Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hole in the sky

When is rotation actual rotation and not something superficially akin to it? That’s a question I can find no end to. At the time I did nothing more than dumbly stare out the dining room window and comment to Lori on the odd behavior of the rain. That was my first mistake. The second followed very shortly after, when an explosion shattered the view and the rabbit bolted from her cage in terror.

Of all the things that happened afterward, it was that failure to recognize the severity of the situation and act upon it that sticks with me most. That sticks in my craw. From my earliest days I was taught through example that a man’s place was to protect his family. When murderers escaped from the Santa Fe Penitentiary and fled into the Pecos Mountains where we were camping, my father, and all the other male campers, carried pistols openly. When a mysterious and unseen mammal threatened us in the selfsame mountains my father commanded his sons to form a circle around our mother while he investigated armed only with a wooden cudgel. Men were the protectors. Men were the first line of defense. And knowing this meant that men must remain ever cognizant of all external threats and to act without hesitation. Our gender dictated constant vigilance and preparation.

And me, I stood there like a fool while the driving rain tracked in a wide southerly arc from the south-southwest to the east and back again, as if the house had slipped its moors and spun on a storm-wracked sea. The harbinger of what was coming, and me rooted to the spot like a stalk of asparagus, unable to do more than mutter some inane remark about never having seen rain act that way before.

Not long before I had heard the weather radio squawking about a particularly nasty storm moving directly toward Blue Rapids from Clay Center. It was coming fast and would cover the forty or so miles rapidly. When I fired up Doppler radar on the Internet to get a better view, I saw a red slash like an arrow expanding from Concordia in the west to the lower border of Marshall County. Late season storms usually amount to little more than flash and bang but something about this one made me uneasy.

I stared out the window at skies shading to black with a slight greenish tinge like an old bruise. Lori announced she was going to a meeting down the street, a statement I found utterly out of sync with the dire events forming just beyond the ridge. There ensued a brief discussion over the merits of attendance versus security. Slightly disgruntled, she put her purse down just as the rain intensified on a rising gale and began its spin across the lower cardinal points.

I said something. The directional shift was mesmerizing, so bizarre that it slipped past my reasoning leaving only a blank slate and a single extended how? that hung unanswered in my mind while the rain reversed course and tracked back to its original source.

With a deafening roar the view detonated in a white wall that rocked the house. Sheba flew from her cage and crouched wild-eyed as if uncertain where to run. Rain poured through the window air conditioner and sprayed across the room. I grabbed a handful of dish towels and clapped them to the window but it was like holding back a flood. Lori took Sheba as the power went out and the battery backup started beeping. So many noises vied for attention that it was impossible to decipher their origin—creaks, pops, groans, rattles, all nearly drowned out by splintering thunder, hammering rain and the banshee scream of the wind.

And then it relented, a matter of a minute or so, and we could see trees thrashing violently as if being electrocuted. Leaves filled the air like some form of green birds, and still the rain lashed the house in sheets, though it was lessening even as the thunder moved off to the east. We took stock of the house looking for drips or broken windows but found nothing out of the ordinary. I peeked out the front door and saw tree limbs sprawled across the yard, some as tall as small trees. But it was when I looked out the back window that I saw the reason for our power outage.

The magnificent hackberry that shaded the back corner of the yard was now flat on the ground, parts of it draped across the shed, the fence flattened. The shredded power line snaked across the sodden ground. My stomach lurched at the sight. This has been our constant dread, for the tree had been hollowing out for years and would have to be taken down soon. Now it was a moot point.

I called Westar and relayed the news, and as dusk fell we lit candles and gathered headlamps and flashlights. To the west a new wave of storms was brewing. Not knowing when the power might be restored, I went to work for two hours so I wouldn’t worry about waking too late. And when I got home I saw a light shining in the window, and deep ruts carved through the wet grass where Westar had driven.

It wasn’t until dawn the next day that we were able to assess the damage. Trees were shattered and the ruts would take years to repair, but the house was sound. Sounder than my heart, for in the following days my mind returns to that shapeshifting rain, a half-rotation at minimum, something so far out of the norm that I should have seen the danger in it and yelled for Lori to take cover. That I didn’t is like where the tree once stood, a hole in the sky that might never be filled.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"shape-shifting rain" I loved that. Other great images: trees being electrocuted, green birds.

And hey, you're in Kansas now. Kansans don't take cover - we like to face our assailant. And, maybe if it looks bad, we'll go underground, you know, eventually.