Clearly they have been traveling…

Whelks
by Mary Oliver

Here are the perfect
fans of the scallops,
quahogs, and weedy mussels
still holding their orange fruit –
and here are the whelks –
whirlwinds,
each the size of a fist,
but always cracked and broken –
clearly they have been traveling
under the sky-blue waves
for a long time.
All my life
I have been restless –
I have felt there is something
more wonderful than gloss –
than wholeness –
than staying at home.
I have not been sure what it is.
But every morning on the wide shore
I pass what is perfect and shining
to look for the whelks, whose edges
have rubbed so long against the world
they have snapped and crumbled –
they have almost vanished,
with the last relinquishing
of their unrepeatable energy,
back into everything else.
When I find one
I hold it in my hand,
I look out over that shanking fire,
I shut my eyes. Not often,
but now and again there’s a moment
when the heart cries aloud:
yes, I am willing to be
that wild darkness,
that long, blue body of light.

***

It’s been a long week of writing about home, or of trying to write about home. If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, then you know I have never had a good grasp on the idea of such a place to begin with.

Throughout the month of June I have been participating in a fun Instagram photo-a-day challenge and decided to use the above photo to define my version of “centered”. The whelk in the photograph is the literal center and my emotional center is the beach beyond. Just this morning I realized the whelk, in its battered and nearly broken shell, is always home no matter where the seas toss him out. That damn whelk gave me a clearer perspective on the whole idea of home.

Does home have to be a single place?

During my research on the definition of home (yes, I’m that bewildered by the topic that I had to do research), I began to feel a little less obligated to call out the name of a single place to point to as home which, to be honest, left me feeling guilty for not giving the designation to all the other places I’ve ever lived. Clearly, I have been traveling.

For the record, I haven’t yet figured out my own definition of home but I’m learning there is more than one way to define it.

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.

ok heart

36

Last year after my 35th birthday, I made a list of things to do, places to see, books to read, foods to taste, and pieces of my personality that I decided to change or just needed to learn to live with. A sort of follow-through document, if you will, by which I would hold myself accountable. Most of the things on my list actually happened, although a few are still hanging around since I realized that even one year’s time is not as much time as one might believe. And time alone cannot change the way I see myself or how anyone else sees me, for that matter.

The 35th year of my life is, quite honestly, the highlight of my life so far. I got married to my best friend and found myself traveling across the country (more than once). My idea of home spilled out from North Florida to encompass the entire Southeastern United States (oh, cypress swamps, I miss you so!). I grabbed circumstance by the neck and told it to take a leap off a high cliff when I declared my independence, finally realizing for the first time in ten years that I had more say in my life than he did. Then I packed up my daughter’s and my belongings and headed west to Oklahoma with my husband, determined to find a bigger, more sweeping definition of my sense of place, my idea of home. It’s my own version of the westward expansion, perhaps, but with fewer covered wagons and probably just as many government documents to get us here.

I woke up this morning, my 36th birthday, in bed with my husband in our house in Oklahoma. I sent my insanely creative kid off to school with signed permission slips allowing her to participate in Art Club and the Talented & Gifted program. I am finishing a research paper this week for a class that will help me graduate from the University of Oklahoma. And I get to eat cake tonight with my family and new friends. None of these things would be taking place if I hadn’t started to believe in the notion of self-worth and, quite frankly, learning to like myself enough to make things happen.

So today I am celebrating how ridiculously awesome it is to make decisions for myself.  I have the support of my friends, new and old, and the love of my family, near and far. And I have birthday cake.

Middlemost

I have been struggling a bit with my move to Oklahoma. Not so much that I’m unrelentingly depressed or unable to get on with life here in my new town, but because all of it is still so foreign to me. I find my inability to navigate the interstate system or even the goddamn aisles of the grocery store to be so fantastically frustrating (seriously, it’s okay to put cans of beans in the same aisle as cans of corn!). A few weekends ago, I had my first big emotional collapse, although I don’t know that it was really all that big. It lasted only a couple of days and eventually lifted like a fog, but during that time it was somewhat rough. Only a few days before this hit me, I was so proud of myself for having felt like I had finally cut the cord from Florida, that I had allowed myself to become unattached. I still call it home but now I feel like it’s okay not to be there in order to do so. But afterward, I had nothing, nowhere, to attach to.

Time is a monster when it wants to be, robbing us of those pivotal moments in life when we suddenly get it! Those moments are so short-lived and easy to forget, but they are really, really awesome when they happen. And I want one of those oh-so-badly right now! Maybe it’ll happen when I can walk into the grocery store and know exactly where to find the ricotta cheese (no, it’s not where you think it is), or when I can hop onto the Kilpatrick Turnpike without worrying about whether I have enough change to get through the toll booth (so far, I’ve always been able to avoid the turnpike by driving all the way around it or, as the locals call it, going the long way), or even when I can manage to get to the Oklahoma City Zoo or the Science Museum without having to punch the address into the GPS. Whenever I remember that the numbered streets run east and west, I come across a road that bucks the system by running east and west but has an actual name.  I mean, c’mon!

My friend Liz, Matt, and I talked about this for a short while not too long ago, about my need to attach to things, to places. Am I in limbo? Is this what is happening to me? It is very similar to being lost, knowing where you’ve come from and knowing where you need to get to, but for the moment I am so, so lost and probably because I haven’t attached. Honestly, I am not a clingy person. At least not in the traditional sense when one imagines a jealous girlfriend or a small child attached to the legs of his overwhelmed mother. That is not me at all. I guess I like to feel like I belong to something, to someplace. That I am essentially a part of its fabric, whether or not it has even had a chance to get to know me. Because, realistically, this is how I feel about you, Oklahoma City. You are a part of me now and I barely even know you at all.

Rest assured, we are working on this. So here are a few photos of things that for me mean home. It is one of the places in Oklahoma I am becoming quite attached to :

sea oat look-alike

nice light

IMGP5218

delicious grilled okra

hiding gnome

When Home Follows You Home

There were two moments on Saturday alone in which I compared my new home in Oklahoma City to other places I have called home: Marquette, Michigan and rural Wisconsin.

The first comparison happened after breakfast when Matt took us all to Lake Overholser. I stood on top of the dam’s walkway and considered all the tons of concrete that went into building this. While taking photographs of the brick and tile pump house and the now-defunct iron wheels, my mind went back to when I was a kid. For some reason, my ten-year old self emerged and I had a strong recollection of being on the massive concrete breakwater in Upper Michigan’s Lake Superior when my father’s best friend scooped me up from behind and pretended to throw me into the lake. Except he lost his footing and we both tumbled forward a bit. Thankfully, neither one of us ended up in the lake but you can bet I didn’t go near that man for days. I would say I got over it but…apparently not.

Lake Overholser dam

the brick & tile pump house

Lake Overholser dam

with the addition of street lamps, the dam looks much like it did in the 1940s.

Later in the evening while visiting with friends outside the city, I was finally being treated to an Oklahoma sunset. Not just any sunset, but one with bales of hay in the foreground (seriously, I’d been looking forward to this for a long, long time!). Our friends’ property had expansive views since it was just in the middle of a mostly flattened field and dotted with small ponds. From the backyard, we could all see the smoke from a grassfire far off in the distance but in the front yard it was nothing but sunset.

sunset at the Beasley's

beyond the trees is a working oil derrick which, to me, is quintessentially Oklahoman

my much sought after Oklahoma sunset, with hay bales!

I stood in the garden with an older woman I’d just met while we both admired the sky (and the okra and eggplant!), and I said to her, “This looks just like my uncle’s farmland in Wisconsin, except it never gets this hot there.” She is a born and bred Oklahoman and seemed quite pleased to learn that other places in the country looked like her home state. We talked about Upper Michigan, Northern Italy, Washington, D.C., and, of course, Florida. And she called me lucky. Lucky that I have had an opportunity to see all parts of the world and to be able to call each of them home.

This was my biggest concern when I moved to Oklahoma, that I wouldn’t be able to find the familiarities I’ve relied so heavily upon in the past to make me comfortable in a new space.  Strangely enough, I have already found small pieces of all of my former homes right here in my new home and all of them have made this transition a hell of a lot easier.

Burgers and Love Truffles

Believe it or not, this is the first full weekend we have all spent in Oklahoma together. Nobody got on an airplane to fly to Jacksonville or packed suitcases to make the 20-hour trek out west. In fact, we never even left the city limits, except to have Matt give us a tour of some mansions in Nichols Hills.

I had coffee Saturday morning with a high school friend from Maryland and loaded up on fresh flowers, fruits, and veggies at the OSU-OKC Farmers Market that afternoon, all while Matt and Elle were watching The Avengers on the big screen.

Later, I simmered bratwurst in a pot full of beer and onions and soaked fresh okra in olive oil while Matt and Elle stuffed hamburger patties with mounds of feta cheese. The key lime pie from the night before had hardly been touched so we invited some friends over for a cookout and to share in the feast. They brought with them their cute little 4-year old son and a bottle of Cupcake brand Moscato (that stuff tastes like Sprite and comes in a really pretty bottle). Elle finally managed, with much gore and blood, to yank out a troublesome baby tooth during a break from playing Flapjacks and Sasquatches. Then little Daniel got a nosebleed. Typical family fun.

On Sunday, we searched Best Buy for some techno-contraption (that’s not my department) and picked up a bag of potting soil and a daylily (totally my department) from Home Depot. Then Matt took Elle and me to brunch at La Baguette, a French bistro that could manage to up their prices and still be reasonable. Delicious! There was a lot of maple syrup and southern-style gravy, crepes and croques and coffee. The little market in the front of the restaurant is filled with European-style pastas and fizzy drinks and love truffles. Norman love truffles? Ha! I’m a love truffle.

Untitled

I think it’s time to explore my barely-existent French heritage by eating ALL OF THESE.

We spent the rest of the afternoon potting new flowers and lavender plants, clearing the debris of a dead tree, enjoying the sounds of two girls – one of which being Elle – playing soccer in the front yard (the neighbor has kids!), and closing out the day by eating leftover brats and burgers and watching Bob’s Burgers, our new favorite thing on television:

The Real Florida

Every now and then, I spend a lunch break with my daughter and her friends from her 4th grade class.  We sit outside in the courtyard, eat our lunches, and talk. The talk usually involves funny family stories, weekend outings, and boobs (I can’t wait until their awkward fascination with – or anticipation of?? – boobs is over).  Occasionally, there is gossip about other kids in her grade but I usually nip this in the bud, unless it’s something I have deemed worth listening to in order to prevent the girl hate/drama from escalating.

But yesterday, a girl named Meredith said something pretty insightful. After swatting away at a bee, she just sat back and declared, “I wish the real Florida was like it is in the movies.

And she got me thinking…

When I was a teenager and my family decided to retire to Florida, I immediately flashed back to memories I had of spending time at a condo with my aunt and two cousins, scouring the beaches of Sanibel Island for seashells and pulling a live starfish out of the Gulf of Mexico with my bare hands.  There was also a picture in my mind of the tall and sophisticated palm trees that lined the streets leading to Thomas Edison’s winter home in Fort Myers. And then there is always Disney World.

Because no kid’s incredibly wild misinterpretation of life in Florida is complete without believing that every day is filled with Mickey Mouse.  Oh, and space shuttles. Because THAT was an awesome time to be a Floridian.

edison home

the palms at Thomas Edison’s winter home

I moved to the state in 1996, to a town that isn’t even on the map and in a county most Floridians have never even heard of. Instead of spending time at the beach drinking foo-foo umbrella drinks, soaking up the sun, and learning how to surf, I found myself having to adjust to life in a cypress swamp. It is so hot here in the summertime that all outdoor work must end by 10am. The Suwannee River is a real place and it floods over quite often. Mosquitoes eat you alive, as do the biting red ants. Alligators lie in wait for small dogs to go on afternoon walks then ambush them and gobble them up in one fell swoop (seriously, it was a regular problem in Gainesville). Venomous snakes dangle from the trees here, people!

There are three regions in Florida that I’ve been lucky enough to call home: The Nature Coast, North Central, and the First Coast.The Nature Coast is exactly what you probably see in your mind when you imagine an old southern fishing village, complete with pelicans, oceanfront seafood shacks, and houses on stilts over water. North Central Florida boasts rolling hills and more prize-winning thoroughbred horses than any place in Kentucky can ever claim. The First Coast, which includes St. Augustine, Jacksonville, and Fernandina Beach, is the gateway to Florida via Interstate 95, which is to say we’re just like South Georgia but with nicer beaches.

Television portrays Florida as a paradise and, for me, it is a sort of paradise. I fell in love with Florida after many years of saying I wish the real Florida was like it is in the movies. Well, folks, this IS the real Florida, for the most part.

pelicans

a common sight at any oceanfront seafood shack

*****

This weekend, I’ll be traveling to South Florida. There I will live the Florida lifestyle I see on television by being lazy in my hotel pool and drinking Creamsicles with my friend from the 7th grade.  If I’m lucky, I’ll see a manatee swimming in the water as I cross over the bridge to Cape Coral. I will visit with my grandfather in his concrete home nestled away on a typical post-war era neighborhood block, the kind that cropped up after it was discovered that Florida was, in fact, not such a bad place to live. Henry Flagler had the right idea, after all. So did Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford.

As flawed and blemished and imperfect as Florida comes off to be, she is everything I love about her.

what an old South Florida neighborhood looks like

Grandpa’s South Florida ‘hood