 😉

        Seriously, a wonderful piece of writing.

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  2. Especially after a long bout of cabin fever, who doesn’t love standing in defiance of nature’s maelstrom?
    Being part of that chaos is one way to feel fully alive and part of the world. Despite the destruction it can bring.

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    1. You nailed it, Guapo! Your sharing around being part of the chaos to feel fully alive is so true. Your words remind me that it’s time to go out and find some neon green flippers. Thanks for stopping by friend!

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  3. Awesome post. Those pictures your friend took are terrifying and awe-inspiring all at once. Wow! I’ve never lived where tornadoes hit, and I think they rank on my top list of things I’m terrified of. I’m glad you were spared from the lightning strike too. That’s a crazy story.

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    1. Hi Char,
      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Your fear of tornadoes is not unfounded…the destruction they can cause is completely devastating. My east and west coast friends and co-workers often ask how I can live here. I share that I’m more afraid of hurricanes and earthquakes. I guess it’s what we become accustomed to, right?
      Hope you’ve been doing well. I’ve been very poor in keeping up with my reading–I’ll be sure to pop over to your site to see what you’ve been up to!
      Thanks again!

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  4. Great piece, Michelle. I could so relate to how you feel about the power and enormity of storms. I feel that being raised in Kansas molded how we interpret and/or fear the coming storm. Every child/grandchild of a farmer knows the anxiety of possibly losing a season’s livelihood in the matter of minutes due to mother nature’s surprises. It also teaches us that some things in life are out of our control…we are resilient and we carry on…because that is what the strong do.
    Lastly, please stay off the d*#n roof during storms. 🙂

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    1. Oh Suz…what great words of wisdom right back. I think back to one particular night I spent in your basement even before dating your brother. We were hiding from the storm and getting to know each other at the same time. Isn’t it funny…I had forgotten all about that until now!
      Thanks so much for stopping by and adding your heartfelt comments. Love ya!
      Mick

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    1. I’m so glad, Dennis! I originally wrote in a memory of you and I playing in gravelly mud puddles after a soaker rain…but, the story kept getting too long as I kept adding memories! Thanks for reading. Love you!

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  5. I loved this Michelle! I love storms, something about them just makes me feel more alive and part of something. I’m very glad you made it through being hit with lightning, that has to be amazing and terrifying at the same time! I got caught in the outer blast of a lightning strike once, it threw me to the ground and felt like I stuck my whole body in an outlet (not to mention my ears rang for weeks after), that was enough to convince me maybe to pay a bit more attention to how close I was playing to the storm.

    Ah and I saw your reply mentioning you’re more afraid of hurricanes and earthquakes then tornadoes. I’m absolutely terrified of earthquakes, which having never experienced one really makes no sense but it’s right up there with my fear of spiders and the dark lol Hurricanes however, one of my favorite things. That something as seemingly without solid form as wind can have such power to make itself become an almost solid force, it amazes me.

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    1. Oh my goodness! I’ve had so much fun reading everyone’s comments on their own weather/life perceptions. My sisters and brothers added a few of their own memories on my FB page and it made my day. To see how a hurricane can be one of your favorite things just adds to the mystique and what we become accustomed to. You and I have both survived floods AND a lightning strike…we truly must be sisters in another life somewhere, so it’s not surprising that we crave a little bit of that storm some days. (Thank goodness you weren’t hurt either!)
      Don’t disown me though..I’m the chick who picks the spiders up and places them where they are useful (I also have a brown recluse spider bite scar on my leg).
      I’m excited to read your article on RoS!! I’ve been IMpatiently waiting!!
      xo

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      1. Gah. I won’t disown you, but your job can be to pick up all the spiders and do whatever you wish to do with them and I’ll whimper while curled up in a corner until I’m sure you’ve take them far enough away that I can’t see them 😉

        You’d laugh to see me working in the garden- I have a conversation with the spiders that may live in there before I kneel down to get to work, and I’ll shout out reminders that they’re to remain hidden until I leave.

        xo

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      2. OMG…LMAO! I really need to see a picture of you someday so that I can visualize fully what that spider conversation looks like.
        How do you and the snakes get along?

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      3. Not a single snake phobia, believe it or not!

        I talk to everything. My husband caught me talking to one of my plants again earlier and rolled his eyes.

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    2. Growing up in So. Cal, earthquakes don’t faze me much. Most are just like having a big plane fly right overhead–they shake and rattle things a bit, but usually that’s it.

      As a kid, I actually liked earthquakes.

      Somehow, I’ve always, knock on wood, avoided the big ones. I’ve had tornados make sharp, unexpected, turns before they would have hit my home (at least 3 separate times in TX) and I missed a tornado on a roadtrip bc “someone” hid my keys and slowed me down long enough to miss a tornado crossing the freeway where I would have been. I say “someone” bc I lived alone at the time.
      Same goes for hurricanes (I left Biloxi one day before Katrina). So many crazy stories…
      Sounds like we’re all lucky to be here.
      Oh and my best friend was a meteorologist before retiring. 🙂
      xo, c

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      1. I have this massive fear of earthquakes, even as a kid. Most of my nightmares feature earthquakes lol I haven’t the slightest clue as to why! It’s not like NY is a hotbed of earthquake activity.

        I get those “someone’s” sometimes. They’ve kept me out of major trouble numerous times. Of course I wish they’d given me a heads up on that flood lol

        I’m glad you’ve avoided the big ones, we had a smaller one come through here a few years ago – it missed the house by inches, but what it did to the trees, there were only splinters; it was the first time I saw up close and personal what a tornado can do. I definitely respect the power of weather/nature, and proceed with a little more caution than I used to, between that, the lightning strike, and then the flood I figure I’ll take those as warnings lol Mostly. I told you I’m certified as a storm spotter right? 😉 xo

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      2. Ha! My husband was good with it until he realised I was gone those nights leaving him with dinner and bath time 😉

        You know, as good as he was about the spotter thing, not so much when I mentioned maybe certifying for chasing. Go figure!

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      3. I just love your contribution here! LOVE! The most rewarding part that has come out of this post has been the sharing back of how weather has affected us separately. How we view the disturbances differently and how “someone” has been there for us at the crucial times. I was so worried that people might think I was “weird” for having this strange fascination and was so excited to see that you, Jennie, Ned, Guapo, Char, my family (their posts are on FB) have that same pull.
        Hubby makes fun of me for having the weather channel app and watching The Weather Channel on TV. He asks if I’m getting ready to put in a wheat crop and I just remind him that I’m just there to watch Jim Cantore report.
        Thank you so much Christy…your words always inspire me and keep me on the right path…even if that path involves a twister or two some days.
        xo

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  6. Holy wow. Michelle, this was beautiful. The photos and interwoven stories–not just “a” storm, but multiple storms that have beaten and forged and singed you into the lady you are today.

    Your voice is starting to shine through. Like the beautiful sun peeking through dark clouds… and we haven’t even captured your full brilliance yet. I stand here smiling knowing you are shining brighter and that your voice grows stronger every day.

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    1. Awww….you are too kind! Quite honestly, it’s people like you who have helped me find that voice. Gently nudged and cajoled until it finally showed up! This piece turned out completely different than it started. Once I stopped trying to be cute and funny…the real words came. Thank you SO much for reading it.
      xo

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    1. Thank you so much, Cayman. You have no idea how poignant, timely and meaningful your simple words are. I watched my kiddos acting goofy tonight, laughing and singing…”thank you” were those exact words resonating in my brain.
      You are one awesome dude 🙂

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  7. Those photos are beautiful, even if they show a monster of a storm. It’s scary how gorgeous tornadoes are. And your writing….my goodness, I couldn’t tear my eyes away until I’d read every last word. Absolutely stunning.

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    1. Thank you dear friend! Those pics ARE scary…I didn’t know my friend had them until a couple of weeks ago. I recognized the storm right away because I’ll never forget that tail hanging down just 50 yards from my front door.
      And goodness, thank you for the kind words. As you well know…writing from a place of passion is always a good day 🙂

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  8. This was so beautiful. I love thunderstorms and the power of Mother Nature. When I lived in Texas,main saw my fair share of funnel clouds and can remember my step-dad always climbing into the roof. So many times I’d run out there, screaming at him to come inside, yet being frozen and awestruck by the power and beauty.

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    1. You SO know and understand, Deanna. Isn’t that draw completely amazing? I got an e-mail from an old friend of mine after she read the story. She grew up in Greensburg, KS and was still living there when a tornado destroyed her town. Even through that devastation, she remembered feeling the fascination and awe.
      Thank you so much for reading, sharing and commenting. I’m going back to the beautiful story you wrote yesterday…it completely changed my mood after reading it.

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    1. Thank you SO much! I’m kind of all over with this blog. My intention was to keep things light and funny…well, best laid plans! Sometimes the words just flow…and then sometimes I post videos of music when the words are gone. Thank you so much for stopping and following. I look forward to getting to know you!
      xo

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  9. Excellent piece Mama. I followed a link here from your balance/storm piece in Feb 2015. This is sweet, like a smooth stone polished by the ocean that sits warmly in the palm of your hand – no sharp edges, no fragments, -just symmetry and beauty and perfect integration. Love it.

    We don’t get tornados up here but I have felt very similar responses while driving in screaming blizzards and thunderstorms. When at home during a thuderstorm, I always opened the garage door and sat inside with an adult beverage and watched the show. Sometimes the kids would join me, but they often disappeared when the time between the thunder and the lightning went to zero.

    Thanks so much for this Mama.

    Liked by 1 person

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