Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Prevailing Winds

This past Sunday, we finally made that trip over to Annapolis for lunch by boat. It was our first cruise down Ego Alley of the season. Even after 17 years of boating, docking is never without peril to pride and property, and the stakes are that much higher with a crowd of onlookers. Ego Alley will separate the seasoned boaters from the amateurs, and will even make fools of the seasoned ones now and again. On this day, we were pleased to score a spot on the wall and tie up without incident.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the outdoor courtyard at Reynold's Sly Fox Pub. Since we had Laika with us, we needed a place that was dog-friendly. Afterward, we made a stop by Kilwin's for ice cream and candy before returning to the waterfront.

When we were almost to the boat, my husband remembered that he needed a couple of items from the hardware store (when does he not?). This is not the first time Stevens Hardware has come in handy. You never know when you might need a new rockfish bottle opener, spray hose nozzle, or red, white and blue carbine clip for the planer boards. I waited outside by the door with Laika and window shopped while the boys picked up these "necessities".

While I was biding time, my eye was drawn to the shiny copper weathervanes on display just inside the door. This is not the first time they have caught my attention. In particular, the majestic great blue heron in flight had captured my fancy, and I have been secretly plotting to get one for the top of our detached garage for some time. As I gazed longingly at the heron, I noticed a bright green sale tag hanging from his beak and got a little more interested. When my husband finally emerged from the store, I handed him the leash and went to check it out.

Copper Heron

Well, the price was marked down to suit, and having a birthday approaching, I asked the nice lady if she would get one for me from the back. When she returned, she deposited a tremendous but lightweight cardboard box at my feet. I leaned out the door and asked my husband if the box would fit on the boat. He gave me the "really?" look but was a good sport and carried it across the parking lot to the boat. We got a few odd looks from the aforementioned onlookers as we hoisted it over the rail, but it fit securely in the cockpit, and we cast off from the Alley with our booty.

Great Brown Box Containing Great Blue Heron

On Tuesday, in lieu of going to watch the Blue Angels as we and the rest of the city of Annapolis had originally planned, my husband climbed atop the garage and installed my new weathervane. He carefully aligned the two directional plates using a compass, and sprayed the pivoting rod with ample WD-40 to allow the heron to readily fly head-on into the slightest breeze. I was delighted with the result. In truth, the heron might be a little oversized for our garage, but I think he looks mighty fine soaring over it. Now, I need only look out my window toward the garage to gauge the direction of the prevailing winds.

Life-sized Copper Heron Will Oxidize to Blue-Green

If only it were so easy to assess all of life's prevailing winds and know what they will blow our way. The wind that gently pivots my heron can occasionally lash out in devastating fury. Parts of our country have recently born the brunt of some of these catastrophically damaging winds. We were all heartbroken for the Tuscaloosa area among others several weeks ago when hundreds of tornadoes tore through the midsection of the nation, and then even more horrified in recent days at the 6-mile long swath of death and destruction that ripped through Joplin, MO, the deadliest single tornado in recorded US history. And the storms continue to come, spawning new funnels across the country almost daily, it seems.

The images from Tuscaloosa and Joplin are reminiscent of the tsunami-wracked areas of Japan in terms of the level of complete and utter devastation. Even with much more sophisticated forecasting tools than a weathervane, meteorologists and seismologists are still unable to accurately predict the fiercest of winds and waves. They are some of the worst that Mother Nature can exact upon us.  Click here for a remarkable and dramatic before and after graphic of the area surrounding the Joplin high school.  It's mind-blowing.

Those of us in Cape St. Claire have had our own fairly recent brush with a tornado. While the F1 that skimmed across Severna Park, Arnold, and the Cape in September of 2006 was nothing to compare with the multi-vortex F5 that hit Joplin, it left that signature path of damage and debris unique to tornadoes. It is the closest I hope ever to come to a full-blown tornado. My husband and I watched from our deck as the sky turned wild and green. When the leading edge of the storm arrived, we ducked inside for cover from the hail. I watched from a front window of the house as he watched out back.

The back is where the hovering twister's path crossed our yard. My husband saw the bottom of the suspended funnel wring the crown off our largest tree, a rock solid beech 60 feet high and two feet in diameter, just as I heard the telltale "train" sound. Although I had never heard this sound, there was no mistaking it. We simultaneously yelled for the kids to get in the basement.

This is what we found when we ventured out to assess the damage - a yard littered man-high with large branches from three topless trees. The tornado had apparently taken a right turn over our yard, sparing our favorite tree. My kids claim it was because the tree face scared it (see picture below). It's as good an explanation as any for nature's caprice. Again, this was nothing compared to the Armageddon scene in Joplin, and not even as bad as some of our Cape neighbors fared, but a big mess for 30 seconds of ferocious wind.

Debris Field

Topless Beech Tree

Looking Up the Yard

Looking Down From the House

The Tree That Turned a Tornado

Closeup - "No Tornadoes Shall Pass"

Once the shock of what had happened became reality, we went about the business of cleaning up and contemplating life without two of our oaks and our steadfast beech tree. The residents of Joplin have lost much more, but they will do the same in their own time with the help of their family, friends, state and nation. The fact is, while the prevailing winds may spin and knock us around, they don't, in fact, prevail. Human kindness and resilience do.

Reinforcements Arrive with Chainsaws

Helping Hands

I hope our new windward heron never has to stare down a tornado, but if he does, at least we will know what direction it's coming from. Sending healing thoughts to all the folks in tornado central. If you have a dime to spare toward tornado relief, I've put the link for the Red Cross donation site back on the right sidebar.  Some of you may also have relief campaigns through your work direct deposit like my husband's company. Do what you can if you can. The favor will be returned if and when it's our turn, God forbid.

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