Friday, May 6, 2011

Mother Nature's Fickle Child

Of all of mother nature's children, tornados are the most fickle.

Some of her strange ways leave tragedy, and some miracles.

Despite the devastation that changed the landscape and lives in 30 seconds, there were more than a few miracles in our neighborhood.

Ms. Tredwell over at Crowe Springs was one. Usually referred to as "the old lady from Crowe Springs," she lived back in the deep woods in a concrete block house on a concrete foundation. A setting you might think is the last place the tornado could tighten its angry fist. It took a day to get to her house, with trees piled up down the long dirt road. Finally, they reached the house, to find the whole house had disappeared, save a piece of one block wall. Meanwhile, Ms. Tredwell was found. She was under a pile of rubble one street over, debris from houses not even her own. She was scratched up, but alive and well.

Then there was Jimmy Goodwin. He lived in a mobile home, and when the tornado hit, he was making his way to the well house down in the garden with his battery operated lantern. Before he could get to the well house, the tornado came in its hungry fury, swallowing up his home with a roar.

Jimmy was tossed over into the pasture, with long pieces of tin like hurled like knives through the air, any one of which would have sliced someone through and through. But Jimmy was covered by decking from the barn roof, and was unhurt. In the morning they found his lantern still shining, down in the garden.

There was a miracle on my farm too, a couple of them. My horses, hearing the roar of the tornado, had begun running, as is the deeply encoded safety response for horses and other livestock. After the sun rose, they were nowhere to be found on the farm. As I was still on my way home, my neighbor Amy had gone to look for them. "I knew they were dead, Louisa, I just didn't think they could have survived." That's because nearly every tree was down, with stacks of trunks and branches, and huge objects, made into lethal weapons -- culverts, pipes, boards, an HVAC unit from a nearby house-- untold objects were caught up in the roar and slung across the ground.

Amy had almost given up, and was nearly hoarse from calling. She is a trainer, and assists me with equine therapy with children at my farm; gifted at communication with the horse. Both quarter horses, Nikki and Zip, have a strong bond with her. And both horses are family members. Nikki is an old grey quarter horse, wise and independent, always the herd boss. Nikki is kind and sensitive with a child on her back, but as an animal in the herd, her message is "I'm the boss and I'm busy right now, don't bother me" (even if busy is lounging with one foot cocked under the oak tree by the kitchen door). Nikki has carried my daughter down trails on the farm since she was a baby -- first riding in front of me, then on her own.

Zip is a youngter, a 6 year old sorrell gelding. Like Nikki, Zip is super intelligent. He learned the Parelli method easily, and recently taught a troubled nine year old that there is a difference between power used gently and power used to harm. In the Parelli method, a wiggle of a finger means come forward, or move sideways, and it's all about listening to the subtle cues of the other and learning the language of the horse.

So Amy was doubly fearful as she tried to make her way around the farm. Nearly hoarse, she called out as she came around full circle, thinking them gone or missing. At she neared the driveway again, in response to her call suddenly Nikki poked her white head high above a pile of trees like a periscope. Amy rushed over, and both horses had been trapped in a swirled circle of trees. I'd planed the Leland cypruses in a long row above the arena 33 years ago, and they were fully 100 feet tall now. The horses had run as far as they could, reaching the dead end of the fence below the treeline. The tornado had taken the whole row of feathery trees and swirled them around the horses, wrapping them in a blanket of green 6 feet tall.  Potentially lethal objects like tin and pipes and planks with exposed nails were lodged in the thick brances, but could not get through. Neither could Amy! When she began to leave, Zip became panicked, so she called her husband and stayed with the horses. It took her and her husband an hour just to untangle part of a  path, and Zip did the the rest, clearly eager to be free.

When I reached the farm I could read their story. In the midst of the swirled trees was a small circle of space where the horses had gone round and round, frantically trying to get away. The muddy puddle of hoofprints said it all.

Who would have known a row of 6" seedlings I planted in the sun one April day in 1988 would later give their lives to save two of our own.

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