Mornings of late I come home from work, the sun not yet risen above the grey wall of trees lining the course of Juganine Creek, and as I step from the car a tsunami of birdsong washes over me, winter’s great silence defeated in a riot of territorial bickering, sexual frenzy and mad romance. As shadows gather in the fields and slowly withdraw to their daylong hiding places, the birds sing up the sun. The eastern horizon flames, the pendant moon fades, blinding light spills through the boughs and I stand there mesmerized, identifying the birds by their calls, and layered just above their stridence is a damnable tune like an echo in my head. It’s not the turkeys I’m hearing.
My brain is becoming to me a source of wonder. Last week my wife talked of meeting someone and I asked who it was in a language I’d not spoken in over thirty years. A furrow crinkled her brow as our conversation snagged like a plastic sack caught on a barbed wire fence. What’d you say? she asked.
I should be happy that the unbidden lyric isn’t straight from the Baptist hymnal, but it’s puzzling why it comes from a group I’ve rarely listened to. Way back when my brother was off to the military I’d sometimes play his cassettes, one of them being Simon and Garfunkle’s “Sounds of Silence.” (The timeframe is on par with the foreign phrase I uttered, which makes me wonder if my mind is reverting to a former state, a sort of degeneration.) That a tune can surface after so many decades is amazing and not a little troubling.
It comes to me just now that for most of my childhood and an embarrassingly long stretch of my adulthood I firmly believed the adage that March enters like a lamb and exits like a lion, or vice-versa. So firmly was this rooted in my psyche that it could well have been an eleventh commandment or one of Ezekiel’s prophecies.
Concurrent with this supposition was the equally hackneyed belief that April brought gentle showers to nurture May flowers. With an average rainfall of less than 11 inches in Albuquerque, much of it coming from torrential downpours, the nursery rhyme had little basis in reality. As a friend once said, “We was brainwashed.”
On an unusually placid day last week I dragged fallen tree limbs to the brush pile behind the shed. One specimen constituted the better part of a skinny hackberry that once shaded the north side of our property. It took both hands to drag it and a few swear words to get it around the clothesline, plus some ingenuity to stack it atop the pile. I finally stood it upright and let it fall with a resounding “Timberrrrrr!” Fortunately there were no neighbors about.
March certainly had its ups and downs but April shows signs of being positively malignant. Strong south winds continue to play havoc in the trees, harvesting limbs and moaning like a banshee in the night. The thin skin of the roof seems more conduit than barrier. I often lay in the dark hearing it roar and rage, and when lightning flickers across the blinds I think of the long distance to shelter in the basement. I think of storms prowling like beasts of prey, and I wonder, as I do each Kansas spring, if this is the year they come for us.
Another afternoon, black clouds roiling in the west, one edge catching an errant ray of sunlight and flaring like a struck match, a sense of foreboding fell, and not just for me but for many people who entered the Mercantile to talk of how the sky looked bad or how heavy the air felt, how the sodden heat was sure to trigger storms, and later in the day of how Concordia was getting the first taste of what was heading our way. The wind picked up and shifted to the west. Long before closing time I had the lights off, the cash drawer emptied and the laptop tucked away.
The weather radio was already bleating. Thunderstorms and hail and downbursts and all kinds of fright were unfolding in Washington County and threatened to spill into Marshall. I threw supper together with the hopes of getting a meal into my belly before we lost power, or the house, or our lives. Inside was steamy so I threw open a window to catch the wind.
Rain struck like a battering ram. The house shook with its impact, and as I whirled I saw the south windows disappear under a wall of water. Spray through the open window reached me across the room. I ran to close it and was deafened by a loud scream, whether of wind or rain or thunder or a combination of all three, or of blood singing in my veins, it was impossible to tell.
The radio squawked again. A tornado was on the ground outside of Barnes, eleven miles away.
Water began pooling on the window sill. Lori attacked it with a towel while I set the table. A drop of water hit me in the face, and then another. The roof was leaking in two places. The roar was incessant, in sharp contrast to the uncommonly mute radio.
A few more long minutes and it was over. A tree lay uprooted across the field and water laked in low-lying areas. The leaks dried up. We ate supper.
Turkeys were calling the next morning, a rapidfire gobbling by the railroad tracks. The air was fresh and loud with birdsong. With it was a half-remembered tune.
The nursery rhymes had it wrong. March is the lamb, April the ravener. By afternoon the wind had risen to a shriek, and it carried long into the night, long after I’d closed my eyes and fitfully squirmed until dropping into a restless slumber.