Traveling up the road to shelter in pond house
a couple of years ago

When my son Will was three
we experienced one of those
quarter-mile-wide, 200-mph tornadoes.
We heard the warnings
from the television
and went to the pond house
where there’s a basement.
Through the living room windows,
we watched this giant black force
move across the prairie
and just before we went to the basement,
Will said goodbye to his toys
because we all could see
it was headed for our house.
I don’t remember my fear that day
because I was focused on Will’s.
We watched it then,
from a window in the outer room in the basement,
as it moved east.
Upstairs again,
looking out the living room window,
we were stunned to see
that the farm house,
where we lived,
was still standing.
It seemed impossible.
Turns out, the tornado was so wide
it looked like the house would succumb to it,
but the tornado’s path
went a mile south of our house.
We drove south,
and followed the path back west.
The trees were now stubs
and the house along Red Rock Creek
from which we had moved six years before,
was gone.
The man who lived in it at the time,
heard the train sound
as he stepped out of the shower,
ran to the cellar,
getting to the bottom step
before the cellar door vanished.
He was unharmed.
That night,
a highway patrolman checking on people
stopped by to see if we were okay.
Will was suddenly quite brave
and told the trooper
he’d shoot it the next time.
That tornado traveled on the ground
all the way across Oklahoma
and into Missouri.
Many were devastated by it.

We have had many possibilities for tornadoes
since then. Since then,
we have paid close attention to meteorologists.
The two tornadoes that actually hit us,
there was no warning.
They were small,
but knocked a barn off its moorings;
it had to be torn down.
The other hit the west corner
of the pond house,
causing damage.
Technology for predicting and following these storms
has advanced greatly in the last 20 years
and I have come to trust
Oklahoma metereologists
when they tell us two days before the outbreak
that it will be severe.
Indeed, it was last weekend.
The tornadoes were no closer than 60 miles or more
to us.
Still, we slept in the basement;
I got up when I heard wind and thunder
to turn on the tv.
I saw that Woodward had been hit
by a large tornado.
That storm system would travel
on through Kansas and into Iowa,
where 90 percent of Thurman was leveled.
The list of towns and large portions of cities
recently destroyed by tornadoes
is getting long.

Maybe that’s why
this time
I was scared.
I took with me to the basement
the photo album of my son’s life
up to his high school graduation.
(He’s in California now;
not tornadoes so much;
earthquakes and fires.)
And my computer.
But I wanted to take a lot.
This was sobering—
and edifying.
I was surprised at how attached I am
to stuff.
And I realized on this bright morning,
two days later,
that it’s not so much the actual items
I would miss,
but the life I’ve come
to appreciate,
to cherish
here on the prairie.