My colleagues began discussing the emergence of anxiety disorders during the pandemic. Nurses who were used to operating inside of life or death situations for ten minute periods, doing everything possible to revive or maintain a patient until the EMTs took over found themselves in the same type of situation but extended for months on end. It was exhausting to always be vigilant, always be running from one patient to the next, always be trying to salvage life. To never be able to laugh, breathe, rest, joke…it was taking its toll. Some people couldn’t sleep at all, haunted by the reality we were living in. They laid awake at night, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the alarm clock to liberate them from their swimming thoughts. Others could fall asleep but woke from their sleep in a panic, unable to breathe, paralyzed by fear. Some of my colleagues began taking anti depressants, anti anxiety meds, and sleeping pills. I watched in horror as an increasingly exhausted industry tried to cope. Bags under eyes became darker and puffier. Faces once jolly and round became long and tired. Eyes once bright with ambition became dull and empty. I was in the camp of those who could not sleep. I sat in the rocking chair gripped by anxiety for the future we faced, my mind swimming with options for how i could possibly save our reality as we knew it. It was hopeless but it didn’t stop my mind from straining to find the answer. No matter what music i listened to, what tv show i watched, or what exercise i did, sleep would not come. I felt the pervasive sense of dread my colleagues had talked about. I longed for the days when everything seemed fine and i was sure the world would be there as i had left it when i woke, as i laid my head on the pillow.
Every once in a while the fedex box of produce would arrive with a hole in it or with the ice pack warm and melted. It just depended on how well it was packed and how gingerly it was handled on its journey. Inside was my week’s worth of food. Spoiled or not, it was my food for the week. If something was beyond salvageable, i could call the company and say it arrived smooshed or rotten and they would refund me the money spent on the item. However, it was not as if i could turn around and use that money to buy more food. Each individual produce item in town was a dollar at least. They didn’t stock brown rice anymore. Also, people wanted to stone me every time i walked into a store. They felt i was dangerous and risky to be around because i worked in healthcare. Mask or no mask, i was not welcome in the grocery in town. I knew that if i asked for a refund for an item and threw it out, i would just have to stretch what was left that much harder until the following week. So i ate it, spoiled or not. When food arrived smelling sour and fermented the first thing i did was cook it. I cooked the dickens out of it, both to kill anything growing on it and because i secretly hoped cooking the slimy white-spotted pieces of squash would make the taste morph into something less unpleasant. It didn’t. It also didn’t help the smell. I would make a big pot of brown rice. I would spread a layer of rice on the plate and put the spoiled vegetable pieces on top of it and then go to youtube and turn on a tv program i liked. I would get my little plastic spoon ready and get really into the tv program. I would cover the whole plate with a thin dusting of salt and then i would force myself to eat it while trying to remain lost in “storm chasers” “deadliest catch” or “cops uk bodycam squad”. It tasted awful and my tongue rebelled the entire time, sending my brain signals that the food was off, instinct attempting to kick in and steer me away from certain poisoning. I continued on until the plate was empty. When i was done i would sit still in the rocking chair for an hour and let the food settle. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience, eating spoiled food, but it wasn’t meant to be. It was simply necessary. I was hungry. If i ate the spoiled food i wouldn’t be hungry. It was what i had to eat, so, no matter what condition it arrived in, i had to eat it. One week all 18 nectarines arrived bruised and moldy. I washed them one by one and poked through the white-spotted fuzzy mushy spots, letting the goo run down my fingers and into the sink. Once i had the salvageable bits of the fruit cleaned i put them all in a ziploc freezer bag and stashed them in the fruit drawer in the refrigerator. I would eat two to three a day for the rest of the week. It would leave my stomach confused and sensitive but it was necessary. That was all the fruit i had, save for a few apples that were already designated for lunches at work. It was necessary to consume them if i wanted to be able to make a bowel movement for the rest of the week. Getting enough fruit in my diet to stay regular was a challenge during the pandemic and fruit had to be salvaged at all costs. Once, my shipment of oranges arrived with no moisture in them. They were dried up and brittle on the inside. They fell apart in my fingers when i tried to separate the pieces. I put a cup of water next to my plate with the orange on it and i chewed the dry pulp, taking sips of water in between each bite. I couldn’t afford to waste the oranges. They were the fruit for the week that was going to make moving my bowels possible. Otherwise i’d end up like my patients on heavy pain killers who couldn’t go to the bathroom until their turds were hard as little rocks that came out like deer poop in tiny pieces. I prayed a lot about those boxes. I prayed the food would arrive and not get lost in the warehouse, as other peoples’ boxes had in the past. I prayed that it would arrive in good condition, and i prayed i’d be home from work in time to get it out of the yard before it baked in the sun. It seemed hunger had become a big part of my life. I was always hungry. I was always rationing the food i had to make it last throughout the week. I knew i would never look at food the same. I would never waste anything again. I would never leave pulp on the seed, throw out the crusty bits of rice stuck to the bottom of the pot, or waste spent cooking oil by washing the pan instead of sticking the next vegetable straight into the oil from the last one cooked. I had become like the survivors of the great depression. Food was gold to me and wasting any of it would be an unspeakable crime in my mind. Ultimately, i was willing to risk an upset stomach if it meant it wouldn’t be empty.
As time went on i began getting inventive with the limited kitchen supplies i had in stock. Items i would have bought readily before such as vegan milk and butter were marked up to a pricey amount. Pieces of produce in the health-food store in town were a dollar a piece or more. I began cutting the oat milk in half with water before adding the cereal to make it last longer. I tried not to use the oat milk for anything but vegan yogurt, as it was so expensive. So, oatmeal and tapioca pudding had to be made with water instead of milk. Instead of putting honey in the oatmeal or tapioca i emptied the stevia packets i kept in the tea cabinet in the shed. Sometimes i just salted the oatmeal and dubbed it “savory”.
Every week i bought 3 lbs of potatoes from imperfect foods. Whatever vegetables were available, i put with them in the skillet. Most weeks they had carrots, squash, kale, and onion. When the box arrived i would divide all the veggies into three ziploc bags for 3 separate days. Then i would peel and chop the contents of one of the bags each day, placing them in the skillet with oil and making a meal. Half of it would be supper and half of it would be lunch for the following day. It became the meal i ate throughout most of each week. I never tired of it. I was thankful to have the food.
I started combining vegetables with noodles on the days i was out of potatoes to stretch them farther. If there were any tomatoes in the garden i threw those in too.
This was the last batch of strawberries from imperfect foods before they were no longer available to buy. as usual, i fought for my order of them. I sliced eight of them for the yogurt jars and ate the rest, saving the tops for the chickens. They were such amazing berries!
I picked the lemon cucumber when it began to turn yellow on the outside. I figured that must mean it was done. Also, its growth had stagnated and it was getting no bigger.
It was room temperature, as it had just come from the garden. It smelled and tasted like a cucumber. It was sustenance and nutrition. It was one less time that i had to look to outside sources to fill my belly.
For some time i had been watching these two female flowers on this mystery squash plant that seemed to be growing way too close to the other plants i had growing in the mosquito net tent. The male flowers had bloomed for a week, one by one, and now that the male flowers were nearly used up, the female flowers were getting ready. I knew i would have to rip open the female flowers early in order to make use of the male flowers pollen before the last of the male flowers were shriveled and gone, or the female flowers would shrivel and the potential squash would drop off long before the plant made more male flowers. I checked the plant all week. I had the most detailed of plans in place. Stuff happened at work. I got distracted. I forgot about the squash for one day. The last of the male flowers bloomed. I forgot to rip the female flowers open. It wasn’t until the following day that i realized my mistake when i found, the female flowers had opened. If they were open… one of the male flowers was unsalvageable, shriveled and void of pollen, bugs eating it on the ground. The other was shriveled but still on the plant. I carefully cut the top of the shriveled flower away, peering inside. There was still pollen at the center of the flower. I thought maybe i could divide the pollen in half, depositing pollen from one male flower into both open female flowers on the plant. I cut the flower from the plant, peeled away the petals, and turned it upside down, depositing half of the pollen in one flower and half of it in the other. With so little pollen left, i knew it was a long shot, but i had to try. I had been waiting so long for these squash to be ready to pollinate. I couldn’t admit defeat, especially since it was my fault i had missed the window. The wind picked up and the weather radio warned a storm was coming. My heart sank. The wind would blow all the pollen out of the flowers and the rain would definitely wash it away. I didn’t have any more pollen. What was on the flowers had to be protected at all costs. Amidst a show of lightening and rumbling thunder i put the dogs in their crates inside the house and locked the chicken pen. I ran back to the mosquito net tent where i cut the squash flowers from a different kind of plant that didn’t have any female flowers to pollinate. I turned them upside down and pressed them against the pollinated squash flowers, forming a little orange tent to protect them against the rain. It wasn’t air tight or vacuum sealed so i placed plastic cups over the flower tents to try to further protect the pollen from the arriving weather. As i stood in the mosquito net tent i began to get wet but i wouldn’t budge. Every time a gust of wind knocked the cups over, i set them straight again, placing them over the squash flower tents. When the storm had pretty much worn itself out and the wind was gone i dared to leave the tent, trudging back to the house in my wet clothes and muddy sandals. I undressed on the porch and went inside. Once in new clothes i hung the rain-soaked ones in the shower to drip dry. I would leave my flower-tent/cup system alone until the evening when i went to check all the plants and see what needed watered. As i removed the plastic cups i was delighted to find that the wilting squash flowers i had placed over the pollinated ones had turned sticky in their wilting state and glued themselves thoroughly to the squash flowers they were resting on top of. It had become a sealed pouch, trapping the pollen inside. It worked rather thoroughly because two days later i would peel the dried crusty flower combo off of the squash to find that both of them had grown rounder and appeared to be getting slightly larger. It was then that i realized the mystery squash was a butternut squash. I suddenly knew why they were planted so close to other plants. I wouldn’t have done this on purpose. The butternut squash seeds i had tried to sprout refused to do so. They never came up. However, i had spread the dirt from the toy boxes along the floor of the tent. The seeds must have still been in the dirt. They must have decided to sprout once in the tent. I was ecstatic. Two butternut squash would be quite the haul when they were ready some day. Oh how good they would taste!
The little candyland tomatoes began to turn orange.
The first time i picked one i was surprised. They were not only insanely sweet, but sour as well. The flavor reminded me of when i used to suck on warheads candies as a child. They were pretty sour but there was also an insane amount of sugar in there. The tomatoes were just like the candies. They were very tart but so sweet at the same time that it didn’t make my mouth pucker. They were intriguing little morsels. I didn’t know what to make of them. After one chew, the thing was so small it was pretty much gone. I felt, perhaps if i had a handful of them at once i could figure out what the flavor was. However, there were never more than 2 ripe at a time.
I grew another yellow squash, a pea, and some green beans as well.
The squash was even nuttier than the first. I picked it when it was a little younger than the other and the flavor was even better. The seeds were softer. The green beans were the best thing i had ever tasted in life. The flavor was nothing like green beans, or the kind i knew at least. It was something different; salty, toasted, and buttery. There were only two beans; just a small pile, but i enjoyed them thoroughly, tasting each spoonful two pieces at a time to make the experience last longer.
One thursday night i was hungry but all the potatoes, squash, carrots, brussels sprouts, and kale had been used up earlier in the week and the next box didn’t arrive until the following afternoon. I had already made the oatmeal for the following morning’s breakfast and packed my lunch but there was nothing left to eat in that moment. I went to the cherry tomato plant on the porch and picked all the red ones. I sliced them in half and laid them on a plate. I took an avocado from the imperfects food order and cut it up. I sprinkled salt and balsamic vinegar overtop the veggies. Then i dug in. It was really good.
I never dreamed i would have so many problems growing potatoes. The pill bugs and grub worms were eating the potatoes from under the ground. My only clue would be when the above ground plant started to wilt. It would turn yellow and droop. As i pulled it up, i would see pill bugs racing in every direction and a grub worm might be trying to burrow further underground, suddenly exposed to the sunlight. I was having the hardest time because the potatoes were only babies. They weren’t ready yet. However, when the bugs severed the roots from the leaves…i guessed they had to be done because there was no plant left to grow them. When this happened i would pull the baby potatoes up and take them inside.
I got three potatoes out of my battle with the bugs but they were all babies. I took them gladly but i would have to find some better way to grow potatoes. I dug a deeper hole and planted my next batch further down in the dirt. Maybe the pill bugs wouldn’t go down that far. I wasn’t sure. I was just experimenting at that point.
I sliced up the baby yukon gold potatoes and put them in a bag with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I sealed the bag and shook it vigorously until all the potato halves were coated. Then i arranged them on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
The potatoes were good enough. They were nothing special. They tasted like potato. I wished they could have ripened fully. They would probably have been better.
The first bean i harvested was simply because the plant died. The beans were not ready.
There were only three small beans and by the time they had dried they were so shriveled i lost one and then another in the pattern of the counter top and never found them. I threw the third bean away. Once dried it was large enough for me to see, but barely. It was no good.
A week later another bean plant would turn yellow and die. However, this plant was finished with its beans. When i took them out of the pod they were big and round. Viable beans. I dried them and added them to my two year old bag of garden-grown beans. One day i hoped to have a half a cup of beans to eat.
It seemed the lemon cucumbers were faring the best with my human powered pollination methods. they had many flowers and maybe 30 of them would all open at once, as opposed to the squash plants that produced all the male flowers…then saw them gone and wilted and put out all the female flowers afterwards. It was an exhausting task trying to get them to hook up on the same day.
The lemon cucumber plant didn’t seem to be able to support the growth of more than one cucumber at a time, so, maybe 5 of them would get pollinated but they’d remain little until i’d picked the one that was growing and then another would begin its growth while the others waited in the docket for their turn. They were very crunchy cucumbers; full of juice. They weren’t like the ones in the store. They were good to eat without anything on them.
I grew one tiny russet potato.
Some black beans
More black beans and a candyland tomato
I delighted at all the black beans found in their dried and withering pods. It was food. Anything that could be dried and stored in the pantry was mighty good and welcome food.
It was rare that i got a day off when something didn’t need to be built, fixed, or chopped down, but they did happen on occasion. On one such day i spent time with the land that i had come to love so deeply. I realized that the chickens had grown drastically since the last time i stopped to take stock of them.
Ira was looking more and more like a grown rooster. He was starting to sprout long floppy tail feathers. Still no spurs, thank goodness, because he was turning out to be mean and unpredictable and i certainly had to keep an eye on him and have a weapon ready when cleaning the coop, for he would wait until my back was turned and then run up and launch his attack. I wasn’t sure if he was a coward or just smart but he would run underneath the nesting boxes and to the back of the pen before i could launch my counter attack. He was a turd. I was keeping him around for the protection of the hens with the hope that he would mellow with age. Occasionally Ira got the notion that i must die and then i had to fight him off with the chicken coop door as he tried his best to draw blood wherever he could reach. I could not wait until the hens joined this sexually frustrated rooster in puberty. I mean, my God, how i fought the urge to call my coworker down the road and ask her if she wanted a rooster dinner. That sweet little chick i saved was gone and an angsty homicidal teenager stood where he had been.
The hens were huge! I couldn’t believe they weren’t even full grown!
I spent some time in the kitchen cooking some of the produce fedex had delivered.
Finally, i spent some time spying on my dogs; Sili and Cashew. They spent most of their time outdoors lying in the grass, sunbathing and resting their heads on each other. When an animal or a car would come into view they would rise from the grass and give chase; sounding the alarm. Then they would saunter back to their spot and curl up together once more. I loved that they had that relationship, that they had each other and were so bonded. I often got caught up in the stresses of running things and couldn’t bring myself to shower them with the affection i knew i held for them in my heart.
My water spigot on the side of the well house was leaking ever so slightly. Naturally, i called the culligan customer service number and they scheduled the same two technicians that had been with me since day one to come out the very next business day. They had the spigot replaced and wrapped in insulation and electric tape and even the pressure adjusted in less than fifteen minutes. They deposited four new bags of salt chips in my tool shed. They were about ready to go when one of them noticed the exposed metal piping to my air conditioner unit. He mentioned that the sun was hitting the metal piping and warming it up, causing the unit to work extra hard, and i would do well to insulate the pipes to take the stress off the unit. I made a mental note of the materials i would need to replace the insulated tubing that had deteriorated the year before and fallen off into mush in the grass. I told them i could maybe make a run to home depot on wednesday after work. The man walked to his van and produced two pieces of insulated tubing. He also left me with a number of my favorite things in the world; zip ties. I had electrical tape in the shed but chances were, as the summer temperatures melded the insulated tubing together it would shrink a bit, at which point i could tighten the zip ties…if i left the tails long enough to grasp. They had saved me a trip to home depot and the humiliation and guilt that came along with being a healthcare worker in a public place. I will never get tired of the running theme with hill country repair men; they don’t just give advice on the thing they make their living doing but they pay attention to and give advice on all running machines and structures found on the property during their stay. As soon as i’d locked the gate behind them i took my knife, the tubing, and the zip ties over to the a/c unit and covered the exposed metal pipes, hiding them from the relentless summer sun. As i zip tied the last tube in place i heard the motor relax. It sounded less like a dying one-engine airplane and more like a quiet modern dishwasher. It worked; almost instantly. I called and left a message with the phone operator who assured me he would get my comments to the crew that had been to the property earlier that morning. I told him they had given me advice on the a/c unit while they were at the property, i decided to take it, and it was running better already. I asked him to thank them for me. I was being purposely cryptic about the supplies given, as i didn’t want to get them in trouble for using supplies on non-water-related issues. However, their small act of kindness in giving me the supplies to fix my problem on the homestead would ensure that i would be an avid and loyal customer for life. Happy customers were the kind of people that could be trusted to recommend the service highly to all their friends and coworkers. So, i figured they would make back the little cash spent on the supplies ten-fold in new customers and long-term business from me. I felt this way but i wasn’t sure the phone operator would agree, so i kept the message cryptic and moved on with my day.
The potted husky red cherry tomato plant sitting on my porch behind a baby gate fashioned from wire fencing, a beaded wrap-around wire bracelet and an extra piece from Cashew’s dog crate continued to produce faithfully throughout late spring and even into summer. The outer skin of the tomatoes became tougher as the months wore on but the flavor grew sweeter.
The lemon cucumber continued to grow. I ran around trying feverishly to pollinate other flowers on the lemon cucumber plant but only the one grew.
Little pods appeared at the ends of the pea plants. I tried to keep the caterpillars off of them. I hoped they would survive the heat and the bugs long enough to eat.
The real treasure was a yellow squash. I had pollinated it myself and somehow it still grew. It was the first thing that i would harvest from the mosquito net tent. I carried my prize indoors and washed it at the sink. Then i sliced it and seasoned it with dill and salt in a frying pan with some olive oil.
It was the best, freshest squash i had ever tasted. It had a buttery and slightly nutty flavor to it. I couldn’t believe it had come out of my garden.
My emergency weather radio would not ship to my PO box. I had to do what i usually did when that happened which was mail it to my friend and then leave two dollars under her welcome mat when i picked the package up off her porch. When i finally got my hands on the precious package i was beyond thrilled. i knew the importance of what i held in my hands. This little box was going to give us the forewarning that we needed to plan ahead and prepare for weather before it was upon us.
As i took it out of the box and set it on the little tv tray i used as a supper table i was in awe. The thing had a hand crank. If a person cranked the radio by hand for 60 seconds they could listen to 20 minutes of weather broadcasting before it would need cranked again. There was a solar panel strip on the top of the radio and then a battery compartment on the bottom of the thing. As i checked the butter holder in the fridge i realized i had AA, D, C, and specialty batteries, but i had no AAA batteries, which was what the radio called for. I went to the shed thinking there was a blood sugar machine in there somewhere that might require triple a batteries. It was in there but it had a special sized flat battery. I did find a pack of AAA batteries in there. I suddenly remembered i had taken them from my purse to get on an airplane last year, as i didn’t think they would travel well through security. They were covered in battery acid. Obviously, leaving batteries in an un-air-conditioned shed was a very bad idea. I ended up raiding my blood pressure cuff and a shock collar dog training remote for the three triple a batteries needed to power the radio. Finally, the radio was fully functional and complete. I set it on the tv tray table and tuned it to the weather forecast station in my area. The monotone voice came in loud and clear, “your weather synopsis for south central texas…” the forecast played in a loop. First it gave the weather forecast for the day and night in the area the radio was located. Then it gave the current temperature, wind strength and direction, and pressure. Then it ran through the current temperatures in all the surrounding towns in the hill country. Then it gave the weather pattern expected for the following week. It spoke of percentage chance of rain each day, when it would arrive, how long it would stay, which direction it would come from and travel, how fast it would be moving, how strong the wind would be each day, which direction the wind would be coming from, the pressure, the humidity, and it gave the high and low temperatures for each day of the week. If rough weather was expected the monotone voice knew of it a week in advance. I could not believe how much useful information this thing gave. It was delivered in the most lovely monotone loop and i often left it on in the background when i was anxious just to calm my nerves.
The little emergency weather radio became part of my daily routine. I turned it on in the pre-dawn morning when i first woke up and listened to the forecast as i was feeding the dogs and making breakfast. I turned it on again when i arrived home from work and listened to it as i unpacked my work bag and started supper. The weather radio became my most valuable possession very quickly. We would never be caught off guard again. I would become one of those people that informed other homesteaders of upcoming weather days in advance. That little red radio had become the center of our homesteading operation.
This red wasp had come in through the hole i had made for the bees to enter and exit the mosquito net tent. It had been in the tent for about three days when i noticed it wasn’t present anymore. I scanned the mesh walls looking for it when i realized the wolf spider that usually hung out in the corner next to the pumpkin plants was holding something. He was sitting on a squash leaf, having run down his prey, caught it, and paralyzed it, he now stood over it, poised to consume his meal. Ultimately, my presence disturbed him and he abandoned the meal only to return to haul it away once i had climbed on the other side of the tent. I lamented that i had missed the chase. Watching a wolf spider hunt was a pretty good treat when you could get it. They stalked their prey like lions and then ran it down, pouncing on it to subdue the struggling insect. I decided this spider needed a name. I settled on Artemis. Artemis the wolf spider lived in the mosquito net tent and hunted whatever bugs got stuck in there and couldn’t remember the way out.
There was a big summer storm brewing. It was a bit early in the year for such a thing but i had been through plenty of them last august and i figured it would be more of the same. Whirlwind storms developed out of thin air on the radar and built and built until they were violent and menacing. High winds thrashed trees about, they dumped loads of water in short periods of time, overwhelming creeks and low water crossings, and there was usually hail and maybe a power outage just to throw the a/c and refrigerator out of whack.
The last storm i had endured had left me without power for 6 hours and the one before that fried my electric fence and required an electrician to remedy the absence of power to the back of the house. I figured my biggest worry would be lightening. Since my property was at the top of a hill, lightening was a problem rather often and i seemed to have more than my fair share of electric incidents during storms. However, i was wrong. Lightening would not prove to be my biggest problem during this particular storm.
I saw it building on the radar long before it became visible in the sky, making its approach from the north. It started as a little dot of red surrounded by yellow and then green. That dot stretched and morphed. Then more dots appeared. Circles of red cropped up everywhere as green turned to yellow. Then each red blob developed a little purple circle at the center of it. That is when i began to see and hear the storm approaching outside. At first i was worried for a friend of mine that lived one town over because it appeared they were being hammered by the storm. I reached out to her to see how she was weathering the storm and make sure she knew more was headed her way and to hunker down and avoid driving. I then realized that i was in the direct path of the storms cropping up behind the one that was dumping buckets on my friend’s homestead one town over. I checked the radar again. Two pockets of purple were coming straight for us. I peered out the window. It did not look good. Something ominous and black was brewing to the north and moving fast by the looks of it. The black clouds spit jagged edged slivers of blinding light that traveled across the sky and sometimes to the ground. There was a distant low grumble each time one flashed across the sky. I thought to myself, “This is not good.” She was a mean one. I could tell. Usually i liked to stand on the porch and read the weather, take pictures, watch for lightening-sparked fires, and collect any hail that fell for examination. I could tell by looking at her, even from afar at this point, that it would not be one of those storms in which any of that was possible. It would command a deeper respect and there would be no photo opportunities or hail examination time. When i saw her building in the distance i hurried about the yard, running this way and that, struggling to get all the chores done before she arrived amidst a chorus of distant thunder. After i was finished with the chores i collected well water for the night, did all the cooking i was going to do in case the stove went out in the storm, and took an apple out of the refrigerator and set it on the counter in case the power went out and i needed to refrain from opening the door. When both the dogs had been out, the chickens had been given their june bugs and zucchini for the night, the rain collection tub was placed securely in the yard, the car was parked underneath the oak-tree “carport”, and the chores were done i said “okay, now it can rain.”
As i stepped out onto the porch my toes curled and the hairs on my arms immediately stood on end. something terrible was brewing. The air felt different. I don’t know exactly how to describe it. I knew there was a tornado before anyone told me it was there. I could feel it.
The temperature had dropped 20 degrees in 1 hour. Before the storm approached it was nearly 100 outside. It was still warm and humid but now an icy wind blew. I didn’t know what to make of the contradicting sensations. It was sticky and humid, with a chilly wind. That was bad. Blackness descended on the yard. It was as if someone had pinched out the sun instantaneously. One minute evening rays streamed through the curtains. The next, everything went dark. The wind whipped the tree branches around outside. I began moving things out from under the bed. I knew, we needed some place to go. Living in a tiny house, there just wasnt any structure or room for me to go to in the event of a tornado but it was coming…it was here. I shoved photo albums, light bulbs, bags of rice, boxes of oat milk, and bars of soap out from under the bed. The wind was coming under the door now. It was eerily cold and persistent. I needed to hurry. I kept shoveling until supplies littered the floor and there was a space cleared out under half of the day bed. I opened the crate doors and the dogs ran out. Cashew paced the floor. I grabbed Sili and threw her under the bed. She didn’t want to go. She resisted and clawed at the floor as i struggled to shove her in. I pushed her hard and she slid under the bed towards the wall. I turned for Cashew. I could see the sky had gone from black to a strange blackish green outside. It looked like something out of a movie. Low clouds hung beneath the others and lightening split the sky. The wind picked up and began to seep through the edges of the doors and windows. I could feel it from where i crouched. I grabbed at Cashew but she wriggled away. She was frantically pacing the house. Thunder shook the ground. The cold air hit my arm and the hairs stood on end once again. I looked at Sili waiting for me underneath the bed. I couldn’t spend any more time on this. She was here. Sili knew it, i knew it. Cashew would have to fend for herself. I slid underneath the bed and sandwiched Sili between my body and the wall.
Sili tucked her head into my armpit and pressed against me. She was scared. I tried to pat her reassuringly but my focus was on Cashew, my wild child, pacing the empty living room amongst the debris of supplies while the air coming through the door swayed the curtains. There was a large clap of thunder. It scared her and she buckled next to the bed. I saw my opportunity, reached out, and grabbed a fistful of fur. In one swift motion i dragged her under the bed, still flipping and flailing her legs about. I pulled her to my body and held her down. She kicked and jabbed me in the ribs. I didn’t let go. The wind whipped through the house, moving the curtains, and the rain began to fall. I could feel the floor boards vibrating against my skin. I laid my ear to the ground. A quiet grinding rumble filled my head. I reached around Cashew, pulling at bags of rice, trying to build a wall around us, in case the windows shattered and we needed protection from shards of flying glass. Cashew took the opportunity to bolt and i let go of the rice to grab a fistful of fur again. I held her with an iron grip, pressing her against my torso, letting go only briefly to pull bags of rice around us one at a time. When i’d blocked everything but my legs with rice i laid still and held the dogs.
My phone made a noise. I had stuffed it in my waistband when trying to get the dogs under the bed and now i began squirming about, trying to fish it forwards for me to see who it was. My coworkers in town were on a text thread talking about the storm. Some of them had emergency weather radios and were updating the group on the existence and whereabouts of several tornados. There were two in town. My heart dropped through my feet as i read the words. There was a tornado down the street from our location. I realized that was probably what i was hearing in the floor boards. I put my ear to the ground once more. The noise was gone. There was a tornado five miles from us headed our way. My neighbor was on the text thread and notified me that she’d loaded the kids and the dogs in the car and they’d driven out of town when they’d seen it coming. They were waiting underneath a bank drive-through in a neighboring city to see what the storm did. This was a normal response for someone living in a mobile home. We didn’t have foundations or bathtubs. If a tornado hit a mobile home or a tiny house, there would be nothing left. Throwing the dogs under the day bed was a last ditch effort when i realized what i was looking at and it was too late to get out. I called my mother and told her i loved her, just in case. You don’t want to leave things unsaid if its your time to go. Then i laid under the bed behind the bags of rice, coated in a year’s worth of dust, probably covered in chiggers from the dogs by now and clung to the dogs, to provide Sili comfort and security and to keep Cashew in place. My mother and my coworker occasionally sent updates on the strength and movements of the tornados but cell reception was hit or miss and i was having trouble sending and receiving texts. I held the dogs in the dark under the day bed as the storm raged on for hours, one after another red blip surrounding purple rotation on the radar cropped up in junction, fredericksburg, kerrville, medina, and in our town, up the street from us. It was a cluster **** of tornados. She was a mean storm, not to be toyed with. I laid there clinging to the dogs on my sore ribs against the wood floor and prayed for hours, “Dear Lord, please protect us from this storm. In Jesus name i pray, amen. Dear Lord….”.
God answered my prayer. we lived and the property was undamaged. I wouldn’t see the level of devastation until the following day with the coming of daylight. It wouldn’t be until then that i realized just how blessed we were to have survived. In our little town a tornado lifted the roof off the gas station. In Kerrville they had endured biblical amounts of hail and roofs were destroyed, shingles and roof panels laying all over the ground, windows busted out and shattered, there were trees that didn’t have a single leaf left on them. There was a green carpet of shed leaves on every sidewalk and stretch of asphalt. Trees and tree branches were down everywhere. The power was out. In areas where the tornados had touched down trees were missing their tops. It hit the walmart. I didn’t go look but people told me it picked up the basket returns and threw them out of the parking lot and uprooted trees. Somebody said to me “Walmart looks like a war zone.” In my car my tiny hand soap had exploded. Then the pictures began surfacing. It seemed people in town had been having a worse go of it than me huddled under the bed all night.
Disclaimer: These are not my photos. They were taken by friends and acquaintances. This is all hail.
The following day the weather forecast would predict that another storm capable of much the same would be developing between 1 and 4 pm. Storm chasers arrived in droves, having taken notice of the previous night’s storm and hoping to see more of the same. I hurried to finish my work and then drove like a bat out of **** to beat the black beast in my rearview mirror by seconds as i raced its arrival at my home. Lightening cracked across the sky as i jumped out to chain the gate. I ran the car up on the mulch pile and under the oak trees, gathered my things, hopped out, and ran to the house, black clouds on my heels. It began to rain. I flung the door open, herding the dogs outside and screaming “go potty” over the wind and thunder. Both dogs squatted without fuss and ran back to the house. The chickens, as usual, were standing in the rain like the crazy birds they were. As a huge clap of thunder shook the ground beneath my feet i leapt up the porch steps and twisted the knob, letting the dogs in the house. I didn’t feel that same hair-standing-on-end feeling i had yesterday so for a while we just relaxed in the house and kept an eye on the rain. However, an hour into the storm i began to get uneasy. The dogs seemed antsy. The cold air came through the sides and underneath the door like it had the day before. The sky didn’t look right. The wind picked up, and i had that bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I began pulling things out from under the bed once more. I moved things frantically about. When i got the space cleared enough i shoved Sili in once again, joined her, and called Cashew. It took some yelling and pushing but both dogs finally laid down instead of trying to stand up under the mattress. Again i made a barrier out of bags of rice. I called my mother. She said that there was a tornado on my street, four streets down from my intersecting street. It was set to move right underneath us, just to the south of where we were crouched under the bed. Both mom and i prayed that it wouldn’t move north at all as it rotated. It didn’t. It skirted underneath us so close that had i been outside i probably would have seen it. I went ahead and ordered an emergency weather radio. It was set to arrive in 5 days. I had to do something. This, was too close.