It was a very hot sunny day, not a cloud to be seen…one of those heavy humid days where the heat seems to be pressing you into the ground and the hoppers click and hum through the grass as the buzzards circle overhead, assuming that if you have a heartbeat and you’re outside, you must be in trouble. Storms bloom uncontrollably in these kinds of conditions during peak afternoon temperatures.
There was only a small blip on the radar north of Austin and heading further north east. However, i knew from the feel of things that conditions were right for furious pop up storms. It was a stifling, pressing, heavy heat; the kind of heat that sucked the air out of your lungs and made you want to lie very still in the shade to convince yourself you were not being cooked by the earth itself. It was the kind of day in which you could fry an egg or bake cookies on a pan laid on the dashboard of a car (something that Texan housewives often do in the summer to delight their children with the idea that a car can also be an oven depending on the season). The weather app and the radio both promised storms around sundown. I noted that there was nothing on the radar but when i looked out and saw a feathery white blob in the sky i felt it was only a matter of time. It just seemed hot and i knew super hot meant pop up storms so i worked desperately to get my new grape vine planted and fenced before i perceived weather would create itself.
I dug a hole, planted the grapevine, and then created an elaborate fencing system where the vine could train itself up the inner layer of fencing and the outer layer of fencing could keep the deer and critters off of it.
I ended up putting the vine close to the extension shed. I felt it would get good sun there but be somewhat protected.
It started grabbing things with its tendrils within hours. I was pretty sure it would make quick use of the fencing in the inner bit of my system.
Then all of a sudden i looked up and saw the distant white sheet had become a very near gray sheet and it was almost completely overhead above the property.
I was still cutting fencing and trying to situate the chickens and the dogs when i looked up and noticed the sky had gone a dark blue gray and i could hear thunder. It happened so fast! I literally had my head in my project for 10 minutes and when i looked up the sky was completely different.
This thing got closer and closer. The dogs were in the dog run freaking out about the thunder. They heard it even before it was close enough for my ear and began whimpering before i could hear anything. I knew that thunder was probably what they were hearing and whining about. I chanted repeatedly, “Okay, i see it. I see it. Give me a minute. Im almost done.”
I was supposed to drive over to my new friend/neighbor down the street’s homestead and get some plants she had prepared from her garden at 6. With the thunder and lightening i was seeing, i figured i had better make my run for the car while i still could. I put away my tools and locked the dogs in the house. I made sure the internet was unplugged to avoid attracting lightening and made a run for the car across the property. I got there and locked myself in, arranging my purse and the chicken eggs i was bringing my friend. i settled in to chill in the car for about twenty minutes before leaving. The radio music was interrupted by a weather alarm noise and a man’s voice came on the air. He warned people of a fast moving severe storm packing 80 mph winds, ping pong ball sized hail, and lightening. He asked people to take shelter immediately, get away from windows, and expect vehicle and structure damage. Instead of sheltering and preparing for the arrival of hail i drove to my new friend’s house down the road and met her in the garden. She had a beautiful garden with a ten foot high deer fence, an abundance of blackberries, tons of grape vines, and vegetable plants. Her garden was amazing, just absolute utopia! It was literally the same size as her house. I was in awe. I didnt ever want to leave! As i wandered around her garden, picked blackberries, and helped her pull up and repot 40 tomato plants the clouds overhead began to change. Thunder rumbled, lightening split the sky, and the wind picked up something fierce. It blew our hair in our faces and blew the plants this way and that while we tried to repot them and set them in the wheelbarrow to take to my car. I pointed the clouds out to my friend and we stopped to take a picture. I knew in my gut those were not the kind of clouds that meant calm weather was nearing. We needed to be inside, but there was gardening to be done and this was the only time all week that our schedules would line up as she had out of state family coming in and i had to work. So we stayed outside and continued to garden but both of us were pretty lost. Every fiber of our beings was saying “weather nigh…go now…batten down the hatches, prepare for hail and twisters…get the flashlight and extra batteries just in case, put some snack food on the counter in case we cant open the fridge after the power cuts out.” And yet we were just way out there in the middle of the yard, directly under all the clouds and thunder and lightening getting blown about by the wind… our brains were off. In fight or flight mode we weren’t very good at organizing a non survival type task. We both knew the plants we pulled up had to be potted but we seemed to have forgotten the series of steps required to make that happen. Dirt! Dirt would be needed. Were we using her dirt? Was i going to the dollar general and buying potting soil? Should i be doing that now? Were we throwing the plants in the car and doing that on the way back? So many unanswered questions that weren’t even being asked. Instead we stood there under the storm saying “um” while the plants blew about the yard. My friend is the one that pulled things together long enough to organize some sort of task. It was her house, her familiar territory. It made sense she would be the one to snap out of it first. I was still mesmerized by the massive blackberry bushes she had let me pick and eat from. Also, the weather was pretty thoroughly occupying most of my instinctual abilities. It was all i could do to remain in the yard. I could cite so many movies that are perfect examples of why people in kansas, texas, oklahoma, tennessee, and arkansas dont stand still outside in weather such as what i was looking at.
The clouds were mesmerizing and beautiful but in a negligent “you shouldn’t be here” kind of way.
My friend handed me the plants and i held them in the pots while she shoved dirt around them, sprinkled chicken poop and worm castings in the hole with their roots, and pressed more dirt around them. I gave her the chicken eggs and she sent me home with a full ziploc bag of the blackberries we had picked from her garden. I ate them while i was driving. They were so good! None of them made it home.
When i arrived home i realized i needed dirt and turned the car around. I drove to the dollar general. By the time i got out of the car the clouds had turned a peach color and there was lightening everywhere. The sky was lit up with electricity. I hurried in and bought a bag of dirt. As is common in a small town everyone was acutely aware of the weather approaching outside and they were all speculating what size of hail we were going to get. Everyone stood at the window watching the lightening until someone squeezed the snorting rubber pig and that meant there was a customer at the register. I drove home, unloaded a third of my cargo, left all the non living things in the car, did a few chores, and then hunkered down in the house with the dogs and waited for the weather. It sprinkled a little. The impressive lightening storm and ping pong ball sized hail which later dropped to silver dollar sized went elsewhere. It gave us an impressive show and shout and then slid by.
It would be two days before i had a day off to dig holes, plant things, and cut fencing so the plants just sat on the porch or in the kitchen until i could get their permanent arrangements ready. in the pot pictured above there are 38 roma and cherry tomato plants. I realized i couldnt fit them all on my porch and asked my friend if i could give some to Cindy, a friend to both of us. She was fine with this notion and so we shared the garden bounty and cindy inherited many many tomato plants for her garden, which was good because she had killed most of her spring garden by putting way too much goat poop in the raised beds during a natural fertilizer experiment.
I gave the peppers to cindy who planted them in her garden, since i dont like to eat peppers but the plants looked so healthy and perky i couldnt refuse them. I kept the basil.
A couple years ago i made one potted tomato cage for the porch to keep the deer and rabbits out. Now i cut and fashioned two more cages with lids. I ran out of keychain clips so i used safety pins to clip the lids on. Definitely not raccoon proof but im not convinced there is such a thing as raccoon proof.
While i was digging the hole for the olive tree i kept digging up these grubs which i think are a larval state of june bugs. At least, they are buried in the spot behind the house where all the june bugs rise up out of the ground at dusk to fly. I carried them over to the pen and fed them to the chickens one by one as i found them. Daisy caught on pretty quickly that whatever activity i was doing, it was generating bugs. She was waiting eagerly each time i approached and she snatched every single grub i found that day. The other chickens were still unsure what i was doing bringing a shovel near them. They never seemed to figure out there was food because Daisy always ate it immediately. I had to laugh. She was on it.
I was obsessed with making the hole level. This is how i ended up with a two foot hole…not because the olive tree had long roots but because i needed the bottom to be flat.
I planted the olive tree behind the south wall of the house and fenced it. Over the next week the armadillo would dig it up 4 separate times and eventually officially kill it dead. It was right next to the armadillo’s den. However, my friend told me the south wall of the house was the only thing that would protect the olive tree from our strong north winds and so it wouldnt survive elsewhere. I did not ask for another cutting. I figured the armadillo would just do the same to another one. Its a shame. It would have been neat to have an olive tree.
A little baby oak tree in the dog run
Unsuccessful anti armadillo measures…at one point the armadillo began taking the rocks and stashing them in its den.
The evening after i planted everything on my day off the sky gave an equally impressive show. Thunder rumbled in the distance and then roared to life as the weather moved overhead. Lightening split the sky in blinding flashes. This storm seemed even more active than the one i had collected the plants in. Dusk was fantastic. Everything was bathed in peach and butter yellow light. At first i thought the storm would pass us as its predecessor had days before. However, right after nightfall it opened up and poured for about half an hour. Then i heard the familiar sound of hail pinging off the tin roof. The hail was only pea sized but i was devastated to think that all the new plants i had put in the ground earlier that day were getting hailed on. I wasnt sure what would be left standing after the thrashing wind and rain and now hail.
The following morning i would learn that i should have been happy hail was all the storm dropped. To the north of me, a town called Morton received a chilling wedge tornado from the same system. Suddenly i wasn’t so perturbed about the pea sized hail that had rained down on my newly planted garden.
The photograph above is courtesy of storm chaser Kholby Martin, May 23, 2022, near Morton, Texas.
If you would like to view chilling video footage of the tornado that touched down in Morton, Texas on May 23, 2022, the above link will take you to the “Texas Storm Chasers” youtube site where you can view the video shot by Stephen and Adam Lucio. At one point they roll down the window and it is a rare opportunity for you to hear exactly what it sounds like to be eerily close to a dangerous force of nature.