Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reap the wind...

Rhythm is the basis of life, not steady forward progress. The forces of creation, destruction, and preservation have a whirling, dynamic interaction.
- from the Kabbalah

They whirled past the dark trees, as feathers would be swept before a hurricane. Houses, gates, churches, hay-stacks, objects of every kind they shot by, with a velocity and noise like roaring waters suddenly let loose..."Faster! Faster!"
- Charles Dickens

Sometimes we are privileged to witness an event or experience something that is so intense, it becomes imprinted in minute detail upon our memory bank. It doesn't matter if the experience is terrible and frightening or wonderfully pleasant and magical. When our senses or emotions are stimulated to such an extent, we can later recall every detail because to remember is to re-experience.

I've been fascinated by tornadoes for most of my life. Like many who grew up or lived in "tornado alley," these violent storms with their dangerous beauty and magnificent terror have a hold on me. I'm conflicted by my attraction to these phenomena; I admit to feeling guilty for what I can only describe as the hypnotic pleasure I derive from watching footage of twisters. They literally and metaphorically draw me toward the vortex, unable to take my eyes away from the sight of that undulating funnel. I understand their power and the devastation they wreak, but I cannot counter my fascination.

There is a eerie shade of green that forecasts menace in a severe thunderstorm. Whenever I see that color, preceding or following a line of brilliant white, I know to take cover. When I was about nine or ten my family lived in a two story house in central Illinois. I remember the sky turning black and green and white as the sirens blared and the wind came up strong. There wasn't time to run to a neighbor's basement, so my mother huddled us beneath the heavy kitchen table in the southwest corner of our two story house. The sound was incredible, a constant deafening roar while everything shook and rattled. Outside was near blackness, everything moving horizontally, and it was that sight - that moment - as the huge funnel cloud passed so near - that sticks in my mind's eye.

Suddenly there was a tremendous crashing, tearing sound, and our mighty maple tree blew over and through the kitchen wall, right on top of our table shelter. We kids scrambled screaming out from under - and it was over. The wind died and everything went quiet except the dripping of rainwater coming through the openings in the roof.

Throughout my life I have drawn and painted tornadoes, amassed a collection of photographs of funnel clouds, and purchased those Weather Channel videos of "Nature's Fury." Of course I own and love The Wizard of Oz, and Twisters I and II. I have photographs of a sculpture installation at Artpark in Lewiston, NY taken from both the inside and outside of a thirty foot tall interactive "tornado" that took my breath away; I so wished I had built it. It would seem I cannot get enough of twister imagery.

Yesterday was another beautiful 60+ cloudless day. It was breezy, but not windy and the air was cool, the sun very warm as the horses munched their afternoon feed. I was filling the horses water troughs when I became aware of a rushing, crackling sound like wind rattling through dry leaves. I glanced down the slope toward the treeline and was delighted to see a small whirlwind stirring itself into a little frenzy of leaves and debris.

As I watched, mesmerized, the tiny cyclone grew, spiraling to a height of thirty or forty feet as it swept up the hill right toward me. I've experienced small whirlwinds passing over and seemingly through me a time or two, and I anticipated this one with delight and excitement. When it was no more than twenty feet away, I realized this one was still growing in intensity, and I experienced a tiny thrill of fear, but stood my ground. And then the twister cut sharply away from me toward where Jessie, the pinto gelding, was concentrating on his dinner. He suddenly became aware that something was after him and I swear he jumped straight up in the air as the cyclone surrounded and passed over him. He stood trembling and snorting with all four legs extended, watching the little twister dance across the driveway and dissipate. If he could speak, he'd have said: "What the hell was that?!!" I have the effrontery to envy him - though were our positions reversed, I'm quite certain he would not feel the same.

The whole thing took less than a minute, an amazing, magical, entirely captivating few moments, yet it is perfectly imprinted upon my mind's eye. I can't stop thinking about it and I know it will emerge as a painting in the near future.

Hosea 8:7
For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind...