As the 13-year cicadas began their invasion, I started writing this one on the front porch with the blue skies graying to black, listening to the increasing humming of the bugs, the continuous clanking of the railroad crossing due to whatever type of construction is happening there, and hoping tornadoes and floodwaters decide our state has had enough for a one-year period. I drove to a tornado-affected area last week to help ensure that a colleague of my boss was able to respond to the documentation requirements for that county to be reimbursed by /ˈfimə/ for clean-up of debris from within the right-of-way. I did not view any damage (the roads were barricaded, and I would have felt like an ass asking to ride along with the officials just go see in person what had caused so much suffering for those affected), but I did hear some first-hand stories from people who were in the first wave of clean-up effort.
One of the guys who worked for the agency I was visiting was the brother of a guy who’s mobile home was “disintegrated and sucked up into the sky.” They said there were no pieces of his trailer found anywhere on his lot, and they found the guy dead up in a tree in the woods nearby.
They said another guy who works in their department went to the hospital to have them check for internal injuries, because he got trapped outside with nowhere to go when the worst part of the storm came through. They said he was okay, but his body looked as if it had been lashed with a belt or a whip across most of the surface. That is when I remembered, but thankfully had the tact not to recount, the Ron White joke about the stubborn guy on the coast who tied himself to a palm tree to prove to his buddies he could withstand the wind. They found him dead, crushed by a car, and that is when they learned: Sometimes it’s not THAT the wind is blowing, it’s WHAT the wind is blowing.
Another story was of an old lady who was in her bed when the tornado went across her property. It took the roof off her house, and set it gently down on the ground, and then it did the same to everything that wasn’t nailed down. Apparently she got dumped out of her bed just as it landed softly on the ground outside, and she was later declared by the hospital to be uninjured.
As I was leaving that area to return to Nashville, I stopped at Waffle House to get something with grits and some coffee to open my eyes for the drive ahead. Since the pacing waitress’ singing along to every song that came on the jukebox seemed more and more like a psychic attack, I tried to make myself less vulnerable by focusing on the conversation that was cranking up between the two overall-wearing old-timers who were at the counter closest to my table. (I will likely wear overalls exclusively when I am an old-timer, so take no offense if you find yourself currently in this demographic and think I am being condescending.) One of them asked the other if he had seen any damage or had any interesting debris land on his property. The other replied with the following story, re-told here as closely as I can recall it, but not quite in Twain-like dialectic detail:
“I was walking in the pasture, and I was looking at the edge of the woods, at how hundreds of trees had been snapped off at the same exact height and the broken tops were all facing the same direction. I was noticing that, but I was still thinking about how a couple of my old trees closer to the house had been twisted off of their roots, when I saw a hawk land nearby to snatch up a snake. As the hawk was just getting airborne again, carrying the little green snake in its claws, a big owl –musta had 8 feet of wings– dropped down on it, and spent 20 or 30 seconds tearing the hawk to pieces. When that owl was done, there was just pieces of a snake and a pile of feathers! Now I heard an owl can see a mouse’s tail twitch from 6000 feet straight up in the sky, but I ain’t never knew no owl could get the drop on some hawk, and then tear him to pieces like that. So, the owl flew off toward the woods, and I just stood there trying to see where he went. After about a minute later, a second hawk landed close to the spot where the other one had been killed, like he was tryina check out his buddy. Some hawks hunt in pairs, you know, and I figure this one had been watching when his partner got tore up by that owl. All of a sudden, BAM! that huge owl swooped back down on that other hawk –it was like he came out of nowhere–, and tore him right up, too! I ain’t never seen nothin’ like it.”