Prairie View

Monday, May 28, 2007

Square With the World and a Friend to Man

At his invitation, last night some of my brother Myron's extended family gathered to scope out the property around their current residence and weigh in with our opinions about the placement of their new house. The house itself is nearly complete, the work of a carpentry class at Halstead High School, about 35 miles from here. It will be moved onto a prepared foundation, and then the cabinets and the garage will be added. Myron and his wife Rhoda specified how they wanted the house done and have worked closely with the teacher of the class while the house was being built.

We began our tour of possible building sites by driving through the pasture to a spot directly north of and next to a small shelterbelt. The cows have had access to the shelterbelt and cleared out the understory. The house would face north and the back yard would adjoin the shelterbelt. This spot felt protected from the trees to the south, while still open to the expansive view to the north, east, and west. It would make a nice home site. Getting to it, however, would necessitate making a long driveway and installing a large culvert to accommodate the water flow through a draw crossing the drive. Electricity and phone lines would have to be brought in nearly a quarter of a mile from one of the nearby roads.

Then we moved to a second spot directly north of the first place, but much closer to the east-west road. It was on a slight rise, but no one outside of Kansas would call it a hill. I could hardly believe the spectacular view from this spot. In the evening light, we seemed high above the shining grain elevators of three towns--all 2-5 miles away. Irish Creek threaded its way along at the bottom of the valley. Trees marked its course. Several miles away traffic crept along Highway 61 and I could imagine the fascination of seeing the trains that periodically move on tracks alongside the highway. All around was Kansas prairie at its best, and over it arched a sky so magnificent that it's impossible to describe a landscape without noting it. The wind was more brisk here, and I can imagine it whipping mercilessly when the weather gets vicious. But I fell in love with this spot. I knew that if I lived there, looking out any window of the house could put a smile on my face. "Put your house here and grow your shelter and windbreaks," I urged.

In comparison, the third possible location seemed lackluster. It was huddled down in a more sheltered area and one end of the shelterbelt was closeby, but there wasn't much to see from there--mainly the trees across the road to the west, and the neighboring farm. Besides, the only logical placement for the house would have put it at an angle with its front facing the intersection of the two roads surrounding the property on the west and north. Driveways from either road would cut across a draw, and utilities would be some distance away.

The house-on-an-angle would be a hurdle for most Kansans. Being square with the world is pretty important in a landscape that has minimal reference points in terrain or manmade structures. Besides, all those references to the "west refrigerator drawer" or the "south end of the dresser" would have to be reconfigured awkwardly with a house askew.

I left Myron and Rhoda a stack of books with varying degrees of pertinence to their site selection process. A book by Sarah Susanka and a book called Patterns of Home are my favorites. Both of them talk about the principle of shelter and outlook in making a house feel like a home. People need to feel protected, but not confined in their homes. They need a feeling of safety while contemplating adventure.

If Myron and Rhoda decide on the prairie "hill" as a location for their house, the outlook is ready-made, but the shelter of trees and windbreaks will take some time to accomplish. That, however, will be a whole lot easier than it would be to try to create a spectacular outlook in a place ensconced in natural shelter. As a prairie child, I vote for the house on the "hill" "by the side of the road." It will be a good place from which to "be a friend to man."*

*From "Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man"--a line from a poem whose title and author I've forgotten.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Close Encounters of the Rainy Kind

This morning we totaled the rain we dumped out of our gauge over the past 36 hours: 5.6 inches. To be sure, it's not as impressive as the 8 inches that fell elsewhere in the county, and our intermittent pepperings of pea-sized hail don't hold a candle to the 1.75-inch diameter hail that fell in Hutchinson and covered the ground, but our part of the world had some drama nonetheless. And the places and events our family encountered through the weather events since yesterday are out of the ordinary for us.

Surprisingly perhaps because of how peripheral our connection is, some of the drama that involved our family was intertwined with the welfare of Jared Oatney's car dealership. Grant works for Jared part time, so he was prepared to respond when Jared called from Wichita after lunch to ask him to move all the vehicles on the lot to the inside of the shop because he had heard that a hailstorm was headed toward Partridge. Grant finished the job ahead of the storm and assumed all was well.

Jared had gone to Wichita to a car auction. He drove there in a car Shane is trying to sell--a Q45 Infiniti. The auction bid for the car was lower than Shane is willing to take, so Jared started home again in Shane's car after the auction. En route, his wife called and said it was hailing at home, so, to protect Shane's car, Jared turned around and went back to Wichita to cool his heels till the weather threat subsided. When he finally arrived home at 7:00 he found his shop flooded with a foot of water, with all the vehicles inside. I haven't heard details about how they managed, but the vehicles were eventually all moved to higher ground. The office in the shop was not flood-proof, and is in a sorry state, according to Shane's report. He talked to Jared when he went over last night to retrieve his car and put it into our shed overnight.

Before he left work yesterday Hiromi heard that the "Big M" intersection SE of Hutchinson was flooded, so he decided to go home through town instead of by his normal route, which would take him through the "Big M" intersection. He encountered many flooded streets and stalled cars, but he left town finally by way of 4th street and then jogged over on the 96 bypass to Highway 50 and came home by way of Partridge Road from the south. He was very glad to be home.

Joel had gone to move his car at work when he saw that the draw behind the office had broadened to take in most of the parking lot behind the office. He had to jump across water to get to his car and got it moved. Because of water rushing across the road nearby, instead of coming home the usual way (turning north at the driveway), he turned south and came home on Morgan Ave. Water flowed across the road at various places on his way home, but he got through without incident.

Here at home we recently had a culvert installed by the county at one of the driveways to the shed north of the house. This was a non-optional move after a recent rain in which the ditches in front of our house nearly overflowed. The road crew employee who talked to us said that they were concerned about the roadbed eventually being damaged by the volume of water that pooled there. Their crew actually pumped out the water and sent it across the road to flow to Salt Creek. The county also cleaned out the culvert under another driveway and dug out the ditches to improve drainage. Earlier this week a tractor and drill had seeded something in the bottom of the ditch, in an apparent effort to get vegetation established to prevent the culverts from filling in with silt.

The good news is that the ditches drain better now, and we don't have a lake this morning just beyond the front lawn. The bad news is that around the new culvert, the still-loose soil has washed out about five feet back from the end of the newly-installed culvert. That loose soil is down at the bottom of the newly dug-out ditch and inside the new culvert. I can only imagine where the seeds are that should shortly be starting to grow in the bottom of the ditch.

We have water leaking into the basement, and mopping, dehumidifying, and taking up throw rugs has all commenced accordingly. But our humble abode is mostly in as good shape as ever.

This morning my brother Lowell called to ask how much rain we had, etc. As an understated aside, he commented that he hopes our cousin Delmar, for whom Lowell was scheduled yesterday to do a roof tear-off, was dealing okay with the fact that he hadn't gotten the tear-off done. I suspect he's feeling like the rest of us--thankful for all the troubles that bypassed us, and thankful for another blessedly ordinary day in which to go about our quiet lives.

Geronimo--Final Respects

Last night when I prepared to feed Geronimo, I found him lying on his side, dead. I had noticed that he seemed thin the last while, even though he seemed to be eating like usual.

I have no eulogy to deliver. Earlier columns detail some of the ways in which Geronimo the gerbil has entertained us, endured our food supplements experimentations, and generally provided a lively constant presence for the past three or four years. In gerbil years he was very old, and when I got him, the pet shop lady who gave him to me said that he was already old then and likely would not live more than a year longer. So we've had a good stretch of borrowed time.

The worst part of Geronimo's death is seeing to the details of giving him a decent burial. After the deluge we've had during the last 36 hours, everything is so soggy that even getting to an out of the way spot on foot is a daunting prospect.

Maybe that is what people feel also who are close to a person who dies. The most immediately distasteful part of death is dealing with the body. I really don't think that I'm prepared at this point to be philosophical about this. I trust God to provide the needed grace at any point in the future when I must make earthy decisions after someone close to me dies.

For now, for a little longer I can push that unpleasantness into the future, except for finding a tiny box, which I will line with tissue paper--and then a shovel, perhaps a plant marker stake, and the right spot--and my last duty to our pet will be accomplished.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Scrapbook/Memory Pages

The principal I’ve worked with for the past two years is leaving Kansas in two weeks to return to Pennsylvania. In the typical ritual of marking transitions, people are putting together a scrapbook/memory book for him to take with him. I applaud the effort, in principle at least, but I’m not doing so well with getting my page done. As is usually also the case with bulletin boards, I have ideas galore, but most of them are too complicated to actually execute without an inordinate amount of time investment. The biggest part of the job is shortening the parade of ideas and then minimizing the peripherals until I have something manageable left. And then I agonize about whether what I have left is really significant, or just sentimental and/or silly, or too stripped down to be recognizable as a great idea. Personal inadequacies and doubts aside, I think I will plunge in and use this blog to say what I won’t get to convey on the 8 x 8 scrapbook page.

Andrew Schmucker came to our school at a bad time. Two capable staff men had just left, and he, as principal, and I, as a part time teacher, were expected to carry most of the load that had been spread among three staff persons earlier. Some of the circumstances surrounding the staff turnover were not ideal, and the school population felt a little shell shocked and wary. Enter Mr. S. Right away it was clear to everyone that we were going to have a good time. And we did.

Mr. S. played hard on the basketball court and the softball field. He told jokes and embarrassing-moments stories that high schoolers can really relate to. He gamely tried new and risky ideas to make life more pleasant for students at school–some of them ideas I had campaigned for unsuccessfully in the past. Although he didn’t enjoy it much, he plugged away at tending to the administrative details that came with his job. In the process he streamlined some procedures quite a lot, making life easier for those who carry on. In general, he looked for ways to make things work without teachers having to micro-manage. At the end of the day he went home without obsessing over what remained undone.

The boys and he had a wonderful camp out early in the first year, followed later by a Saturday rabbit hunt, and then a meal for everyone at the teacher’s house. Mr. S. really loved the students and it showed.

He read aloud stories by Patrick McManus (occasionally edited on the fly), and stories about Archibald Brewster and friends. All this was done with great aplomb and uninhibited drama. It was ROFL in action.

When his little girls occasionally showed up at school he hugged and kissed them soundly and unabashedly. He and his wife welcomed a third daughter into their family two days before the end of school last year. Family responsibilities and loyalties loomed large in Mr. S.’s life–a good role model for the young men he mentored at school.

Mr. S. was a true soul mate of mine in the way he exulted in nature. Neither of us could keep our eyes off the sky when the weather was interesting, and he was often more abreast of the weather forecast than I was–something that had never happened with any teacher colleagues of mine in the past. His time in the wild involves a weapon or fishing pole more frequently than my time outdoors does, but even then, he shows proper respect for the provision of nature by dressing and eating what he harvests. He says that during his poor-student days their family’s meat was almost exclusively deer meat which he shot and dressed himself.

Several months ago I pointed out to Andrew something the students were doing that we had agreed we shouldn’t allow. I wasn’t sure immediately what to do about it, but he had no such uncertainty. He called out some version of “Stop it right now and get back to your desks and be quiet.” Then he turned to me and said, “Sometimes you just have to be assertive, and sometimes it’ll look a lot like yelling.” I’m pondering the advice, but I’m also pretty sure that I can never do as well as he does at combining freewheeling spontenaity and firmness. Doing it all with underlying love and respect for the students makes it a winning combination.

Two years ago when I first learned that we would be getting a new principal I inexplicably “knew” it would be Andrew, almost from the beginning, even though I had no strings to pull to make it happen–or not. Several other possibilities were investigated first because not everyone knew what I did. In good time, even Andrew agreed that he would be our next principal and we all lived happily ever after.

When next year’s principal takes over the reins he will have a confident and optimistic school population to work with instead of a shell shocked, wary one. That is perhaps one of the best testimonies to Mr. S.’s effectiveness in his role as principal and teacher. In that way he is a role model for all of us who aspire to do well whatever we are called to do. I salute him for a job well done.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Memorable Animal Encounters

Several years ago in the Spring I moved a bale of straw at the edge of my flower garden and saw four babies of a kind of animal I had never seen alive before. They were about one and one-half inch long and clothed in marvelously silky gray fur–perfect miniatures of the larger moles the cats have occasionally offered as trophies. They were so adorable, I wanted to save them, but practicality carried the day, and I left them squirming where I found them, hoping the cats would deal with them in a merciful hurry.

Another year when we had an abundance of rain, I once took my young children on a walk to a place about a mile west and north of our house to a spot in the road where water ran across the road on a concrete surface. The concrete was usually high and dry, but when the small waterway overflowed, the concrete prevented a washout on the road. On this particular day, the stream seemed to be full of crayfish. Repeatedly one of them would wash up on the concrete and then slip and tumble along over the concrete till it finally washed across and dropped off the roadway. I had no idea so many crayfish lived so close by.

Another time, early in the spring also, I saw a chilling animal-sight in the ditch along the road by our house. A thin sheet of ice remained on the water that had accumulated in the ditch. Through the ice we glimpsed a knot of snakes probably a foot in diameter. Heads and tails protruded from the jumble and every so often one of the protrusions would move lazily. I think it was still too cold for them to feel energetic. I suspect they had passed the winter in the nearby culvert. I didn’t know Garter snakes did that.

Chilling in a different way was the time we drove up to the home of friends when we saw a skunk stumbling around in the front yard. It was broad daylight–an odd hour for skunks to be out. This skunk fell down repeatedly and then would get up to continue its circular stumbling walk. We had some of the boys with us who lived in the home we had come to. “Do you have a gun?” I asked. “I’m pretty sure this skunk has rabies, and we need to make very sure it doesn’t bite anyone or any of your pets.”

“We don’t have a gun. I think my Grandpa might, but I don’t think he’s home and I don’t know where it is,” one of them said.

“Then I think we’d better go home and get ours,” I decided. “You stay here and make sure you and all the cats and dogs stay away from the skunk. And watch where it goes if it runs away,” I instructed before we left.

My boys and I headed home and returned as soon as possible with a gun. Shane shot the skunk and then we tried to think where to put the skunk so that it could be tested for rabies if the boys’ parents decided to do so. The boys hit upon the idea of throwing it up on a low roof of one of their farm outbuildings, out of reach of the dog and cats. End of problem.

Shane has an animal tale that seems highly improbable, but is verified by witnesses. He worked for a seed company that kept cats around for the purpose of keeping mice away. Some of the cats were disappearing and the secretary for the business thought she knew why the morning she arrived at work and saw a bobcat leisurely checking out the perimeter of the seed house. A short while later, while Shane was eating his lunch in the office, he heard a commotion from the cats. “I’m going to see if that bobcat is out there again,” he said, grabbing the gun he had brought from home in anticipation of such a need.

He walked out into the seed house and saw–not a bobcat–but a mountain lion in front of the refrigerator that stored soft drinks. The long twitching tail was the identifying characteristic. The big cat ran outside the building and Shane ran out a different way, ready to get off a shot if it reappeared at the far corner of the seed house. It did and he did, but he missed.

The irony of this event is that the Department of Wildlife in Kansas has forcefully reiterated repeatedly that there are no mountain lions in Kansas. To be sure, tracks have been sighted, animals have been sighted and even photographed, and a few have been shot here. But none of this is official enough to count. The ones shot were probably escapees from captivity, and the other sightings were not made by a wildlife department official.

I think the officials need to “get a life.” As if no one except they are smart enough to know what they’re seeing.

On a dairy farm about a mile and a half from our house, one of the girls in the family went to feed the calves one morning and was horrified to discover only the calf’s collar and its head remaining in one of the pens. The rest of the carcass was nowhere in evidence. The farm dogs had raised a ferocious fuss during the night, but the man of the house was on a trip and the wife had no idea what she would do if she went outside and encountered a thief or a wild animal, so she left it to the dogs. That time a wildlife officer came out and agreed that it looked like the work of a big cat, but stated again that we don’t have any proof that Kansas has any mountain lions.

Several days later, very early in the morning we heard an animal sound different from any we had ever heard before. “Scream” is how I would describe it. But that, too, was likely a figment of our imagination. After all, Kansas has no mountain lions.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Graduation Post Script 2

This blog is about the other graduate in our family: Joel. He was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree with a business administration major. He graduated summa cum laude, with a 4.0 Grade Point Average. I don't think he's ever gotten any grade in college besides an A--on any assignment.

The shameless plaudits continue in the following paragraphs. Indulge me, just this once.

After the graduation, one of the professors who had told Joel ahead of time that she wanted to meet his parents told us that we had raised a wonderful son. "And I mean that with all my heart," she continued. Even under her academic garb, complete with the beret-style cap of her alma mater, and, while wearing sunglasses against the glare of a brassy-bright sun, she couldn't hide her motherly demeanor. I felt sure that Joel had been in good hands with Dr. Kathy (Glynn) as his faculty adviser, mentor and teacher. She continued the conversation by asking Joel if he would consider serving as a mentor if she needed to place students for internships in the future. Joel would be happy to accommodate Dr. Kathy and an intern.

The next professor we met was Dr. Lederle, the religion professor who had led the benediction in a wonderfully fervent, articulate, British-accented prayer. He repeated the “wonderful son” refrain in some form. “I keep trying to get him to pursue a religion major,” he informed us.

“I think he would really enjoy that if he had felt like he could take the time,” I told him.

“Well, he’s just so good at so many things,” he said understandingly. To Joel he said then “Come back and take some more majors.”

Dr. Lederle was born in South Africa and spent most of his life there. He came to America during the upheaval in the country when the black majority began to insist on a role in the white-controlled government. He feared for his family in the chaotic situation, and sought safety for them in a small town in Kansas. I’d like to invite Dr. Lederle to our church and our home sometime. I think he would enjoy the exposure to a different religious tradition. Besides, I’m a sucker for a British accent.

The last professor we met was Dr. Froese, who was head of the psychology department during my days at Sterling. “Did you tell your parents that you blew the top off the business test?” He is in charge of giving the major-specific national-norms exit tests that Sterling gives seniors. After the scores came in he emailed Joel and told him that, in all his years of testing he has never seen a perfect score of 200 as Joel had gotten. “Congratulations!”

I’m sure Sterling considers Joel’s score as a vindication of the strength of their business department offerings. They don’t know that Joel sometimes felt that he wasn’t learning much in class. That’s because he had done an enormous amount of reading in this subject area for years before he started taking business classes. The books were his real education I believe, but Sterling gave him opportunities to complete related projects that he would not have been likely to do on his own. And the personal experiences the professors brought to the class were helpful also.

Going back several years, when Joel took his ACT (college entrance exams), he got invitations from three prestigious institutions who wanted him to apply for admission: Harvard, West Point, and the University of Pennsylvania. He was only 16 years old at the time and we weren’t about to let him leave home yet. Besides, a military school wasn’t what we idealized for our son. He courteously declined all the invitations and the interview process that would have put him on a West Point path, and began attending our local junior college for individual classes. From the age of 16 on he also worked 40 hours every week as a computer programmer.

Even earlier, Joel showed an amazing eagerness to learn. Before he turned four, he had learned to read small books. At four, he brought the paper in very slowly because he was reading from it on his way in from the mailbox. At five he read the Bible through in the New International Version. Soon after that he read Frank Peretti’s book This Present Darkness. I hardly knew whether this was wise but I determined to let him read it, and we discussed it thoroughly as he did so. Later, when I came across another article that seemed to me to be dabbling in darkness I gave it to him to read and asked him what he thought. “Mom, I think this is the same thing as that Present Darkness book,” he said. Exactly.

In seventh grade Joel won the county spelling bee championship. When he competed at the state level in Topeka, he placed 13th among representatives from Kansas’ 105 counties. While studying for the spelling bee he learned word spellings, pronunciations, and definitions that I had never learned.

Joel has shown compassion in the way he uses his considerable earning power to relieve suffering and need in the world. I don’t know where all he donates money, but I know that he pays the school expenses for two children in Kenya, and he provides monthly support for at least three other children in various countries. I’ve gathered that he also donates regularly to Offender-Victim ministries, to a rescue mission, to a “Bibles” ministry, an orphanage, and to several non-religious organizations whose cause he believes in. Oxfam is such an organization, as are the Nature Conservancy, and the Japanese-American Museum in California. He also donates regularly to our church offerings, of course.

Joel volunteers one Saturday morning a month at the Et Cetera shop, the local Mennonite Central Committee’s thrift shop and Ten Thousand Villages’ fair trade shop featuring handcrafts from around the world. He also meets early every Sunday morning with young people at the detention center in Hutchinson for a worship service.

Joel envies others, however, who have some of the abilities he feels he lacks. He notices the easy way some people engage strangers in conversation and wishes he could do the same. Others, like his brother Shane, sing well with very little effort, and he’d like to be able to do that. His youngest brother, Grant, has a “disgusting” habit of being able to charm reluctant equipment into spontaneous cooperation when he directs his skills appropriately. While Joel writes very well, he edits his speech on-the-fly so carefully that it often doesn’t flow smoothly. His earliest efforts at speech involved practicing words painstakingly till he could say them to his satisfaction. While Joel often exercises, he has never had an enviably-muscled body.

Joel has studied and enjoyed German, Spanish, and Japanese. He spoke Pennsylvania Dutch and said some Japanese words before he spoke English. His teachers for German and Spanish report that he has good pronunciation. Native Japanese say he has a perfect Japanese accent.

When Joel was a baby I often prayed that he would grow up to love and serve God and other people. Indications are that Joel, at 24, may be praying that prayer on his own now. Either way, the prayer is being answered, and today I thank God and Joel.

Graduation Post Script

What relief! The graduations in the family are over. I came home today and took a long afternoon nap. Then I woke and worked in the garden till dark. Hiromi and the boys installed the window air conditioner since today's mid-80s heat and humidity taxed Hiromi's limited tolerance for discomfort when he wants to be in relaxation mode (as he usually does when he's indoors).

I'm happy to report that Grant came in under the wire with enough school work done to be able to join the graduation festivities. His actual diploma will join the fancy diploma cover and envelope after he finishes up three more paces and does some Bible memory work next week.

On graduation day he was due at school at 6:00 p. m. for picture taking ahead of graduation. At 5:00 when I returned to school from picking up a new tire for the van (Grant had a flat tire earlier in the day.) Grant, who had worked all day at school, still had two required English 3200 tests to take and pass. I asked him if I could help him, and he said "I don't know." So I sat beside him and listened to his proposed answers, and headed off any tendencies toward wrong answers that I perceived. I felt only slightly guilty, and informed our principal that he wasn't seeing "anything ." He laughed and obligingly ignored us.

Grant got a 96 per cent on the first of the two tests. For the last test, he read the questions and called out the answers, which I typed into his computer. When I checked the printed copy. he got a score in the 90s on that test also, and at 5:20 he was ready to go home and get ready to graduate. Whew!

The principal gave the obligatory disclaimer about the lack of authenticity in the awarding of Grant's diploma. I was too relieved to be embarrassed, and I suspect Grant felt the same way. I may have imagined it, but I thought the applause when he got his "diploma" was louder than for anyone else.

Many of those who clapped loudly could justifiably claim a hand in Grant's success. Students and parents of students told me they were praying for Grant. One of the final Monday chapels ended with the school board chairman who conducted the chapel leading in a prayer huddle for Grant and his classmate Ryan who also was feeling anxiety about getting finished in time. All the boys gathered around them and laid hands on them while anyone who wished led out in prayer. The girls linked arms and gathered around the boys. With my arms occupied and no facial tissues within reach, my nose dripped shamelessly until the prayer was over and I bolted toward the Kleenex box in Grant's office. From that point on, Grant finished a pace every day. He didn't sleep much and was rewarded with consistently high scores on his pace tests, despite hardly ever asking for help.

Hiromi and I fervently hope that this lesson on the high price of procrastination is not lost on Grant. At the same time we have some regrets about circumstances that short-circuited his best chances at academic success. The vision problem that was diagnosed at the end of his freshman year was a detriment long before any of us caught on. While the immediate effect was a reading rate so slow that no amount of hard work was enough to stay caught up, the more long-term effect, still present after therapy corrected the problem, was discouragement and a sense of hopelessness. During his junior year, he didn't even try. He filled his after-school hours with helping do chores on a dairy and working with a friend in the radio-controlled airplane shop afterwards. He built, flew, wrecked, and repaired airplanes all year, but he didn't do much school work. Near the end of the year he spent long hours in fund raising activities for the Spanish class trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. "The way I see it," our principal commented, "he paid for his own trip and several other people's."

I also lament that the main curriculum for our school is predominately suitable for visual learners--the very modality that coincided with Grant's least efficient learning style. He generally did much better in the classes that were conducted conventionally. In our school Grant is not alone in this "mismatched" category. I grieve for these other students as well.

In today's mail a card from Sterling College arrived for Grant. It declared "We saved a place for you." They ought to put the "reserved" sign into storage. I don't think Grant will claim the place.

Ironically, he spends lots of time at Sterling College every year during the summer. Much of the time he has a shovel or growling string trimmer in hand. Everywhere on campus he can point to a place of beauty he has helped create or maintain. This novel way of "going to college" is just fine with me. Most people pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of being there. He gets paid, and he's acquiring skills that have the potential of generating income for a lifetime.

Maybe the mismatch of school and skills is finally in the past for Grant. Let's all say it together: "Yaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Life in Tornado Alley

Tonight we spent part of the evening huddled in our fruit room in the basement--the only room with cement block walls and concrete overhead. With us was my brother Lowell who was on his way home from checking on his goats when a storm hit that was so ferocious that he sought refuge here instead of going on home. His family meanwhile was clustered together in the stairwell of their not-very-welcoming cellar with a new little kid that they rescued from the barnyard when the storm threatened. The ungrateful kid fouled their little hideaway before the wait was over.

We listened to weather reports while we waited. Strong rotation was observed at the intersection of Highways K14 and US50, about 4 miles SW of us. A bit later more of the same occurred at Centennial and 4th St., NW of us. En route from point one to point two it would have passed over Lowell's farm. At 40-50 MPH, this storm skipped across other populated areas of our county, most notably the city of Hutchinson (pop. about 50,000). Apparently it exited the area without ever touching the ground. Tornado sirens sounded in every town.

My parents joined others from the city of Partridge in the storm shelter in the basement at the big gym at the grade school. I haven't been down there since showers after PE class in high school.

The severe weather pattern we're in will likely continue for several more days. It began two days ago, on Friday, when an F5 tornado virtually obliterated the town of Greensburg (pop. 1500) about an hour and a half SW of here. A Mennonite church was destroyed there. This morning in church one of our members conveyed a plea he had received in a phone call from a friend in Greensburg for all Christians to pray for the people of the town. Rescuers are still searching under collapsed structures for bodies or survivors. In the confusion, it's impossible to account for everyone, since some residents fled to locations away from the designated shelters in nearby towns, and their whereabouts are not known to emergency personnel. Ten people have died in the storms, and others suffered injuries, some critical.

One of the only structures left standing in Greensburg was the town's only bar. I think it would have been more fitting if a church had survived. What was God thinking?

I don't know anyone who has lived in Kansas for any length of time that has the casual view of tornadoes that Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz seems to have had. For her it seemed a rather convenient way to be transported from one place to another. Although ridiculously daring or dutiful people always hurry out to watch the excitement and keep tabs on what's happening, most sensible Kansans hurry to their basements when the clouds threaten and the sirens sound. Almost everyone has seen tornado damage firsthand, and many of us have seen funnel clouds.

Every time we get a tornado warning I wonder helplessly what to take along to the basement with me. What things would matter to me if everything else were destroyed? Usually we take only candles, matches, flashlights, and chairs. Tonight we had a weather radio, and the boys each had their cell phones. I did make sure I was fully dressed and had my glasses on and my tennis shoes in hand. I thought I would feel really destitute if I had to face life after a tornado without shoes and glasses. Nothing else feels nearly as important though as making sure every family member is in a safe place. Clarifying priorities is one of the things tornadoes do best.

The wind is soft again, the thunder has died away, and no harsh light stabs the darkness now. I think after I check the weather report one more time, I'll go to bed and sleep well in the care of a loving Father Who never abandons His people, even when tornadoes intrude on the beauty and order of God's creation.