“Night of tornados” – wasn’t that the name of a horror flick?
We will get to the whales next time.
Today we are backtracking from my notes. It was May 21, 2019. Don’t let the older date fool you, the moment will never leave.
San Angelo State Park, in Texas, is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The area is shrub trees, mesquite brush, cactus, rolling hills, stone cliffs, deer, coyotes, jack rabbits, bob-whites… forget meditation apps, just visit this place at dusk and dawn.
Camped a few miles from the town, I had the perfect spot in the isolated southern section. I was on a ridge facing down into a little valley, the town quietly in the distance. There were no lights in this area and the night sky sparkled without “light pollution.” It was so perfect that I have a mind to request it each time I return, and return I shall.
Just look at it.
The day was splendid.
At almost dusk, a park ranger drove to each sparsely placed RV, warning us with the proverbial ominous stare into the distance… a tornado had wiped out several town blocks two days earlier. It was looking well to happen again.
“It is too late to leave. We are locking the gates and will not be back until morning.”
The storm came quickly and I did not yet know Seashell, my 5th wheel, well enough to determine when it was safe to stay inside or when she would go over. I had trouble walking without grasping something. Later my Fitbit watch told me I had accomplished this:
I lost electricity early. I still had cell connection and in the dark, I checked my Facebook weather feeds. *refresh refresh refresh*
The night provided horizontal green lightning that enveloped San Angelo like a lasso without a lead. Seashell was a shuddering mess as the wind slid across her roof, under her belly, and around her sides. A green “lead” of the lasso soon extended over me.
The park bathhouse, a place to seek shelter, had looked very far away. Now it looked farther. I gathered important papers and the newly burned DVDs of family 8mms and slides into waterproof bags, acutely aware it was all I had left of them.
I learned that two cats will almost fit inside a backpack if they are terrified enough and to look there first before panicking and tearing a trailer apart because they had left their carriers. Moving them, I apologized in soothing whispers through puffs of loose fur.
Raincoat, handgun, water, medicine, headlamp… the door would not open. Why had I not gone sooner?
The green stretched and wobbled, with roiled black within. The blue and yellow lights of electrical surges popped as sections of town went dark. When green flashed on the other side of me, where there was nothing, I solemnly watched for a dark shape there as well.
None of the other RVers were heading for the bathhouse. Were we all waiting for someone else to go first, thereby asserting the seriousness of the moment?
I thought of Iowa, where in my youth a tornado had introduced me to a graphic human death by Mother Nature. I felt underwater. I curled onto the couch and dozed off, somehow. It had been hours.
My phone app tornado siren put that Old World banshee to shame.
My phone flashed: San Angelo, seek shelter. San Angelo, false alarm. San Angelo, keep watch. San Angelo, seek shelter immediately. It is south of you. It is southwest of you. It is moving north towards you. It has touched down three places. There are now more than one.
I knew people were in basements and interior rooms. I was on a ridge. I switched off my small battery candle that had kept me sane through the night. The dark felt like velvet. I sat on the floor with the kittens and trembled. We waited.
A friend from afar stayed up with me all night. She must have been exhausted. She gave me encouragement, weather reports, comfort, humor, a presence in a void. Her name is Veda. She was my angel.
The culmination of this blog is not that a tornado never reached the ridge. No, it brought the realization that I was not prepared to be the person I saw in Iowa. It made me wonder why I had not put a bible into my backpack. I had a tiny New Testament. It would have fit. Why was it an afterthought?
The storm put on an Old West dance hall show that night, complete with raucous fistfights and howled curses. Blessed first light brought views of downed tree limbs, scattered shrubs, slumped fences, and the defiant songs of birds celebrating victory.
Defiance. Let us all have it in times of peril.
Felt I was there sharing the experience. Well done.
Thank you for such kind words Linda. I was hoping to write in such a manner for sure.
Your description is graphically ominous, yet captivating in its intensity. I’m glad you survived to tell the tale.
My friend, thank you. Your choice of words really hit me hard. Thank you for the wonderfully descriptive compliment… your words are always poetic.