Wildflowers & Creeks

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Elle's first time in a creek

Believe it or not, this photograph shows Elle experiencing the joys of walking barefoot in a creek for the first time in her life. That sounds a little unreal, doesn’t it? You have to remember, though, that she is Florida-born and bred, with the exception of the last eleven months of her life here in Oklahoma, and little girls from the South, at least mine, just can’t walk around barefoot in creeks and ponds for worry of gators and poisonous watersnakes. There was a single reminder of our Florida days, however, when we came across a mound of miniature seashells. Ah, Oklahoma’s Cretaceous Period?

Oklahoma seashells!

The two of us were attempting to make our walk worth at least a couple of miles but I really underestimated the heat and foolishly left my thermos of ice-cold water in the car. After a short stroll around the creek we crossed an old iron bridge and found ourselves near a field of wildflowers. Elle and I snapped a few photographs while getting eaten up by mosquitos and chased by bees the whole time. All those bug bites were worth it, though, at least to me. I am quite enamored of wildflowers, especially the field of Mexican hats I stumbled upon.

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mexican hats

mexican hats

Sailboats on Lake Hefner

Every day for the past week, while driving Elle to and from her summer camp classes in the far northwest corner the city, I have been able to catch a glimpse of Lake Hefner. It is a busier place in the afternoon filled with bicyclists, joggers, dog-walkers, and general wanderers. On my way to pick her up from camp yesterday, I saw sailboats dotting the water near the lighthouse. Elle is usually too hungry and tired by the end of her camp day to take a walk with me by the lake, but this time I insisted. This Florida girl has been missing that view for quite some time.

Elle and I walked a short while from the parking lot to the lighthouse and met an elderly couple and their dog along the way. They pointed out a snake swimming in the water and we got to talking about Florida. It turns out one of their children lives in Jacksonville, another in the suburbs of Orlando. Our conversation was interrupted by the sounds of splashing and screams. Those sailboats must have been part of a class because I can’t imagine why else there would be so many of them clustered so closely to one another. Most of the time, at least one of them was completely on it side in the water with a few submerged people patiently waiting nearby. There was hardly a breeze yesterday, not even on the lake shore. I’m not entirely sure if this did any favors for those poor people trying to learn how to maneuver a sailboat. It was pretty fun to watch, though.

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Drying Out

My mother called me this morning from Florida and after the usual banter about work, the family, and my father’s upcoming birthday, she began to complain about the rain. Tropical Storm Andrea is poised to dump six inches over coastal North Florida. Friends of mine as far north as South Georgia are under a tornado warning. My mother can’t get the German Shepherd to go outside and pee because he’s afraid to get wet. He’s also afraid of the dark.

“I don’t want to hear about your rain. I don’t feel sorry for you,” I told her. For the record, she laughed then asked me how my garden had made it through the last two weeks of Oklahoma’s record-breaking rainfall. The answer is: I don’t know yet. I’m hoping it stops raining long enough to give the soil an opportunity to dry out, otherwise we’re back at square one.

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my cucumbers, in better days

For all my frustration with the vegetables, my flowers are thriving. My daylily doubled in size, the sunflowers are mostly all over two feet tall, and the lavender is…doing something. It hasn’t gone brown or lost its heavenly scent. I call that a score. The Indian blanket has spread a few feet in all directions and this makes me very happy. When I brought that plant home with me last summer, there were two measly blossoms. I’m thinking I should go get more. Seriously, my desire to rip out all the ugly things in my yard and replace them with Indian blanket grows by the day!

A surprising sprawl of #indianblanket #wildflowers and a climbing ivy

Also, my theory about petunias is becoming as true as my theory about goldfish – it takes a lot to kill those suckers, even when you try. No, I’m not trying. I’m only emphasizing how important petunias can be to the beginning gardener’s precious and fragile ego.

TAKE HEED, first-timers.

And Wind is Simply Wind.

Post #tornado afterglow #okc

post-tornado afterglow

Our basement was busy with excitement once again when a massive storm came through Oklahoma City last Friday. I had to try really hard to convince my mother on the phone that tornado season in Oklahoma is not as chaotic and confusing as outsiders might think. Did you see that? I just referred to other people as outsiders, not including myself. I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of this Oklahoma thing, but just barely.

Don’t get me wrong – Friday night was chaotic and confusing, but only because we had three people and six dogs taking refuge underground. The sirens blared constantly and the only time I got really scared was when the El Reno tornado took a sharp northerly turn and another sharp turn east, directly for our part of town. Matt and I actually had to prepare Elle for a worst-case scenario which,  fortunately, didn’t happen. Am I happy with how everything played out? Absolutely not. Five people were killed in that twister alone, including three tornado research pioneers, but I no longer startle at a random gust of wind.

I think it’s safe to say all of Oklahoma is ready for a much-deserved break. And with that, I would like to mention the record amounts of rainfall and subsequent greenery. Central Oklahoma is officially out of the drought and we hope the wildfires that were so prevalent last summer are discouraged from returning because of all moisture we’ve had this year. I’m also hoping that the temperatures stay below 100 degrees as I will readily admit that this past Oklahoma winter turned me into a sissy. In fact, I no longer find myself chilled in 85-degree weather. Ugh, 85-degree weather… I’m getting hot just thinking about it.

The following morning, June 1st, which just happened to be the start of hurricane season (hello, Florida friends!), we checked the rainfall amount in our garden and realized it topped well over our measly 6-inch gauge. Two airports in different parts of the city reported between 9 and 11 inches of precipitation, which I learned includes hail, fog, light rain, heavy rain, but nevermind that – I can’t accurately read the data on those weather charts. You’ll just believe me when I say I had a backyard pool for much of the day and night. My cucumbers and tomatoes were drowned in their giant barrel containers; there was so much that I had to retrieve a cup to help empty the container pots of unabsorbed moisture. My husband’s shop was flooded enough to send floor mats floating. The basement leaked water through a crack in the wall, which I used to mop up the piddle puddles from aforementioned six dogs. Resourcefulness, it’s coming naturally to us these days.

*You may have noticed a change in the blog-scenery lately and, most importantly, the name of the blog. I felt it was fitting and time-appropriate to acknowledge how I am finally coming around to calling Oklahoma home. Would you believe that admission doesn’t feel as blasphemous as it once did?

The Oklahoma Standard

There is very little left to be said that hasn’t already been said. It all comes down to perspective from this point forward. By now, everyone knows what happened and everyone knows that my family and I are safe. In terms of natural disasters, the EF5 tornado that tore through Moore, Oklahoma was the absolute closest I’ve ever been to that kind of death and destruction. However, in terms of tornadoes, it was nowhere near me. There are 18 miles between my house and the Warren Theater. For the first time in my life, the horrifying images I’m still seeing on my television are literally just down the road from me.

I am now able to compare the absolute fear that takes over when one is about to face the eye of a hurricane and when one is about to take cover from a possible tornado. They are the same yet completely different. You have days to prepare in both situations, but here in Oklahoma, you have mere moments to react. The meteorologists in this part of the country warned us ahead of time that the weekend’s weather, leading into Monday, would be volatile. Saturday I learned of heat bursts as we buckled down for 80 mph winds that never came. Sunday I had my first taste of a non-drill tornado warning and watched Carney and Shawnee get ripped apart on live television. By Monday, I was in go-mode.

The hail started falling around 2:30 and the sirens started wailing shortly after and my husband sent me text messages from his downtown highrise office telling me to get the dogs into the basement. It was absolutely confusing when the meteorologists warned of a tornado dropping on the ground in Newcastle but they continued to talk on the television about a storm near Bethany and Warr Acres, the area in which we live. My husband wasn’t aware that the sirens sounding here at home had already warned me to head underground. He took photographs from his office window of a storm system dropping what initially looked like a funnel cloud closing in over our neighborhood but turned out to be two major storm systems converging.

over Bethany

over Bethany

He took a few other shots of a massive storm just to the south of downtown Oklahoma City, the one that had just dropped a twister down onto Newcastle, west of Moore. The photographs below show a ground-to-sky tower of rain and a huge wall of blackened clouds. Deep within its core is the EF5, slowly making its way into the city of Moore.

rain-wrapped Moore tornado

tail-end of Moore tornado

I eventually came out from the basement and left to pick up my daughter from school where, she tells me, she sheltered-in-place with her classmates and helped to calm down a terrified fifth-grader by explaining to him the Spiderman was stopping the tornado. We (me, the kiddo, and three confused dogs) immediately rushed down into the basement once more when the wailing sirens sounded for the last time on Monday and I think I’ve been in a kind of mild shock ever since. My daughter, it seems, is doing just fine. Now we get to carve a notch in our proverbial belts and claim to be somewhat experienced. I’m grateful to those who have proclaimed my official status now as an Oklahoman, seeing as I still feel somewhat like a stranger in a strange land.

If I could take the intensity of a hurricane and compact it into a mile-wide vortex and then combine it with all the anxiety and fear of an impending two-day tropical cyclone crammed into a span of five minutes, that is my best description of what it is like to face a potential tornado. And I wasn’t even there. I’m here, safely tucked away in Northwest Oklahoma City where I can’t even see the destruction unless I turn on my television. And it’s the only thing that is on my television. Of course, there is the schnauzer that was rescued on live TV directly behind his owner who, at that very moment, was mourning the loss of her pet and there are snapshots of teachers carrying their injured young students to safety. I get it – this hope thing – but, truth be told, I can’t stop weeping over Plaza Towers. If only this had happened next week, those kids would not have even been in school… or Why don’t Oklahoma’s schools pull half-days during severe weather alerts, like we do in Florida?…

I have to stop thinking those thoughts. It’s done. The Universe doesn’t make sense sometimes and, quite frankly, I’m still pissed off at her. We all grieve differently, I suppose.

There have been earlier posts in which I’ve entertained my East Coast friends with certain vocabulary that is known only to this part of the country (mesocyclone, fruit salad hail, suction spots). One of my new favorites is this one: the Oklahoma Standard

“There has been a lot of talk about the ‘Oklahoma Standard’ of dealing with disasters, and this community is responsible for setting that standard. We knew all along what kind of people we served and have always been proud to serve them. Now, the rest of the nation and the world know they are the best.”

Oklahomans are no strangers to disaster given that the above quote was born from the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. But in many instances, before and after the bombing, pieces of Oklahoma have been blown down by the big, bad wolf time and time again and, you know what? She has rebuilt time and time again. So why do people live there? I, too, asked myself this very question just over a year ago.

Here is my answer: there is no safe space. In the world. Anywhere. My home in Michigan was constantly under the threat of wildfires, suburban DC was and still is teeming with violent crime, and Florida…well, you’ve all had your say about why people continue to live in Florida. Hurricanes and sinkholes and coastal erosion galore! But it is home for many people, as it was for me for 16 years, just as Oklahoma is home for so many others.

And, for now, Oklahoma is home to me.

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Nantucket on my mind

Sometimes I am rewarded with good timing instead of good karma, unless you’re one of those people who considers them to be one and the same. I am not one of those people. Karma is karma, usually in a singular event. Good timing involves a number of events. Good timing requires good karma, I believe, but they are not the same thing.

Let me explain: Have you ever been introduced to something you knew nothing about only to later find yourself coming across this “something” all the time? I consider that good timing (and good observation skills). It happens to me an awful lot with words and only occasionally with facts. This instance involves Nantucket, which I will throw into the category of facts.

I have no affiliation with the island of Nantucket at all. My New World/New England ancestors got rich in the village of Salem, Mass., pre-witch hunts, converted a bunch of people into Baptists, and then tried to settle in New Amsterdam (New York City – Throggs Neck, anyone?) until the natives slaughtered the lot of them. My man John and the Throckmorton family survived and ran off to Rhode Island to found Providence. Also, the farthest into New England I’ve ever gone was Amish Country in Pennsylvania. Does that even count?

Not too long ago, I finished reading In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, a true story of a whaling disaster that originated in Nantucket. Needing some whimsy to decompress from the horrors of being stranded in the Pacific and the games of chance to see which of your shipmates gets cannibalized next, I took to reading Mat Johnson’s Pym. Again, there is a strong connection to the island of Nantucket. The story itself does not originate in Nantucket, but the story within the story does.

Lake Hefner lighthouse

Lake Hefner lighthouse

Last week while Matt and I were bicycling around Lake Hefner, we decided to stop for a break because, well…the wind, and benched ourselves near the Lake Hefner lighthouse. This was the first time I had ever paid attention to the plaque leading up to the structure itself. And guess what? It told me that the Lake Hefner lighthouse is an 36-foot tall replica of the Brandt Point lighthouse in Nantucket!

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You might think this is very unimportant, and maybe it is. But then you have to ask yourself: Why is there a replica of a Nantucket lighthouse in Oklahoma City? I haven’t figured this out yet. The reading of the books and the bike ride all occurred within three weeks of each other, which means this Nantucket thing keeps showing up in my life. Why? I haven’t figured this out yet, either, but I am a believer in good timing and weird little coincidences. Something is afoot.

Wind & Waves

Water-loving people must make do with what they have around them and this was evident to me the first time I saw a surfer in Lake Superior. The kinds of Nor’easters that I am only familiar with on the Florida coast make plenty of large waves on the Great Lakes, too (and are the reason most Lake Superior shipwrecks occurred). Oklahoma doesn’t get these Nor’easters, but she does get her fair share of wind. This, of course, makes windsurfing a pretty popular watersport around here.

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Lake Hefner

Matt and I sat on a bench near the Lake Hefner lighthouse yesterday as I listened to the waves slapping the shore rocks. A few minutes later we hopped back onto our bicycles and headed into the wind for the 3-mile ride back to the truck. Naturally, we hadn’t noticed the wind during the first short leg of our trek as it was conveniently at our backs helping to move us along. Going into the wind – oh, it hurt and it burned. I even worried I wouldn’t be able to walk for days, but I couldn’t help but love being near the lake. Even one of my dearest cousins in Wisconsin gives her lake house all the credit for helping her get through some kick-in-the-gut life shit right now. Water and waves have some serious healing power, even if it is just to provide encouragement to pedal, pedal, pedal!

wind! of course.

Oklahoma wind. It is windy!

When Matt mentioned that our 6-mile round trip could have taken us almost completely around the lake, I was okay with that. There was no need to finish the entire trail on the first go. Besides, I’ll most definitely go back when the weather warms up again because I think it’s my new favorite nearby happy place.

Open Water | Open Spaces

lake hefner

A few days ago I realized that I have spent my entire pre-Oklahoma life on one peninsula or another. Peninsula – it’s such a romantic word, conjuring up thoughts of being surrounded almost entirely by calming, soothing water. Yes, this Floridian is still missing the water, but I was able to quell some of that homesickness last night at a lakeside restaurant by staring out at the sailboats and windsurfers and imagining the sound of the lapping waves left in their wake.

Oklahoma has a lot of lakes and rivers and they’ve been filling up, for the most part, with plenty of water, thanks to a few good downpours recently. The air has been warm and the sun has been shining and I am almost tempted to toss out my prescription Vitamin D supplements, but no! The forecast for Thursday is calling for a high of 46 degrees with lots of clouds. Because, well…why the *$#% not, right?

It’s been officially decided that I can probably be happy living near the coast, even if the weather isn’t ideal (New England – I’m looking at you!) or someplace with an ample amount of sunshine, but preferably in a sunny and small fishing village anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard.

That’s not happening anytime soon so I am happy to call Oklahoma City home as long as I can see scenes like this more often than not:

sailboat in lake hefner sun

lake hefner lighthouse

lake hefner

The little spit of land on which the Lake Hefner Lighthouse resides could very well be considered a tiny peninsula, a breakwater, or even a jetty, perhaps. There are no oceans or Great Lakes nearby so I have to find familiarity in small-scale ways. But where Oklahoma is lacking in big, open water she more than makes up for in big, open spaces. I’m hoping to get much more of that in the coming months!

A First-Timer’s Perspective on Living in Tornado Alley

Living in tornado alley is almost the same as living in hurricane alley but with fewer palm trees and no threat of storm surge. There is also more urgency given to the moment, I noticed. I am pleased to report that the humidity levels are very much the same when a cold front and warm front collision looms overhead.  Oh, humidity, how I have missed you! And those palm trees. The headaches I suffer from when the barometric pressure suddenly drops are something I wish had stayed back in Florida, though. Luckily, Oklahoma City did escape the brunt of the storms this time thanks to the cold front that pushed through at the last minute and took the threat of tornadoes with it*.

I was pretty disappointed in Gary England, one of the most popular weathermen in the state, and for saying that I feel must apologize for some reason. Gary’s tornado reports are supposedly so popular that he has a drinking game named after him and I’ve been told he wears really flashy ties when he expects a big night of tornadic excitement. But he bored me last night by constantly referring to his apathetic assistant and he botched the opportunity to acknowledge a tornado on the ground for at least 10 minutes. We flipped stations.

Damon Lane, on the other hand, was entertainingly animated. He was so talkative and informative, in fact, that he started getting dehydrated around 8:30pm. The man had been reporting on the air for nearly six hours straight and was choking on his own dry mouth every time he tried to explain something new. He must not have been playing the Gary England drinking game. Or drinking, period.

I did learn some interesting things about Oklahoma during this whole event, though. For example, I now know there is a town called Cookietown and that Lawton and Chickasha are populated with a resilient breed of people because they got their asses kicked last night. There are even some new terms I’m able to add to my weather vocabulary:

  • Fruit salad hail (a mix of grapefruit-, orange-, apple-, lemon-, lime-, and grape-sized hail, all in one storm)
  • doppler-indicated rotation
  • cone tornado (I’ve only ever heard of wedges and ropes)
  • inflow and wraparound
  • mesocyclone

Another thing I learned is that Interstate 44 was built solely to use as a reference point when describing the location of a storm front (okay, I made that up, but every storm I’ve been through stalls right over I-44). But the truth is that these meteorologists know what’s up, which makes me feel a thousand times less panicky this spring. They even have a breakdown of main roads in every town and can pinpoint when the sky will start unloading fruit salad hail on May Avenue & Waterloo.

Here’s a Facebook post from the National Weather Service out of Norman, Oklahoma last night. This is the expertise I’m talking about:

9:07 PM – The tornado will cross the H.E. Bailey Turnpike (I-44) north of Randlett and south of Walters. Motorists stopped at the Walters rest stop/McDonalds will be hit by large hail. Do not drive into this area!

*This is possibly the only reason I will ever thank a cold front for showing up at my front door.

Winter Returned for a Day

It all started Saturday night when my friend texted me and asked if she could spend Tuesday here at my house. It’s always good to make a plan in case anyone needs to take cover in my basement during the storms. Because of that text, I spent the next couple days getting increasingly more nervous about the impending storm system that would soon be over Oklahoma and the rest of the southern plains. This is my first spring in Tornado Alley and I am already learning that cap inversion and supercell development will eventually become a part of my regular weather vocabulary.

Our 80 degree weather during the day Tuesday suddenly dropped about 30-40 degrees over the course of a few hours into the evening. The nasty weather didn’t really come through the Oklahoma City metro until after midnight on Wednesday. A blinding lightning storm passed overhead early in the morning hours while Matt and I curled up in bed trying to get back to sleep. When daylight broke, we were greeted with this:

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Parts of our tree were in my driveway when I returned home from a mid-morning appointment and there was evidence all over the northwest corner of the city that whole trees were coming down. The warmed waters of Lake Hefner were steaming and it created a beautiful yet strange kind of fog that sat just above the surface.

There is no way I can complain about the absence of tornadoes during this particular storm system, though, and I was quite surprised that I didn’t develop one of my low-pressure system headaches (does anyone else in Hurricane Alley know what I’m talking about?). I have been through an especially treacherous ice storm only once before when I was living on the east coast in Maryland. Those Mid-Atlantic States are quite infamous for freak weather, too, but this ice storm seemed pretty simple because the temperature hadn’t climbed above freezing for most of the day.

It turns out I was wrong. And it also turns out that my mother doesn’t scold me anymore for using curse words in her presence (or, as the case was, while she is on the phone with me). Driving to Elle’s school in the afternoon was, quite frankly, terrifying. Ice was beginning to melt and falling from the high power lines. These were pretty long and wide chunks of ice, crashing into my windshield and the roof of my van. I was convinced they were trying to impale me. A few times I screamed, “Oh, shit!” into my mother’s ear and she said nothing in return. It was one of those moments in which I felt like a real grown-up, especially so after I realized I could just change lanes.

This morning there was frost on my windshield but the ice has finally melted away. The world is green again, the birds are singing once more, and our dogs can now roam the yard safely without fear of getting clocked in the head by tree branches and falling ice. 81 degrees on Sunday? Yes, please.

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