Small Town Oklahoma

This week has been undeniably boring. Not intolerably so, but enough to make me look forward to the start of my summer semester next week and to sending my kid off to day camp. Let me put it this way: I vacuumed my basement because I was so bored. Aside from ridding the floor of spider carcasses and rogue dryer lint, I made it all cozy and clean for the next time we must take shelter from tornadoes. The incoming migratory wave of camel crickets will appreciate my hard work, I’m sure.

We’ve been holed up since last weekend, practically. By yesterday, though, I had to get out of the house. Elle and I decided on a walk around Lake Overholser as opposed to a drive down Route 66, but only because the weather was promising to get violent again around 2pm. We left around noon and headed west to the lake. The clouds were heavy and the humidity was high, but fresh air and tree canopy always makes me happy.

Lake walk at #lakeoverholser before the storm

looking south from the old pump house walkway

It just wasn’t enough. Not for Elle, at least. She surprised me by asking to continue on down Route 66 while we still had time. It was like pulling teeth to get her to leave her room yesterday morning so I knew I had to jump on this opportunity. We climbed back into the car and headed westward to get out of town, even if was only to Yukon – the next town over.

in Yukon, Okla.

The Yukon Flour Mill has quite the history, but it seems riddled with family discourse. This facility is a rebuild, initiated by a devastating fire that took out much of the original which was built in 1893. A few years later, by the turn of the century, the town of Yukon became a popular settling spot for Czech immigrants. Yukon calls itself the “Czech Capital of Oklahoma” but I saw no evidence of it, not on the main street. I need to drive around a bit more, that’s for sure, but I’m certainly looking forward to the Oklahoma Czech Festival in October. Kolaches! Is that like the Polish pączek?

west of Banner, Okla.

The storm clouds starting to close in around us and we had only 30 minutes to get home before the severe weather kicked in. I turned around in a school parking lot outside of Banner and then we saw the scene above! Make fun of me all you want, but I never tire of the view when I feel like I am looking at a true Oklahoma landscape. Flour mills that line the sides of the old main roads, oil rigs in front of the Capitol building and residential areas, bison roaming at the foot of a mountain, cowboys buying paper towels at the grocery store (with spurred boots!) – all that stuff reminds me that I am still in the process of a full Oklahoma immersion.

I have yet to find that field of waving wheat. Someone direct me, please. I’m told the musical rustling is a treat to one’s ears.

Brown Bear

Never before in my life have I been able to identify the symbolism in my dreams with one hundred percent certainty. A brown bear made his way into my dreams over a week ago, just before everything in the atmosphere went horribly wrong. Last night, the brown bear showed up again. Last night was the night before yet another horrendous round of storms and possible tornadoes is expected to come down on us.

I have never encountered a brown bear. Just a few days ago, though, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about the black bears of Virginia and about how a black bear is the bear you would want to run into in the wild – if you had to choose, that is. One of my childhood memories involves being caged indoors for an entire day, maybe two, while a black bear roamed the forest behind the housing area of our Upper Michigan military base. Rumor had it that some teenagers had cut a hole in the fence on a late-night run in the woods and the bear got in that way.

That is why I have always known that my chances of surviving an encounter with a bear* are exponentially greater if that bear is a black bear. You just make a lot of noise and raise your arms above your head to show your size. This simple act can scare off a black bear. Brown bears are not so easily intimidated.

But this brown bear, he is in my dreams. He showed up in my yard two weekends ago and I scrambled to keep the dogs inside, safe from the deadly claws of the bear. Then last night he was right outside my office window, a giant on his two hind legs. He waved his front paws at me while he showed his large teeth. His teeth eventually got one of my dogs but she was somehow, miraculously, released. I managed to wrangle three frantic dogs into the basement.

The basement was the safest space, in my dream, from the brown bear. It wasn’t difficult for me to put those two things together as I woke up to news reports of an increased risk of tornadoes throughout the day.

The month of May is undoubtedly beautiful here in Oklahoma, but these spring days also makes me excessively anxious. Alas, here we go again…

* Check out the tips on how to survive a polar bear attack. My favorite helpful hint is the first one.

Macro? And Mammoths.

Having a camera doesn’t make one a photographer, but it’s still fun to play around with pictures. I have a few friends who are photographers and, as artists of any medium will probably argue, some believe in the art of digital manipulation while others do not. I am not a photographer, I just have a camera, so I can do whatever I want and not feel like I’m cheating.

Last weekend, before all hell broke loose, I decided to enjoy the few hours of decent weather we were expecting to have for three days. My hour-long walk in a nearby park in full floral bloom produced some gorgeous photos. When I was finally able to upload and filter them, and just downright redesign them into what I wanted them to look like, I ended up with these:

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a rose

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an iris

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a marigold

yellow goatsbeard

the fuzz of yellow goatsbeard

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a petunia

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another rose

I don’t dare call this macro photography because I didn’t exactly follow the rules. Actually, are there rules? I simply cropped close-up photographs for an even closer-up view of the flowers’ insides. To be honest, I don’t know what to do with my camera without the help of editing software. Besides, it’s fun!

Some of these flowers are from my own front porch. I think a lot of this might be stemming from my need to be in the garden. Stemming? The pun was not intended, but now you can possibly see where my head has been lately. Speaking of stems, though, my mammoth sunflowers have broken through the soil, way ahead of schedule. I wasn’t expecting them for at least another ten days but the rains during the last week must have hurried them along. If that’s the case, maybe they’ll reach their full height of 12 feet when I’m still here in Oklahoma to enjoy them!

mammoth sunflower seedlings

my mammoth sunflowers, in infancy

 

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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Hey, Girl: History, Ryan Gosling, and a ton of book recommendations

The three of us went out to eat a few nights ago and my daughter was playing a game called Plague, Inc. on Matt’s iPhone. Elle wanted me to help her choose symptoms, just a few things to support the launch of her virtual pestilence that she and my husband so heartwarmingly named Mother. We discussed joint pain, fever, vomiting, jaundice, and even tossed around the idea of a painful rash. When Matt ordered his dinner, I mistakenly thought I heard him say “barbecue” so I immediately, and very excitedly, went off on a tangent explaining the 1868 Yellow Fever outbreak in Memphis and its likely contribution to the city’s deep African-American roots. Think about it: were it not for that pesky epidemic, we might not have ever heard of rock n’ roll, B.B. King, or barbecued pork.

Matt and Elle both called me a nerd and never before had I felt so sure about my future career plans in public history.

C.S. Lewis once said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” This, whatever this is, is not another goal nor is it a new dream. It is simply a more refined goal or, if you prefer to be all woo-woo about these sorts of things, an old dream with much better direction.

Also, Ryan Gosling can Hey, girl me any day of the week.

Some fascinating reads on diseases:

Some good reading material on American history and why public history is important:

This post went off the rails about ten links back, but I love to share a good read with anyone who is interested. I am also thrilled to receive new book recommendations so feel free to fire away.

At times, I feel disconnected from the parts of the country that I really love to learn about – Oklahoma is rich in Native American history, obviously, but I’m more of a Civil Rights and Civil War kind of girl. If you know of any war monuments, landmarks, or related places of interest here in the middle of the country, please share.

 

The Village of Castleton

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It tends to be very hot this time of year in Oklahoma, which is evident today as the mercury is set to climb to 91 degrees. This past weekend, on the other hand, was sunny, gorgeous, and unexpectedly comfortable. We spent most of Saturday at the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival, about a half hour from our cabin at Greenleaf, where we wandered the Castle grounds with gypsies, jesters, knights, and the occasional child butterfly fairy. I bought a colorful skirt from an adorable orange-haired pixie and an Italian peasant girl made me one of the most delicious iced caramel lattes I’ve ever had.

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Even Elle admitted to having the best weekend ever. She got to dress up as a gypsy and wear a bright-colored skirt. She played with a bow and arrows, saw her first jousting competition, and walked through a torture chamber museum. Here she is getting her first henna tattoo:

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The great thing about these Renaissance Festivals is that much of what the vendors sell is handmade, or at least produced by small companies that specialize in Renaissance pieces. There were merchants selling plague masks, leather-bound books, hand-carved walking sticks, and even giant wind chimes that sound like church bells, which we ended up coming home with. In this little shop (or should I say shoppe?), I went a little nuts over this whimsical painting and the wooden Viking ship pencil holders (but stay tuned for more Vikings!):

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It’s been decided that, shall I ever have the opportunity to travel back in time, I would like to visit this era (but only after it has been introduced to proper sanitation).

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P.S. About those bells, click here.

Greenleaf

Home away from home #renfaire #greenleaf

This past weekend was a celebratory one for me for three reasons:

1. It was Mother’s Day weekend.
2. I submitted my final research papers early and finished my semester ahead of schedule.
3. Spring is finally here!

The first time I ever traveled on I-40 through eastern Oklahoma was in 2011 when Matt, Elle, and I drove from Florida to Oklahoma City for Thanksgiving. Forgive me when I say Oklahoma is ugly in the winter, but, to be fair, I think almost anywhere is ugly in the winter. Traveling on I-40 again last Friday with the greenery and the wildflowers and the rolling hills made me very happy. It’s a good way to start a vacation and Oklahoma redeemed herself.

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We met with a group of friends at Greenleaf State Park outside of Muskogee (birthplace of my brainiac girl crush, Sarah Vowell) and settled in for a weekend of campfire s’mores, a Renaissance Faire, and the enjoyment of one another’s company. We had cabins this time and an abundance of sunshine and warm weather – my preferred method of camping, even though my husband rolls his eyes at this.

Coming from the land of alligators and swamp rats and where water moccasins fall out of trees, I was horrified, yet totally fascinated, by my first sighting of a tarantula in the wild. It is also possible that I have acclimated to this season called winter which led to me feeling very sick and overheated on Saturday…in 75 degree weather while wearing a flowing skirt and a crop top.

Man, this summer’s heat index in Florida is gonna kill 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.

Fledgling Watch 2013

Last summer, I found a bird egg on my porch and researched a little bit about the House Sparrow, learning a lot about their invasive ways. Then yesterday I found a terrified little baby bird on my front porch. He was only mere seconds away from becoming a snack for Teddy, who has been vigilantly guarding the family from squirrels and is overeager to prove his Pointer hunting skills, I think. I can’t tell for certain if this little guy is a Starling or a House Sparrow because all the online gallery photographs seem to look the same. What I do know, though, is that both bird species are invasive and absolute jerks in their adult forms.

But this one is far from an adult, so I think he’s kind of cute:

baby starling or Mr. Grumpyfeathers

baby starling

My friend Katy nicknamed him Mr. Grumpyfeathers. His feathery hair tufts are a little Einstein-ish and he seems to be giving me a dirty look for interrupting whatever it was he was doing before almost being gobbled up by a 70-pound puppycat (Katy is also the one who dubbed Teddy a puppycat – she’s good with words). Knowing he wouldn’t be safe in my yard or the yard next door, which is overrun by a family of feral cats, I took him to the other neighbor’s yard, where there are absolutely no pets, and placed him on the ground while listening to his mother curse at me violently in Sparrowese, or whatever.

Later that evening, I watched the mama bird feed the other baby bird and realized how Mr. Grumpyfeathers most likely left the nest. I don’t think it was willingly. Mama hangs outside the nest and makes the baby lean precariously over the ledge to get food from her mouth. I’m expecting that one to tumble off my roof any minute now…

What I’m Reading

What I’ve read lately (and highly recommend):

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: I may never have read this had I not moved to Oklahoma. These Okies are a prideful bunch and Steinbeck is never far from their thoughts, it seems. I’m just sorry it took me so long to finally start reading it.

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin: This book was purchased at a Half Price Books for less than four bucks. One of the best book buys I’ve ever made. Also, why is this not required reading for high school students? Or college students, for that matter?

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick: My paperback copy had been sitting on the bookshelf for a few years and I only decided to read it because Black Like Me was weighing heavy on my mind and I needed more tragedy…I guess? This actually works in my favor because I have yet to read Moby Dick and Melville’s tale was based on the Essex disaster. Happy accident. The timing of my book choices, not the Essex getting rammed by an angry whale.

All three of these books seem to have led me to Pym by Mat Johnson, another happy accident. I’ll be honest with you: I only chose Pym because I saw it listed as a “current read” by a blogger I read just so I can catch a glimpse of the wonderful foods and cakes she’s always cooking up and posting photographs of. Plus I liked the cover (yes, I do judge books by their covers). But Pym combines the lessons of all those other books mentioned above (friendship and hope, racism and slavery, woefully unprepared seafaring crews) in just this one tale. I can’t even begin to explain it to you.

Pym is just that weird and just that wonderful.