The electricity was restored to Earthsprings late Thursday night. Today I can send you my gratitude for your prayers.
I can also state my gratitude to all the workmen and women who, at some risk to their own lives, worked day and night all week to clear the roads and restore power to the homes in Houston County. That was a monumental task, given that we are in the heart of a dense forest that saw numerous tornadoes over two night’s time.
Doubtless it would be well for me to wait to write to you about all this until I am more settled, but somehow it seems essential to bear witness to this event while I am still in an altered state of intensity and meaningfulness. Time is uncertain. I know that, better now than before. Express devotion now, that’s what I know, so here I am, unsettled or not.
I am sure many of you have lived through tornadoes, and I know that my experience was nothing compared to what happened in Alabama and Georgia (places, by the way, that I had just driven through days before on my week-long car trip). But this was perhaps the most intense experience I have had.
I spent both nights of storm lying on the floor of my study. At times it felt as though the whole slab was being sucked right up off the ground under me, and the house swayed and creaked and popped and groaned, but nothing blew off it, as far as I can tell. The hailstorm was brief but thunderous, amazingly leaving no dents I can find anywhere at Earthsprings.
At the height of the second night’s storm, the strongest, lasting from a little after 10 p.m. until around 2 a.m., with one tornado after another surging around me, my litany of expression was a constant silent chant, a co-mingling of many things—a heartfelt expression of my intense love for everything, everything, everyone, everyone, everywhere, my love, my love, combined with gratitude for my life and all I have been blessed to experience. But there was also a cry for a continued opportunity to ‘live and serve life.’ All this was mixed with a recurrent honoring song to the wind for its power and its mighty life, a song nonetheless that also included a request to ‘lift up and pass over the tall standing trees.‘ And then there were extraordinary little bursts of pleas to the hail and the wind not for me, but ‘for the sake of the tender little new lettuce leaves in the garden, for the butterflies, and all the little feathered creatures, for the larkspur just blooming today, for Ida’s little memorial tree,’ etc.; my thoughts and speech were full of everything that came to mind, so many things, along with love and prayers for my family, my girls, my grandchildren, each of them by name, my love for them, my hopes for them, and Chris (off there in her own house, inside a closet, all night), and all the rest of the people I love, all of you, so many people I love, all my relations, all life, everything, I love, I love you, I love you… On and on for hours it went.
I prayed, chanted, sang for I don’t know how long, and was spun up into the most intense emotional and physical pitch, until I finally thought, from some pragmatic part of my split consciousness, “Well, if the storm doesn’t kill you, your nervous system might!” And so then I got very, very calm, and soon actually went to sleep while the storm tailed off, traveling on to its next drop down.
The next morning, first light, I was awakened by birdsong (“Some birds are still alive,” was my first waking thought). Then came the euphoria that accompanies realizing one has survived, that the house is still standing, that Chris is on the other end of the miraculously available old straight line phone, and she is well, and the dawning light outside…
The initial excursion, allowing me only to venture out as far as the garden and the out buildings…to see that the tender little lettuce leaves and the bunkhouse and the lodge and all were intact, mostly, though the bushes were tossed about savagely, and oak leaves torn from trees made a green carpet everywhere…
But then, the way I felt when I saw the big pine that fell at the edge of the garden, taking down a portion of fence but falling in the other direction from the house, where, falling toward the house, it would have come down, probably, on the place where I was lying on the floor all night during the storm, my flashlight nearby, a blanket under and over me, little benches on either side of me promising to protect me from all the falling bookcases that in fact, didn’t fall …
At the garden
I was thinking of the people in Japan, who suffered so much, much more loss that I can even dream of, but I was thinking of them as I had to climb over the dead body of the pine tree to try to save the surviving living garden from the deer that could come through the gaping hole in the fence, I was thinking of this minutes after daylight, in my nightshirt and my boots (boots which, by the way, I had worn all night in case I survived and had to walk through broken shards of things if things were blown down), there I was, in my boots and my nightshirt, rapidly piecing together bits of fencing, talking to everything (“There you are, you made it, you made it, I’m so glad, I’m so glad…), with the cats emerging, the wind gentle now, cool, a cool gentle breeze, on the edge of daylight…can you picture it, the strange wildness of it, me, hair frazzled, in my nightshirt and boots, mending fence first thing, in first light, talking rapturously to the world?
Obviously I was in a state of shock that lasted for two days, while I mightily acquired and connected extension cords to the generator, and, at this first occasion for its use, made it all work properly and saved the freezer full of last year’s veggies and other things, and saved the stuff in one refrigerator, and had a single lamp for night and an electric fan for the heat of the afternoons. The other refrigerator, the old one, after two days time, seems to have had more of a shock to its system than I did, and during the night gave up, so that the next morning I had to quickly empty it and begin to make soup and shift things around, and throw out stuff Maya would have already thrown out anyway…But today, after the lights came back on, I plugged it back into its usual plug-in place, and it is working again! (So may I, so may I, having been emptied out, be renewed.)
With some wearing off of the shock and the grief, I was free enough yesterday to take a walk around a bit further, to discover so many downed, twisted off, broken trees. Earthsprings and I have been through this several times now, and the leaden state of sorrow is the same. My walk was a grief, a funeral, a memorial service, a taking of pictures as witness, a ritual of shared loss with the soul of the still living forest, every broken branch and twisted-out tree top and fallen mighty giant personal, personal…
On the road at Woodhenge
Lodge in background
Yesterday and last night I finally heard about Alabama and Georgia, about towns I had just driven through last week, safely. And I was, finally, exhausted, sleep deprived from my trip and from the storms, hung over emotionally, grateful and yet depleted. I was miserable all evening.
Again I sent my honoring to the people of Japan, as well as to the men and women ever in war zones, and to all others who are “shell shocked” after such intense experiences—of being, first, so focused on the most important things of all (living, the ones you love, the things you still long to do, the gratitude, the fear, the paying attention, yes, that, the paying full, full attention to this, this moment)…and then, the aftermath—the dazed, not-quite real, everyday-ness of things, the precious but somehow superficial nature of the ordinary. How can things seem just so plainly “there,” when one has been so near to the Ultimate, when one has stood in the doorway between Life and Death? In this after-effect, one feels so much, all at once, it’s almost unbearable. Thinking of the expression “post traumatic shock” only seems ludicrous. So much seems suddenly drained of comprehension.
I know that sounds weird, but I have to remind myself (and you) that I am in fact coming out of shock, I can’t expect myself to make good sense, or to feel good, or to understand; I must soothe myself and say, as usual, “It’s ok to cry, it’s ok to rest, but don’t give it all up, hold on, hold on, another day, another night…”
All week, fumbling around at night in the house in the dark, several nights in a row, flashlight in hand or on my head…or in the daylight hauling water in from somewhere because the electric pump is obviously not working (when will I find one of those hand pumps I can put on the shallow well??)….I was bemused at how many things I wanted to do or needed to do or thought to do that had been connected in some way with the now non-existent grid…
I was remembering the time when I was a kid and lived like this all the time, without electricity or other amenities…
There is now a deep awareness that this experience is, for me, an ecological and environmental call to attention…
You see, when you have to haul all the water up and in by yourself, you are very, very careful with every drop; you pay attention to how many utensils you use so you don’t have to spare water to wash them; you long for a shower but you wait; you save the water you washed your hands in to help flush the toilet; you know you can’t wash clothes just yet. So, in fact, you count every drop, you are careful, you don’t spill any, any water, every drop is seen as the precious thing it is, remarkable when available, not necessarily available, available only at a cost of labor, of effort, not to be taken for granted.
When you have to pay at the pump to fill the heavy gas cans to fuel, every few hours, again and again, often at night, the generator, so that you can keep the frig and one light bulb and a little fan going, you are aware of gasoline, and of electricity, aware of its importance in your life, and its cost. For you know the cost, you know the cost at the pump and the cost in your own time and effort, and you think of all that has to be done by so many people in so many ways in so many places for you to have this little hour or so of electricity before you have to go fill the gas cans again…
When you look around at the toaster, the blender, the microwave, the walk-around phone, the computer, the television and so on and on and on, and none of them work without electricity, you think, you think about how can I best live in the ways my parents lived, in simple, honest relationship to the earth while still honoring and using wisely all the precious “labor-saving devices” (devices that now have me laboring to keep some of them going) and all the communications gadgets…
I haven’t been able to think clearly, but I have felt deeply that there is something I must remember, and remember to convey, about how we live, about how much we take for granted. It feels urgent, a promise I made to the storm, to remember this…
The root of it
I would have said I do not, I do not take things for granted, but one can’t help it, it becomes routine, it becomes so everyday, to put the key in the ignition and go, to open the refrig and take out the cold milk, to turn a knob and have water, to start the computer and connect everywhere…until it is gone…
It is so easy to image a ‘cloud’ where all the information is stored…until the storm cloud blots out the sun…
And suddenly it’s a walk to the spring box to get water, it’s a match to the coal oil lamp or to a candle, it’s a checking the store of canned food instead of the freezer, it’s looking at the night sky instead of a TV, it’s something so profoundly important and simple, and so elusive, so easy to lose track of when there is no crisis…
It’s a concern about how we must somehow come more into balance with our world so that these environmentally triggered disasters aren’t increased, the warmer temperatures heating the Gulf that then sends hot moisture to clash with cool weather from the north producing these tornadoes. We must do our part, we must be aware, as aware as I was in the heart of the storm, I must not forget, I promised, I must not forget…
It’s an awareness of the deep gratitude I feel for all that we have, how blessed we are, and a need to take care of it all, to conserve, to preserve, to be mindful.
And again, it is gratitude for small town amenities: the deputy sheriff I never saw before who came to my house next day after the second stormy night to check and see if I was alive… I must remember all those who do such simple gestures of compassion and concern. I must remember kindess. I must remember to reach out, to be kind, to do more than my part…
And I want to remember the road crews–no, I must not say some phrase, generic road crews, no, these were people–those tired human beings, those neighbors that were out in the middle of the night within thirty minutes after the storm passed, those people who worked and still work day and night clearing roads…
I witnessed some of their work on Wednesday morning, as I tried to get to Christina’s house to help get a tree off her car and house. I got about half way down my three-mile stretch of county road before coming up behind a three-person road crew clearing debris off the road; I waited , as the next mile and half of road took an hour and half of time for them to clear with two chain saws and a big caterpillar tractor. There were probably more than twenty big trees down just in that stretch of road. (They later went with me to cut the tree at Chris’s house and chain it off so there was no damage. And then they went off to clear another roadway. )
And I will not forget the power company crews, those persons that actually routinely risk their lives, but more so in stormy conditions while making their way among downed wires and tangled trees, risking for me, for us, to have electricity to run our toasters and computers…Do we give them, can we give them enough praise, enough gratitude…
Well, you can see, I’m still in an altered state, and probably will be always, altered by this event. Small as I am, small as this tornado experience was compared to the devastation elsewhere, it was for me a monumental moment of rapture and realization. Perhaps one day I will be able to articulate more adequately what it meant.
But for now, I think I just needed a time to write something down, to bear witness, a time out from urgent chores, now that I can get online, now that the electricity is back, I needed to say thank you, thank you to all of you for your prayers, your calls of warning, your offers of help, your love for me and for Earthsprings and for Life Itself, ongoing despite all the trauma.
I am sending some more pictures. One is of the little pecan tree planted in memory of Ida; it survived and has its first little crown of leaves intact.
Ida's memorial tree
Life going on after the passing of life.
Also a picture of the old pecan tree under which Corrinne and Kenneth and Bob’s ashes are sprinkled; it still stands, despite the fact that back in 1984 the old-timer who knew the land best said it was “on its way out, it was old…”
The old pecan tree
A picture of the teaching tree, rooted sideways into the eroding bank of the creek, still there.
The teaching tree still stands
These pictures remind me, and hopefully you, that there is always grace and beauty, always, no matter what.
When I was at the Gautreaux house in Georgia last week, there in their wooded suburban neighborhood, I saw a curious thing. Two wild turkeys walking down the street. They say that these turkeys are around and about often, living wild, here and there, and being quite at home as suburbanites. Curious. Then this morning, I was driving down the (cleared) county road near Earthsprings, and rounding a curve I saw, there, strutting along the middle of the gravel road, a wild turkey! The first I’ve ever seen around here, though I know that several years ago they were reintroduced into the wild somewhere. So there you go! Give meaning to that. It connected me, again, as always, to a something even beyond ‘the cloud,’ some web of knowledge and communication that somehow makes itself known to us, even when we don’t understand, even when we are utterly unworthy of such grace.
Perhaps it is, indeed, a Great Mystery, like the storm itself, dropping random fingers of force down into our ordinary world, re-arranging things, arbitrarily perhaps. Perhaps it’s all random. Perhaps it’s responsive to prayer. Perhaps not. But I know I can’t help myself from talking to it, talking to everything. I am part of it all, anyway, and I participate. My prayers, your prayers. We participate. We do not control. We do not demand. We do not comprehend. But we participate. We call upon the Mystery in the names of our choice, whether Jesus, Allah, Great Spirit, or whatever, and in the midst of the storm, I realized that it doesn’t much matter what we call it, it’s all the same awesome, mighty Force, the One, the Power, the Beloved, the Holiness of it All.
I know, I do know, that I am certainly no more special nor more deserving of survival that any other. But I did survive, and for that blessing, I can only feel absolute gratitude.
And finally, know this. If I had been blown away, it would have been in an ecstasy of love for the wind itself. I wouldn’t want anyone to blame the wind, or a tree that fell, or anything else. It’s all just a mysterious happening, and I’m in the midst of it. I can’t explain it, or anything. But I love it. Storm and all. (Though I don’t, I really don’t, want ever again to have to experience another tornado…let me love it from afar…please, please! It makes me shake to think of it.)
I am so glad, so glad to be here to write to you today and to say how I love you, and how precious it all is. I will do my best to remember, and to try better to preserve it all for the future. Please remember how precious you are, how precious you are.
Glenda, at Earthsprings
P.S. Well, then. Just now the electricity went out again, and my computer continues only on battery powder. I won’t be able to send this until the electricity is restored. Let’s hope it comes back on soon, or I will be back to setting up again the generator, an exhausting thought. So I’m going to lie down now and think of you and happy times and smile.