Tornado Warning!: Everyday Magic, Day 509

It’s after midnight, and my heart is still wide awake, set in racer action by the very sudden tornado warning that propelled our family, dragging or carrying cats and dogs, into the basement at top speed. It started like this:

Caryn (while filling out fafsa form on computer): The dog went back to hiding in the closet although the storm passed. Do you think she knows of another one coming?

Ken (on computer checking weather): There is another one coming.

Caryn: Is it moving fast?

Ken: Let me check. Wow — it’s moving 80 miles per hour.

Caryn: When is it supposed to get here?

Ken: Very soon (refreshes page). GET IN THE BASEMENT RIGHT NOW!

It turned out Ken was watching radar just at the moment the winds started moving like a big tornado about to land right over our house. Clutching my computer against my chest, I dragged the terrified Labaraner out of the closet to join the terrified Labmation already in the basement, and we ran. Once in the storage space way underground, Ken called his mom to get her to move to her basement, then ventured out to rescue Mikayo, the lovey cat, and ran back down with her in his arms. I held the dogs in place, my heart racing. Forest texted people at the speed of light. Daniel yelled, “Don’t go, Dad!” fearing that Ken was risking his life for a kitty. We considered trying to rescue Judy the PTSD cat, but she hides too well in such situations.

So we hunkered down for about ten minutes. Then it was over. No tornado, storm to our east, and the warning canceled. Walking back upstairs, we heard the sirens, just starting to go off, and Daniel was blown away to see the moon already rising beyond the clouds.

Now that the time has slowed, the sky has calmed, and the dogs, men and boys of my house are snoring in various rooms, I land back in that moment when we headed downstairs, the sudden wondering if there’s anything to grab beyond animals and computers and clear warning that there isn’t time; the careful rush down stairs and into the way-back of our basement, the opening of computers to track tornadoes, asking Ken if people we love in this area are okay or if I I should call them. It’s a compressed time when a warning wraps around us, and everything falls away but the need to hold and protect the beings you love, call those in the path, and stay as far underground as possible, not knowing if once again, it’ll be nothing, or eventually, it’ll be something that changes our lives.

The cat packs herself for the trip

Come Monday morning, I head down the magic rabbit hole between my home in a house on the prairie in Kansas to my home in a dorm room in Vermont. I’ve been doing this for 17 years, twice a year or more readying myself to roll east, via a car ride to the airport, two plane rides with layover hopefully long enough to eat lunch while not running through an airport, and taxi ride to campus. As usual, when I pack, my animals gather ’round, telling me with their don’t-leave-me animal eyes that I shouldn’t leave them. They often sleep next to or on top of suitcases, piles of clothes or books heading east, letting out mournful cries when I reposition them.

In the week before I go and week after I get back, I feel as if I’m in both places at once, and I have trouble upon waking each morning distinguishing whether I’m dreaming Kansas in Vermont or dreaming Vermont in Kansas. It’s a bittersweet sensation, and crazily enough, I tend to worry about missing one place while in the other place while I’m still in the one place I’ll be leaving soon. Yet I think this kind of ludicrous, pre-emptive longing is part and parcel of finding home in

Failing to fit into the suitcase, the dog, feeling quite dejected, lies down beside it.

more than one place.

At the same time, I carry each place in me no matter where I am. I am a Kansan who happens to live in Vermont for 10-12 days two or more times each year. I have a rich and beautiful life in both places, and thanks to phone calls, skype, email, facebook and more, I’m in touch with the people from both lives all in a day’s work.

So I sit here in Kansas with Vermont in my pocket, readying for doing the opposite when I emerge from that rabbi hole come Monday afternoon. Then I will remind myself, like I always do, that it’s the same sky holding together my real and dream lives.

I write this post from the center of Kansas in Wilson, which is close to the center of the continental United States. I sit in the center of a handsome leather chair while watching Oliva Newton John shock John Travolta by showing up at the fair in black leather. A yippy yappy dog barks outside, and I wonder if I’m going to hate that dog by morning. Everything is happening at the center of everything which, depending on what edges you’re measuring from, could be anywhere. By this same logic, the center could easily be the edge also, which is also true.

This week has crazy quilt of centers and edges. Driving through the Flint Hills this morning, I was so exhilarated with the beauty of the bright blue sky against the rise and fall of hills that I had to wonder what was wrong with me, given that Lou died two days ago. Since then, I’ve been crying on and off, unable to concentrate, and feeling that crazy ache that comes from grief. Nothing made sense, and everything seemed inexorably scattered and tangled. Until it wasn’t.

The other day at Z’s, Stan gave me a hug and told me that when loss happens, everything is more vivid, and you can see and feel into the center of each moment. It’s true, but of course, having grieved, we now know the pathway to that rich, tender, heart-breaking and alive moment available when we’re in the center of joy or at the edges of despair. I will try to remind myself of this when, about 3 a.m. or so, I wake cursing the barking dog, and especially tomorrow night when I gather with others at the center of our community to say Kaddish for Lou.

I’m in a dorm room in Vermont with the windows open. It’s 62 degrees. Fellow Kansans as well as inhabitants of Death Valley (although Kansas is way hotter these days), please don’t hate me. I was once, just a short time ago, one of you, sprawled out on my bed under a ceiling fan and dreaming of ice, snow, even hail.

My head + my freezer = nice

In fact, last week, before I left, I actually took photos of how I was dealing with the 100 degree days, everyday, forever and ever. I found I could survive the how-can-I-get-through-the-massive-dog-days-of-this-summer summer by simple things, like holding a handful of ice, or flinging myself on the floor in a dark room. I also experimented with sticking my head in the freezer, which helped immensely until my brain froze over.

From where I sit now, I remind myself — and maybe you too — that cool heads and days will prevail. I’m previewing Kansas weather from late September or so, and I’ve got to say that we will love it, especially after a day like this one when the temperature tipped well over 110. Imagine needing a sweater. Imagine a chill in the air. Imagine relief and ease, change and wind, and all else that will come. In the meantime, I’m wishing all my friends at home enough ice, floor space and strong a.c. as well as that cold front that’s expected to exceed all expectation.

In Kansas in the summer, we’ve become experts on this! Here’s some ideas:

  1. Sit in a comfortable chair, slumped down for extra comfort, in front of an air-conditioner with an overhead fan on, and read some trashy magazines.
  2. Go to a movie. Any movie. As long as it’s funny. Even if it’s stupid.
  3. Eat ice cream for dinner and fruit for dessert.
  4. Drink iced tea, water, coffee, juice…..a lot of it.
  5. Go swimming, but only in the morning before the water is the same temperature as a bathtub.
  6. Take a lovely walk wearing as little as publicly acceptable at about 10 p.m. when the temperature drops to 90.
  7. Wander through big box stores with iced beverage in hand. Don’t buy anything but allow yourself to stare at massive screens full of moving images.
  8. Go to a bookstore. Stay there for a long time (as long as it’s air-conditioned).
  9. Go back to sleep and wake up when it’s cooler….in September sometime.
  10. Go the basement and sort nuts and bolts.
  11. Get a watermelon, chill it, and then eat it as your main meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  12. Forget about dishes, laundry and anything else that requires heat.
  13. Take a lukewarm bath or shower several times each day.
  14. Sit in the path of a big fan and plan your next vacation to the Arctic.
  15. Look over old pictures from when there was four feet of snow hiding your car. Remember what a difference a season makes.
  16. Do what the animals do: lie on the cool floor, stretched out, sleeping for hours.
  17. Call a friend in Houston or Tucson for perspective. Call a friend in Vermont or the Yukon to make fun of their 70 or 80-degree “heat wave.”
  18. Don’t use the stove when it’s over 90 degrees, the burners when it’s over 100. Tell the kids that frozen peas taste good (frozen grapes especially good).
  19. Don’t make any major decisions, especially about where to move, until October.
  20. Get in the car, turn the a.c. and radio way up, and drive somewhere… maybe Colorado to about 13,000 feet where you’ll need a winter coat.