Sure enough there was an alert. Doppler radar showed winds of 100-120 mph, with at least one rapidly rotating funnel that had been spotted above Livingston – a little town only a handful of miles to our southwest. “If you are in the Mineral Point area, take cover now,” the announcer repeated.
The phone rang. John said that he was coming home early, that Lands’ End employees had all been told to get into the basement for ‘another tornado drill’ and he hated those drills and that basement so he was just going to get in the car and come home.
I yelled at him to get to the goddam basement. He said no, he had plenty of time to get home before the storm hit, and I yelled at him again, threatening that if he never ever listened to anything I said in his life, he had to listen to me this time and go to the goddam basement. He sighed, and said okay.
Dallas and I headed to our own basement, forgetting to grab valuables like our laptop, forgetting everything except our own safety.
Through a basement bedroom window we watched trees bending in most unnatural ways. A group of trees would be bent almost straight over to the left while next to them another group was bent to the right, then they would whip around and bend the other direction, colliding into each other and fighting to get past each other’s branches. Second by second it grew noisier and darker. Finally, I grew apprehensive of our location, and grabbed our complaining dog and carried him into the enclosed, windowless toilet area of the basement bathroom. I shut the door. Dallas and I huddled on the floor, listening to unfathomable sounds of destruction above.
It was probably only a couple of minutes, but it seemed like much longer before we crept upstairs to survey the damage. Oddly, the first floor, which was surrounded on all sides by shadeless windows, was darker than the basement, which only had windows opening onto one side. I looked to my left as I came up the stairs, and quickly discovered the reason. All the windows in the front of our house were blacked out by limbs and leaves. The magnificent shagbark hickory that announced the front of our house and was one of the reasons we loved this property when we first saw it, was now lying on our roof.
I called John. Told him we were alright. And told him to come home. Now.
Fifteen minutes later, John walked in the door, soaked. It was pouring down rain and the wind had stalled to probably no more than 40 mph. John said he couldn’t drive up our driveway because it was blocked by downed trees, so he left his car on our easement that cuts through a neighbor’s field.
I said I wanted to go to town to call the utility company to let them know we had no power. I walked through the downpour to John’s car, pausing to assess the tree on our roof, and the fallen trees on the driveway.
A mile away, I stopped by our closest neighbors to see if they were okay. Joe and Christy are potters, and have a home, kiln and outbuildings on an exposed hill. Christy wasn’t home, but Joe answered the door, and said they were fine. I mentioned something to him about the tree on our roof, and the trees blocking the driveway, and then I went to town.
I knocked on Frank and Sandee’s door. Frank answered, somewhat puzzled, since I had never before visited them without calling first. I said, “I’d like a martini, Frank.” And Frank nodded, and said he thought he could manage that.
As I drank my martini, I made a call to Alliant Energy, and then got on the Internet to post news of the storm and let people know we were okay. I placed a call to a local house painter and handyman who has a truck with a boom, and I told him about the tree on our roof. He said he’d be out first thing in the morning. After a few more minutes visit, it was time to get back home.
I drove up my cleared driveway. What the hell? Less than an hour before, it had been blocked by at least five fallen trees, four of them substantial, and one of them seriously large. Now there were piles of sawed up tree limbs and trunks stacked on both sides of the drive, glistening in my headlights as the rain continued to pour.
I entered the house. “What happened to the trees in the driveway,” I asked John.
“Joe,” John said. “Half an hour after you left I heard something outside, so I went out and found Joe at the top of the driveway, finishing off the last tree. Did you ask him to do that?” John asked.
“No.” I said. “He just … did it.”
And that, dear friends, is what we love about living in rural Mineral Point. People take care of each other, without even being asked.
The next morning, at 8 am, Brad arrived with his crew to take the tree off our roof. By noon, he had not only cleared this tree, but another ten trees that blocked the path that goes from our guest house back to the prairie.
We figure we lost about 100 or so trees. Some were lifted right out of the ground, with their roots, thrown down like pick-up-sticks. Others were twisted and snapped off, with their giant tops angled and resting across other trees, threatening to fall and making all of our four miles of trails dangerous.
Six months later our woods are healing, and all of our paths are re-opened except for one quarter mile section, that certainly gives the appearance that a funnel may well have touched down there.
A lot else happened this year, but nothing so dramatic as that fifteen minutes in June. And nothing more satisfyingly heartwarming than a helping hand from a chainsaw-wielding neighbor named Joe.
Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year
John, Coleman and Dallas
PS – You can see a short YouTube video of the storm damage on our property, at: