Friday, May 6, 2011

April's Encore

April did not close quietly. It had appeared as if it might, and then, the frontal line of a century hit the area and state. In terms of perfect storms this one was exquisite in its perfection, and in its destructive powers. The colliding masses of air that met were the total opposites in their temperature and humidity, and their confrontational line left a swath of devastation from high winds, tornadoes, and hail that will long be remembered for its fury and horror, and its resulting loss of property and life.

The day was damp and muggy, and felt like a sauna with the winds from the south pulling the moisture from the warm Gulf of Mexico, priming the atmosphere for the arrival of the still quite cold and dry air mass from the north. The weather channel folks were very excited and the meteorologists were busy on the television, enthusiastically showing maps and giving warnings about the potential power of the storm that was to arrive here, later in the afternoon. They showed graphics and maps and repeatedly told of what to do to prepare for its arrival. Their urgency was dramatic and a bit of a cause for some mild concern, but it’s kind of like the boy who cried “wolf” too many times and nobody believed him. That is, until the wolf did finally eat someone. We had just a bit of skepticism at the need for all their excitement.

We have storms here all the time, nearly weekly, especially in spring when the air is still in flux of changing from winter to summer. Occasionally we do have fierce thunderstorms, with these fronts, and sometimes, a tornado, sometimes with damage, but usually, not. And so we listened to these weather guys do their thing, and prepared for the usual despite their enthusiastic warnings of “Blah, blah, blah!”, and went about our merry way finishing the afternoon chores.

When I returned from afternoon feeding at the barn, I walked into the house and looked to the tv and saw where the effects of the storm were now being visible from sky cams across the state, and it was evident that this was no usual frontal line and this was not the ordinary spring storm. Already, they said, this storm had killed and destroyed many in its path in neighboring states. Cameras were suddenly switched to show a massive tornado which was in view courtesy of a remote sky cam, descending upon the town where Mark and I had been in college, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. We watched in amazement as a giant, rapidly moving funnel swept over recognizable landmarks and obliterated them without a sound, blowing debris far and wide. It was a surreal event to watch, and then to realize that we were watching death happen, and destruction so massive as to not comprehend. It was a strange and helpless feeling to watch an event like this in real time, and be helpless to act. Just after this unprecedented, huge, tornado passed just south of the tall walls of Denny Stadium, that camera went dead.

Reports and photos later on began to reveal the extent of the horror after the tornado left the town and laid aim at another to the east. The storm front also spawned many other tornados, but none as massive or as long on the ground as Tuscaloosa’s, but huge amounts of damage and loss of life had occurred all over the area. The tornado that hit in Tuscaloosa had been a mile wide and covered almost seven miles of concentrated town, raking entire neighborhoods, buildings, cars, and people away. Text books, checks, and debris from this town were carried by the huge winds as far away as Birmingham, which also felt the brunt of this collision of air masses. The number of lives lost or missing was near three hundred or something, I have heard, and the injuries were uncountable.

Friends of ours called us from Tuscaloosa after the front had moved on that night, to tell us they had been missed and were ok, but they expressed the unbelievable destruction they witnessed with shock and dismay in their voices. The area we had spent so much time in, and the apartments where Mark had lived when we met, were simply gone, bull dozed by the sucking winds that pulled up, or leveled, everything in its path, everything.

We were fortunate that fate would spare our immediate location and home, and we were graced with only a bit of wind, and that was gratefully, all. The cooler and drier conditions the retreating storm left behind were welcome and the next day these conditions were pleasant for the poor souls who did live through the storm to pick up the few remaining pieces of their newly shattered lives, and an entire state, and country, was numb with the extent of the incomprehensible loss.

As cleanup is begun, life continues, and the healing of the scars will take time, but mend the wounds. Life on this planet is a strange and fragile existence and is one with no guarantees of tomorrow, and had best be enjoyed, savored, and appreciated. A motto to heed is certainly, to “Be here now”.

On a totally different wave length from the sobering effects of the passing storm, the next day, outside in the woods, there was a loud and very strange noise coming from all over the place. It was a constant whirling, relentless whistling sound that brought to mind the sci-fi alien landing in a movie sound. This was a very different sound from the typical cicadas, crickets, frogs and such that are busy vocalizing away this time of year and as I rode my horses near the trees they paused and cast inquisitive ears towards the strange sound. It is now a loud and constant droning which lasts from dawn to dusk.

Red eyed cicadas are the source of this sound, the internet research enlightened us, a particualr batch of bugs that hatch only every thirteen years. Theirs is a life cycle that lasts as adults only for a few weeks, emerging from the soil as grubs that have fed on roots and such for thirteen years, and they then shed their skins to become winged adults. The males rub these orange rimmed wings together, making this crazy whirling sound, each trying to attract a red eyed female. Mating accomplished, she then lays her eggs either on these hard wood trees or in them, to lay in wait for yet another thirteen years, the cycle completed. An article written thirteen years ago predicted their return in late April, and that will remain present until a few weeks into May, and the author was spot on so far.

They are a colorful and good sized bug, and I nearly stepped on a very tired male this morning as a came from the barn. I went to go get something to put it in so I could photograph the thing later, but when I came back to it with a cup, the might dog, Jack, was standing where the poor bug had been, and the weary bug was now yet another victim of Jack’s culinary indiscretion. He looked quite innocently at me as he crunched the last of my would be model.

Our youngest daughter was born in 1985, on a year of their emergence, and she is soon to be twenty six, on this year of their second return since her birth. The next time they fill the air with their droning amorous calling, she will be thirty nine, and I can’t count high enough to know how old I will be, if granted, I am here. Funny, when one looks at events with personal markers like these, it does give one a frame of reference that gives thought. I will remember this reoccurring occasion of these bugs for the cross timing with her birthday. I will also regrettably, remember it in association with the timing of the deadly April tornados.

A little link on the bugs..


  1. I used to torture Will with those cicada shells.. He's still terrified of em.. love your writing as usual.. see y'all soon jmt