Like most things of a destructive nature, it arrived with little notice. Sitting on the front porch reading, I sensed a change in the atmosphere, something advancing from the southwest. The hair on the back of my neck didn’t stand up, but it should have.
Lily and Tamar didn’t need to be out in whatever was coming, so I drove the hundred yards up the road to Mama and Daddy’s, where the two dogs were lounging on the deck. I’d gotten Tamar inside the house and had just gotten Lily into the Escape when the first of the uni-strikes of lightning and thunder lit up the yard.
By the time Lily and I pulled into the carport at Sandhill — two? three minutes? — hail was throwing itself into the back windshield like gravel popcorn and the Escape was rocking jerkily from side to side. It was a good 10 minutes before it was safe to get out and, even then, Lily had to be dragged by her collar.
The electricity was off and, in the light of dusk that had reappeared with the rapid passing of the clouds, I walked through the house arranging candles, locating flashlights. The heat of the day had been trapped inside so I opened the front and back doors to get some air circulating and started the long wait that accompanies being located so far off the main grid.
A few minutes later, at Keith’s invitation to check out the condition of the roads, we discovered what the weather had left in its wake — Daddy’s center-pivot irrigation system tossed onto its side, wheels up in the air like a wrecked tricycle and twisted like an aluminum pretzel; Mama’s Bradford pear tree split in two vertically with only a third of its trunk left standing, the rest having crashed to the ground and taken down the fence; and, heartbreakingly, most of the big oak lying in a two-story-high mound of limb and branch and leaf.
The big oak was there when we came to the farm nearly 40 years ago and, according to a neighbor who had grown up in the community and was nearly 80 at the time, it had been there since before he was born. It was probably close to 150 years old.
Three generations of my family’s women have shelled peas under that tree; four generations of its men have stood in its shade, leaning against the hoods of various pick-up trucks and talking yield and price and politics. Adam and Kate had a rope swing that hung from one of its bodybuilder biceps branches and Mama had said just the other day how she was looking forward to seeing Adam’s soon-to-be-born son swing there, too.
No one, gratefully, was hurt. None of our houses — including the pond house, sheltered as it were by towering pines and oaks that simply fell to their sides, hoisting their entire root systems into the spring night like strange bouquets — were damaged. Along with good neighbors from down the road, we spent the next couple of hours of falling darkness working our way steadily toward the highway, chain-sawing fallen trees and pulling them to the ditches in the arc of headlights, the neighbor’s diesel drowning out the crickets and frogs who were nonplused by the chaos.
It was an amazing night of one amazing thing, thought, sight after another. I’ve not processed it all, not pulled in all the edges of the cloth to tuck under my feet and around my shoulders to create any kind of comfort. But there is one image that keeps floating back to the surface of my consciousness.
About a year ago I bought a glass ball, about as big as a grapefruit, painted pale aqua to mimic mercury glass. There was a hanger on its top, like a Christmas tree ornament, and I decided to hang it on the eave outside the bay window of the kitchen at Sandhill. A screw was drilled into the masonry eave and a long strand of 20-pound test weight fishing wire looped through the hanger to leave it dangling from the screw, swaying in the breeze, reflecting the light.
Sunday night, in the wind that we know was a tornado whether called as much by the National Weather Service or not, the screw came out and the ball became airborne. I didn’t notice at first. The big things — butchered trees and contorted metal — had my attention. But later, in the quiet and stillness that inevitably follows wreckage, I found it, all of it — screw and fishing line and glass ball — lying in the tall grass, unbroken and attached.
Someone, having read my Facebook post about the storm, sent me an e-mail asking about the farm. I replied: "Farm is wet. Landscape has changed. We will, as always, make adjustments."
Today I’m thinking that I should have added, "And as soon as I can get a ladder, the glass ball is going back where it belongs."