The Whirlwind


It was 4pm when I heard my favorite voice over the radio: the female robot from the National Weather Service. I love how she mispronounces words. I love how she puts the accent on incorrect syllables. “The Na’-tion-‘al Wea-‘ther Ser’-vice has issued a tor-na’-do war’-ning for the fol-‘lowing coun’-ties…” and then the phone rang. It was my mother calling to tell me to get into the basement. It’s not often that one’s mother calls to tell them to get into the basement so I didn’t question her.

I wasn’t there for two minutes when the telephone rang again. This time it was Donna. “Jen, you should get into the basement. There’s a tornado heading right toward you.” I told her to call me back when I was supposed to get out of the basement. Then Eric called. “How am I supposed to hide in the basement when everyone keeps calling to tell me to hide in the basement?!” He laughed and hung up the phone.

Everyone (including myself) keeps referring to the sub-ground level of our house a “basement” but it is by all means a cellar. A dank, dark, wet cellar with cobwebs and packed dirt floors and stone walls and a cistern that if I were a young child would frighten the daylights out of me and still does. I try not to think about it or stare down into it for too long. I cleared a sack of potatoes off of a chair covered in cobwebs. Its straw bottom had given way years ago. I sat precariously on its edge and waited.

The storm hadn’t even started and the power was already out. I crept up the cellar stairs hoping the tornado wouldn’t see me and grabbed my headlamp. There were a lot of things I kept thinking I should have brought down to the cellar with me, but at this point the rains were lashing, the lightning crashing and the wind was knocking the tresses of trees. I wished I had brought down some food and tools (food for eating and tools to dig myself out -of course). I also wished I had brought down a hose. I would run the hose up the cellar stairs and lay it on the kitchen floor and hang on to the bottom. That way if the house collapsed in on me I would have an air supply. As soon as I thought of this marvelous idea I realized I was copping it completely from my father, who, as a child, used to dig tunnels in the sand pits of the new neighborhood developments. “I thought I was so smart planning for the impending collapse of our tunnel, but I didn’t realize that the weight of the sand would have crushed the hose.” Okay. Phew. Hose completely frivolous and unnecessary. I would just die in the cellar next to our eyeing potatoes and the creepy cistern.

The rains were really coming down now and it sounded like they were pouring right into the basement. When I poked around near the old oil tank I realized they actually were pouring right into the basement. It was a deluge of water, like someone had turned on a faucet. The side room of the cellar where the cistern is (and all the electrical circuitry and the heater) was filling up with water fast.  Because the power was out the sump pump wasn’t running and soon I was standing in two inches of water with an electrical storm going on outside. Suddenly the cellar didn’t seem like the safest place to be. With the butt end of a broom handle I carved channels in the packed dirt floor, trying to guide the water to more preferable places…like not near the chest freezer or the heater. Soon the trickle slowed and I put down my broom. It must be over soon, I thought.

Creeping up the stairs again and peeking out the window the tree tops were still. I called my mother. “I’d give it ten more minutes,” she said. So I descended the steps again like a dutiful daughter. When she called me to tell me the coast was clear she said that a house 10 miles away from me had been razed to the ground and an 18 wheeler had been tossed off the highway. When I went outside to survey the damage I found none, not so much as a twig on the ground and I felt blessed. The tornado was a good metaphor to what it feels like is happening around here lately. Spring.

The power was out for the rest of the night, which made catching up on orders difficult. Earlier this week my computer decided to finally kick the bucket, leaving me quite behind on all things technological. My sweet mother allowed me to borrow her computer (which at this point I could not use without electricity) so I wrapped soap for a wedding order instead. I also want to thank my Mom for coming over every day this week to take home a dozen paper grocery bags of seeds, which she then mechanically separated using the advanced technology of the human hand. Thank you Mom. You saved me days and days.


PS The photos are of cedar-apple rust galls that I discovered after the storm when I did my rounds looking for damage. They were hanging out on the juniper tree in the back field and looked like aliens or sea creatures had landed in the tree. I had never seen them before but as soon as Eric came home without even batting an eye he said “Oh! cedar apple rust!” He didn’t even have to look it up in the Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control like I did.

Apparently the orange “gelatinous horns” form in wet weather. Throughout band practice all night Donna kept saying “gelatinous horns” over and over. The galls don’t so much harm the juniper but I don’t want them to spread to the nearby apple trees which can cause infected fruit to be small and deformed and fall prematurely. And we don’t want that.

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