Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sky and Earth

Loving weather is a requirement for anyone who enjoys living with a continental climate. Air masses sweep in from all directions here, at the crossroads of the sky. Meteorologists from the coasts move here because they want to lead interesting lives. Anyone who does not love this sort of unpredictability eventually moves to Florida.

Weather and the land are mirrors. Great swathes of grasslands bend under south winds. Heavy rains bring down dead trees across forest paths. Valleys channel tornadoes; hilltops send them leaping into the sky. Seasons change plant life and weather patterns.

Line storms sweep across the troubled sky, driving in 500 miles from the mountains, slicing the light. Temperatures drop thirty degrees in an hour. The nickname Tornado Alley is apt, but most of the natives here have only been close to one or two tornadoes. Tornado watches are frequent. An international student at the university called her mother and mentioned that the town was under a watch. Her mother demanded that she book a flight home immediately. She had a hard time reassuring her concerned parent that, really, tornado watches rarely result in tornado touchdowns.

Storm chasers court the weather. Every spring intrepid souls take off across country, trying to drive directly into wall clouds. Dashboard cameras make their adventures available to those of us who prefer to hunker down at home. My dad once took us out in wild weather to the two-mile corner south of town. He parked the car at a four-way crossroads, useful for a getaway. Above us, a continent of rain and wind veered to the northeast. As it passed over, we saw spiraling tails dip down almost (but not quite) to the ground. Hail came next. He jumped out of the car and caught several stones for us. We tasted bright lightning when we licked them.

The more persistent issue here is drought — moderate, severe, exceptional — the categories tell the story. When the parched earth gapes before me wherever I go, I sometimes find myself longing for sorrow, a reason to cry, to water the soil with my tears. I take water from the rain barrel and pour it onto a stone, an ancient spell to call rain. I beg the gods of the sky for more weather.

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