Posts Tagged ‘survival’

Update on Soffia the Hawk….

August 14, 2019

Hawk Soffia

Fred got off work early and we trapped Soffia in a laundry basket and took her to “For Pet’s Sake”.  The only wildlife vet we know.  Thank you all for the recommendations.

We don’t know if she will survive….but we are hopeful.

Such a beautiful bird, white and black feathers…We think probably a Cooper’s Hawk, but a young one.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2019

A Good Country Woman…a Short Story, but true.

August 11, 2014
North Carolina Stream, watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2006

North Carolina Stream, watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2006

I was born and raised in the North country. I came to the South after running away from home, and landed in a totally different culture. I was so ignorant of this region I didn’t bring a coat and the first week of October that first year, the temperature fell to 11 degrees.

I knew nothing about the south. I was fed on stories of the KKK, of lynching, of brutal police with billy clubs and water cannon during the years of integration. This was all we heard from TV news. I remember in the mid 60’s when a tall and exhausted black man came to our front door, quite a ways out into the countryside of New Jersey. He asked my mother to call the police. He had walked from Georgia. She immediately told me to go upstairs and hide in a closet. I was her only daughter and she was no racial liberal. I don’t remember whether she called the police or not, but I hope she did. He didn’t look like he would survive much longer as he sat quietly on the bottom front step. Blacks called Negroes then, were something we never saw much of out in the countryside. Those people were in the cities and this rural area hadn’t changed in over 300 years. Small dairy farmers, corn and soybeans, a river and a long Raritan canal built in the 1830’s was the staple environment of my childhood. The Dutch had moved over the land more than a century before the Revolution and any other color of skin was a rarity.

Years later I met a woman, an old white country woman in the mountains of North Carolina. She made quilts and lived in a three room shack in a pasture surrounded by rolling meadows and ringed by mountains. I remember the water barrel under a tin roof, and I remember her pointing a shotgun out of the door when two of us, a girlfriend and myself, came to see her. I don’t know whether it was proper to call her house a shack: The outsides were covered with tar paper and unskinned logs, the inside with tongue and groove boards. The entire structure rested on piled up stones and you could see through the bottom of the house down the valley. She had an old iron bedstead in one bedroom, with a red and white quilt covering the board wall behind it. She made quilts all around the year and women from Asheville and Atlanta would come and buy them for their boutiques. I doubt she ever got what they were worth, but it was a major part of her living.

Once she recognized my friend, she was friendly enough. It was rare she had visitors and Mary was hungry for news. Living up in the mountains, even if it was in an open meadow with spectacular views on all sides, was a pretty lonely existence for any woman. She had been to Asheville once, taken by her daughter, but she said it was too busy, too many people and she felt lost. There were beautiful mountains in Asheville, too, but she was glad to get home. Other than going down the mountain to the small town that sprung up against the banks of a river, she didn’t travel. Her needs were small, and those trips to the town below her mountain only happened a few times a year.

She boiled coffee in an old coffee pot on a small wood stove, got out canned milk and canned peaches. I had never met a woman like her and listening to her history, her stories, knew the Mary’s of the world were disappearing from the face of the mountains. She was welcoming, interested in what was going on in the world. Her hospitality was heart-felt, and I thought of other isolated cultures I had rubbed up against and recognized the pride she took in making us welcome. Whether the mountains or the deserts, the hospitality was the same.

She had been married, her children moving away for jobs into the cities that had nothing to do with mountain life. Her husband died one winter, there in the cabin with her. She rolled him outside in the deep snow and hiked down the mountain to ‘inform the authorities’. It took her two days to stumble down the mountain and another day for the police to get up to her cabin.
I asked to use her bathroom, not thinking. Mary was a bit embarrassed and said that she used a corner of the ‘barn’ for that business. The barn was an open shed, with a corn crib. Somewhere she had a few milk cows, but they were scattered down the cleared mountain side and would come home of their own accord when dusk fell.

I remember an ill-fitting back door, where she had an enameled basin and some yellow soap on a shelf above the basin. She saved cooking fat and ashes from the woodstove to make that soap. Money was scarce, in spite of her beautiful quilts, and making your own soap was easy enough. She showered under the gush of water from the eaves when it rained. In the winter I imagined she heated water on the woodstove.

It was beautiful out there, looking at the huge sky that would be unhindered by city lights: the stars would be in full possession of the night. Everywhere I looked was the complete isolation only possible in the mountains, now mostly abandoned by people. Land was sold off, or remained unused for generations. I wondered how long Mary would be able to live up there by herself. She looked to be in her early seventies, but it was hard to tell with mountain people. She was a thin old woman, and the winters were rough. I wondered how she managed to heat that woodstove. She said neighbors, men from around the area, would drop off fresh split wood, and this was how it was done up there. People took care of each other when they could. She had some aging chickens and though they were what we now call ‘free range’, she had found their nests and was able to get most of their eggs. I noticed a couple of rabbit skins hanging from the roof. Mary was a pretty good with her old shotgun, but picking the pellets out of the rabbit was a bother. Rabbits and some venison dropped off periodically by far flung neighbors was the meat she ate, but cans of spam were what she liked most. She suffered from the usual lack of dental care so spam didn’t bother her as much as tough meat. It was hard to grow many vegetables as the deer came right up to the cabin and cleaned out her patch. She bartered her quilts and eggs for vegetables and spent the summer months canning on that old wood stove. Years later I canned one summer on an electric stove, but with no air conditioning in the kitchen. You can go faint from the heat.

Mary had no electricity, so she had no refrigeration, except in the winter when she could put food in burlap sacks suspended on the roof. Raccoons were pests and would raid whatever stores she had. She could hear them in the night, climbing the water barrel to get to the sacks, their nails tapping a raccoon Morse code on the tin roof. She said she didn’t mind much, as over the years she had gotten to know generations of them. She would take her broom and go out there and argue with them, they chattering and cursing in raccoon talk. She didn’t mind, because the raccoons sometimes were the only things that talked to her for a month at a time.

It’s been three decades since I visited Mary on her mountain. I’m sure she’s long gone, and I wondered how a woman could survive the isolation of her existence. Her beautiful quilts, patterns passed down from generations of mountain women must have sustained her in the dark and lonely months of winter. She proudly listed the patterns she used: “Wedding Ring”, “Harvest Home”, “Grandma’s Flower Garden” were some of those I remember. But she was an artist, though she wouldn’t have called herself such a pompous name. She delighted in taking those patterns and sewing them with her own variations, as she shyly said. That red and white quilt behind the head stead of her iron bed is what I remember most. Although it was on a white, cotton background, the red swirls and leaves and birds were thickly patterned over its surface. It was a labor of love and must have taken a long time to sew; of course the sewing was all by hand and stuffed with boles of cotton, piece by piece. And done by kerosene light.

Her shotgun gave her a certain security I would imagine, but she faced bears and puma, mountain lions, rattle snakes, copperheads and water moccasins, those thieving raccoons, beasties we have no heart to contemplate, let alone face off.

We are overwhelmed by the frenetic pace of our modern days. Her life was full enough with the struggle just to survive in that cleared mountain meadow. When I think of how overwhelmed Mary would be today, I think of how overwhelmed I am also. Perhaps the solution is far from us, but I like to think that the lessons and memory of Mary gives a peace and an alternative to our existence. It’s out there, and is possible to touch.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2014

“Tin Hinan”, Book II, Chapter 5. “Sandstorm”

September 21, 2012

Most writers work on a number of projects. I do. I don’t really have any thought out reasons, but I have since I began writing. “Tin Hinan” is an unfinished (but almost finished….) novel I have posted chapters from time to time. I see by my stats that there are consistant readers of those chapters I have posted, and I would think these readers are coming from Morocco, Algeria, the Sudan, and other parts of the Middle East. I have heard from a few readers who are Berbers, and that is very gratifying. When one attempts to write about another culture, it is good to have readers who stand as critics and help with these important cultural details. Thank you all who have written in with suggestions and your own cultural knowledge that stems from your origin.

This chapter is a work in progress, and needs rewrite. But! Bill Penrose, the man who stands as my publisher on these issues, and especially is awaiting my meandering completion of this novel, will be glad that I am back on the camel.

Lady Nyo

Tin Hinan, Book II, Chapter 5

We could see the Amour, the Ksour mountains. They were blue-gray blurs in the far distance. These were lower ranges, but would be arduous enough. I had never travelled this route, even with the few months Takama, Niefa and I plodded to the mountain range where Immel and his men found us. We were still in the desert, where our small party traveled from oasis to oasis. We had traversed the wadis, the Chelif and Tonil riverbeds, long stretches of oasis. The grass grew along the riverbeds when there was water enough to cultivate the foliage and where the palms and dates could dig deep into the sandy soil. Our scouts proceeded us a day out. We needed to be careful of the other caravans along the way. They also made sure we were headed in the direction of oasis, for water was our greatest concern. Ours was so small, less a caravan more a raiding party. We were not, but we still could draw suspicion. Immel said the majority of caravans had a thousand camels, but some of the Arab caravans had up to twelve thousand camels! What a sight that must be, stretching out as far on the horizon. Surely these caravans would carry the wealth of nations. From what Immel and his tribemen said around the fire at night, this wealth was made up of many things. Gold, salt, slaves, cotton and silks. Watermelons, spices, fruit, the kola nut and cotton seeds for planting.

Ah! Cotton was essential. There was no other cloth to use in the desert. It protected from heat of the sun, and the bite of sand. I learned to spin thread and weave cloth on small looms only two feet wide, but there were bigger looms in some tribes. We stitched the lengths of cloth together and dyed it with indigo for the rich, dark blue that our men wore around their heads and across their faces. We also dyed the cloth with different flowers and herbs and fixed the color with camel urine. But mostly we left it white and let it bleach out in lengths in the sun. It looked like strips of snow in the sunlight!

Several times we watched long caravans from a distance. They were hidden by dunes, or distance. We did not get not close because we didn’t want to attract attention. Our little party of twenty some camels and pack animals would be of little interest to these big outfits. But we were careful, only approaching the smaller caravans. Of course, we knew the Berbers were the guides even in these big Arab caravans. They were well paid crossing the deserts from far flung towns with produce or booty. Large slabs of salt, to be cut into smaller portions sold in the markets to the east and west had been brought from Mali in the south. All this would make their way to foreign cities. This salt was so necessary for daily life. It was the basis of preservation of food.

It was a miracle that Takama and I didn’t succumb in the desert during our first crossing to the mountain where Immel found us. Our navigation was from oasis to oasis, but we were more guided by luck and the scent of water in Niefa’s nose than our own abilities. Now I understood how much of a miracle it was: yes, our course was different, and there was some purpose for this much longer route Immel was taking but still, it was by favor of the gods and goddesses. Path- finding in the desert was a reading by stars, wind patterns, sand dune formations and even the color of the sand. Immel and his men knew all these things of the desert, and we didn’t. Perhaps that is why our appearance before them occasioned such wonder and disbelief from the elders of their mountain ksar.

Somehow we had survived.

There is a saying, probably Berber, as we are a wise people. “Sahara surrenders very few realities, only illusions”. Perhaps it was also because our perception of distance was so unreal. What looked like an oasis in the distance was only a shimmering of heat on the endless landscape. Our trek from oasis to oasis had to be exact, within a day’s foretelling as we could die in the desert if our reckoning was off even by a few miles. But Immel and his men were experienced in the desert, and I felt safe we would not perish. Of course, there were other factors to consider about our survival, but that was not assured by any god or goddess.

One late morning near noon, when the day seemed to be exactly like the day before, and the day before that, a wind picked up and the camels started to be restless, bellowing and groaning , their nostrils flaring, as if they were scenting something in the air. Suddenly we knew why. There was an enormous cloud in the distance–stretching from the ground to heaven. The sky had turned a dull orange. It was very strange from the azure blue of just a few moments before. But it wasn’t a cloud, it was that most fearful of dangers– the sandstorm! We could hear it coming, though it was miles off, a pounding roar like nothing else. Immel and the other men gathered on their uneasy camels to discuss what to do.

There were some hills off to the west. Though we could not outrun a sandstorm, to attempt to do so would mean certain death, the hills might offer protection. We turned towards those barren hills, whipping our camels into a gallop and clustered together, making the camels and pack camels to lie down together. We got on the leeway side of the camels, and prepared for the storm. We huddled together, and I saw Takama’s face, her eyes black and fearful, before she pulled her hood and cloths over them. She had taken the two foxes in their cage, had covered them with the loose woven basket and heaped some of our luggage over them. If she had to, she would lay herself over their basket to save them. She had grown so fond of them.

Immel wrapped me in his burnoose and pulled me close. I could feel his excitement and fear, as his heart pounded hard in his chest. Takama cuddled behind me, almost digging underneath the camel. We had made it in time, as the wind and the sand came barreling down the desert, and even though we were protected by the men and the covering of cloth, the sand was hard, abrasive on our clothes. No one said a word, for to open your mouth would mean sand and dust, dust carried by the wind above the sand, small and dangerous pieces of rock and dirt, would enter our throats and go down our lungs, suffocating us. The sun was blotted out. It was if nighttime had fallen at noon.

The roar of the storm was ten thousand demons and zars riding the wind. Even if I didn’t have my ears wrapped shut, I could not have heard the sound of a human.

It seemed as if I had fallen asleep. I felt the heaviness of a deep sleep, but it was the heaping of sand all around and over us that was weighed me down. Suddenly the roaring stopped. The storm had worn itself out, and the silence around us was unnatural after the roar before.

I heard Immel’s voice, as if from a long distance. He was shaking me to consciousness. I wanted to go back to sleep, but this was not the sleep of the night. It was the sleep of an almost-death. We were covered in sand and we shook ourselves to feel our limbs. We had survived one of the worst of perils of the desert. Our camels had long lashes on their eyes, something to keep the sand out. Their nostrils closed to keep their lungs safe. Thick and rough coats were also the reason they had not been beaten, flayed by the sand, but they too, had to work their way out of the heaping sand. With bellows and groans and the help of the men, they pulled themselves upright, shaking themselves, creating miniature sandstorms in the doing.

Takama uncovered the basket and the foxes were gone! Her eyes caught mine and I saw her sadness. They were gone, swept away by the djinn of the sandstorm. Though Takama was desert bred and strong, she fought to hide her tears. One of the men, who saw her distress, came over and bending down, started to dig away at the sand. There, popping out their long noses, were the two foxes! With the intelligence of desert animals, they burrowed down in the sand, safer from the storm than we above.

It is said that “The Desert is the realm of the Spirits” and to pilgrimage there is to come face to face with your mortality. The night brought spirits, demons, zars, as they rode the cold night air. They also appeared during the day, when travelers were caught far from shelter, and had to survive the elements as best they could. The roar of the sandstorm carried the voices of ghosts—men and camels who had perished in the Great Sahara for millennium.

If history was to be believed, 50,000 soldiers of Cambyese’s army, had marched across the middle Sahara to fight the Ethiopians, only to perish in the desert in minutes, buried by ten feet of sand. Their bleached bones, arrowheads and lances were left scattered across the barren landscape for 2500 years.
The Sahara Desert was well called “The Mirror of the Soul”. It made or broke men, and those who survived had their lives changed forever.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2012

“Memories of a Rotten Childhood”, Chapter 2

May 27, 2011

Childhood Fears.....

Two or three years ago I started this memoir.  I was encouraged by a few really good writers, some of them professionals, to continue writing these memories from childhood. When we write about our past, if we are honest, it isn’t easy.  Childhood back them might seem ‘easier’ but the 50’s and 60’s had their own trauma.  Probably in part because there were few child/parent guidance books out there except for Dr. Spock, and my parents never read him.  I don’t know of many parents back then that did.  Perhaps life was safer for children then, but then again, we were just ‘weeds’ and expected to survive and grow with little attention.  Living in the countryside of rural New Jersey had its dangers, but except for falling through the ice and drowning or drowning in the rivers and canals, being thrown by horses, or falling off beams in big barns…there didn’t seem to be the ‘usual’…as in what we find now….of predators out there with us in their sites.  Of course these things happened, but not to us.   Not then. We didn’t have the padding or the helmets back then that our children now have.  So much has changed in our ideas about child-rearing.

I will rewrite all of these chapters later this year and try to make some sense of them.  Until I do, this chapter is for Margie.

Lady Nyo


On my ninth birthday during a bitterly cold January, my parents organized a party down by the river. The meadow had flooded the nights before, the water freezing, and the whole area was a skating rink.  My father made a bonfire and we roasted hotdogs on sticks.  Children were easy to please then. 

We all had second-hand hockey skates handed down from older brothers. Trying to skate around the stubble of the flooded and frozen meadow, we looked for a clearing of ice.  The morning was frigid but sunny, and the promise of a winter holiday so close after Christmas was a bonus.  My present from my parents was a pair of figure skates.  This is very funny to me now because I was the worse skater around. I had weak ankles and could never propel myself forward.  I spent most of the time on my backside, my legs sprawled out before me.

I will write about Laura in this piece. She was my nemesis from kintergarden to high school when we finally lost each other amongst the two thousand other students.  She tormented me all through grammar school. I still carry the scars on my hands where she scratched me.  Laura loved to hurt, catching my hands and ripping the tops to shreds, screwing up her mouth as she did so.   I looked at my hands the other night and thought fondly of Laura. She would have made a fine sadist. She’s dead now and death gives us a way to think better of the dead.

The birthday party was a flop. Laura, same age as me, started to cry, and wanted to go home.  She couldn’t stand it was my party and I was supposed to be the center of attention.  But it was a lousy party anyway; the sun came out, melting the ice on the meadow, and no one could skate anymore. We were shackled by heavy skates breaking through thin ice to the dried winter grasses below.  That was no fun at all.

Life was predictable with Laura.  I would enter a classroom and she would make farting noises. Walking down the hall, pressing my textbooks to my flat chest, she would stick out her leg and trip me.  All this didn’t seem to stop us from playing together at our houses, and I remember the one bathroom in their small house was papered with huge red roses on a black background.  I was fascinated by that wallpaper because it was strange, exotic,  and nothing my own mother would allow in our house. Mrs. H. fit the wallpaper: a black-haired woman with tight- waisted skirts and petticoats underneath and something I only recognized later as peasant blouses with elastic at the shoulders. She looked like a Gypsy and so did the roses on her bathroom wall:  a touch of the exotic in our beige New Jersey early 60’s life.   I was intrigued by a skirt she wore one Christmas: a red circular skirt with a large white poodle applied in felt.  It was beyond tacky, with a swinging white cord for the leash and a pompom tail sticking out in yarn.   I was horrified to open a present from a neighbor and find the exact skirt, this time in green, with the same damn poodle.  My mother made me wear that skirt all through the holidays.  The Gods work in funny holiday ways.

Laura was a talented pianist, banging away on an upright, playing the testosterone- driven  Tchaikovsky and other 19th century pieces that boys should be playing, not girls. I heard a neighbor whisper that to my mother during a school program. It wasn’t original to me: I knew nothing about testosterone back then.  Laura was also a talented artist, seemed to have a future, probably with a whip. She was a perfectionist and I think that may be one of the qualifications. I saw by the backs of my hands one of her budding talents. Too bad she didn’t live out her years: she had promise in many things.

I remember one day I got on the school bus after being laid low by the death of my horse.  I was weak from a week of crying non stop and fasting.  I walked to the back of the bus, pale with grief, and heard Laura say loudly:  “Well, now she can’t brag about her horse anymore.”

The hatred began in earnest.  I was standing in line in the hallway, and crying with her torment.  She was scratching my hands with her pointed little nails. I think she sharpened them with me in mind. With tears coursing down my cheeks, I slapped her, not so hard, tentatively across the face.  She slapped me back, harder, and to trump that, grabbed my hand, and bit hard.  More tears (mine) and ran from the line. I was such a wuss.

I think I cried all through fourth and fifth grade.  Then I learned disobedience got me attention, especially from Mr. Blessington, our teacher in fifth grade.  These were the years of corporal punishment.  Parents expected the teachers to ‘reform’ you and if you didn’t come home with punishment, the teachers weren’t doing their job.  The 60’s were a tough time for fannies and teachers. 

I would act out, and Mr. Blessington’s ears would open and his antenna would rise up on his head.  All in all he did let me pass on a lot of the back comments, but I pushed it, knowing what was coming.  A public spanking.  At first, I was mortified, enough to shut my mouth for a few weeks, but then the urge for attention and laughter was too great and I would do something he couldn’t ignore.  I can still remember the gleam in both of our eyes as I walked towards him, both of us knowing damn well what would happen.  He would make me lean up against his desk, and then slap me with his ruler over the fanny.  I would either bear it silently, or would cry with grief, depending on my mood and claim for sympathy. I got to go to the girl’s room and spend ten minutes collecting myself.  I spent ten minutes in a bathroom stall thinking of my sins and creating others and after a while, this became routine for both of us.  It was the spanker and the spankee living in a particular balance. 

Mr. Blessington was my teacher in sixth grade again, but by then my brother, one year behind me, had ratted on both of us, and Mr. Blessington never spanked me again.  A visit from my mother stopped all that.  By then I was a grown-up girl with other interests than being class clown.

Laura was still my tormentor, but she had her own issues at home.  Her little and prettier sister Alice for one.  For about five months she left me alone and I began to breathe easier. I wasn’t ever sure just what was going on with Laura and Alice, but I was glad for the breather.

One day, during the summer in this wide-spread farming community, there was a gathering of little girls at Laura’s house.  I was part of the party in the basement. Laura had a big collie named Prince, a beautiful ‘Lassie” dog, yellow and white and a corn field right outside the back yard that stretched for miles. I remember taking a corn cob and lip-synching pop songs from the radio.  Then we all ran amuck in the corn field, the stalks high over our heads.  I remember seeing a silver streak in the sky, and standing in awe of the sight. Of course it was a plane or a jet, and what I was seeing in that blue sky was the exhaust.  But at that age, I didn’t have any knowledge of such things.  It looked like an omen from God.  Perhaps it was, because one of the girls screamed and we ran towards the sound.  Prince, beautiful dog, had dropped dead in that cornfield.  We formed a cortege to carry his warm and lifeless body back to the house, wailing like a miniature Greek chorus.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009, 2011


April 24, 2009

A good friend and a good writer, Angie Cameron (whose website is on this blog to the right …) sent me an account of  a man in Murfreesboro, Tennessee who just ‘came through’ the Good Friday F-4 tornado only 10 days ago.  I’m going to post a part of this very long account here but I want to say something about this issue in general.  About tornados.

I don’t come from the South, but have now lived here most of my life. Only in the past 10 years or so have we seen an increase of tornadoes around Atlanta and through Atlanta.   Last year we had one that went right down the business center of our town, three miles north of us.  I don’t remember if anyone was killed, I don’t think so, but the damage was huge.

We have just passed Earth Day.  Angie’s sent article makes me reconsider what is happening with this issue of Global Warming so denied  in one section of our political life.

Each spring for at least 10 years the South gets hammered by tornadoes.  They sweep in from the west and do their damage and devastation.   If you see the results of a tornado, even just one time, you will never forget it.  After I post this man’s experience, I will write a little about my own in 1998.

“I checked my grip on the tree, and thought to myself, “Here she is!”  Immediately afterward,  I saw the wall of the tornado top the crest of the slope and slam into me. The sound was amazing, and the power incredible. Everything around me, including the ground, was shaking. I could feel my tree groaning as it was trying to leave the ground. The whole forest heaved. Debris was crashing all around me. Static electricity made my hair stand on end. I saw what appeared to be a house fly right over my head, past the river and off into the wild. Though I had curled myself around the tree, the tornado picked up my legs and extended my body into the wind. I suppose my adrenaline was working properly, because I never lost grip of the tree, even though my body was now off the ground flapping in the wind like a flag. I never thought I’d lose my grip; I was determined that I would not fail this test. I wanted to make God proud of me. I kept thinking that I needed to document the experience in my mind so I could help others. I never closed my eyes.

The front wall of the tornado was bad, but when it passed, I found myself in the strangest world I’ve ever seen. I was in the eye of the tornado, and I knew it. I dropped back to the ground and instinctively curled around the tree again. A lot of debris was still shooting across the river, firing across my line of sight like meteors. But now I also saw debris spiraling inside the vortex of the tornado.  Close to me, it was traveling at lightning speed, racing around and around just like you’d expect.  But farther up, along the inside of the funnel, the debris was moving slowly, gracefully, almost playfully at the top. It wasn’t circling; it was dancing, up and down more than from side to side. I don’t know how far up I could see, but it seemed like miles. A strange light illuminated the inside of the tornado. It was totally surreal. It was peaceful, calm, and, I hate to say it, incredibly happy. I fancied that angels were performing a ballet just for me at the top of heaven’s ladder.

So this is what’s inside a tornado, I remember thinking. It is not possible to describe the feelings you get in the eye of a tornado. There is such a mixture of primal feelings-blood pulsing, mouth drying, eyes focused, heart racing, muscles taut. Everything that has been you, in my case for 48 years, comes down to one infinite point and freezes; your breathing calms and your mind seems to step out of your body and look around in amazement. You notice the smallest details: a leaf blowing past, a small sound, the strange illumination inside the vortex. You watch the inside of the funnel as though you were watching a movie. There’s a strange sense of detachment.  And you feel, at the same time, both all alone and totally immersed in the love of God.  I mean that literally. In the eye of the storm, there is no one else, and as far as you can tell, the entire world is now gone. Nothing looks familiar, and you sense that you have already died and gone to heaven. The peace, the beauty, and the overwhelming view up the vortex above all lead you to feel an intimacy with God. I felt loved in the eye, and even now that feeling moves me to tears. It’s like going to heaven and seeing the book of Revelation. It’s like waking up in Alice’s Wonderland, Deep Space, and your mother’s womb all wrapped into one. There is no yesterday, no tomorrow, and no worries. Just peace, calm and incredible beauty. In the eye of the storm, you may not even be you any more.

To be in the eye of the tornado is unforgettable. I want to say to anyone who has lost a loved one to a tornado that, chances are, your loved one died far more peacefully than you think. Inside the storm the love of God is more intense than you can ever, ever, ever imagine. It is calm, peaceful, and overwhelmingly safe. Your loved one died in the loving arms of God, and I guarantee you that they knew it.  Being in the eye makes you thankful to God, and I remember murmuring some words of gratitude, at least in my heart, if not with my mouth. I was thankful for the three seconds-or was it an eternity?-that I spent in the eye of that storm.  Grateful, that is, until the back wall of the tornado hit me. The front of the tornado had been violent, but the back was even worse. Best I can tell, the front
of the tornado had picked up trees and broken off large branches. Now the back of the tornado began to drop them all around me. Debris was slamming everywhere. Though I had been in the tornado only 10 seconds or so, it already seemed like a long time. The peaceful feeling quickly dissipated; now I had to ride out the worst. I remember thinking, “almost over; hang on; you’re going to make it!” Meanwhile, stuff was dropping all around me. Two trees fell on me; I saw the first one coming. I remember thinking it was odd because it fell backwards away from the river. Most of the debris was flying across the river. “

This fellow is a minister of a congregation in Murfreesboro.  I find it fascinating  he survived this ordeal, just 10 days ago!, and especially this part of being in the eye of the storm.  The transforming peace he felt there would change a rock.

I had my own experience with a tornado on the first day of Spring, 1998.  I was safe in my home here in Atlanta, and for some reason watching the news at 7am.  A tornado, I believe another F-4, had come through Hall County, Gainesville, Ga. to the far north (60 miles away) just then, and I was rivetted to the tv.  Something in me snapped.  I still don’t know what or why, and why THAT particular tornado should effect me in such ways, but it did.  I had never been to Gainesville, and knew no one there.  But time stood still, was suspended, I do remember this, as my husband later pointed out to me.

I was a Quaker then, had been ‘bench sitting’ for about 10 years.  I was pretty rattled, and rose to speak about the tornado two days before, asking people to be ‘mindful’ of what had happened.  This Quaker meeting met in silence, so rising to speak better be important.  After the meeting, a man who I now understand was very troubled, came to me and said:  “Help can wait.”  What he meant, though he was rather dismissive in his words, was that the Friends Service of Atlanta would have to meet and decide the ‘level’ of participation.

I couldn’t wait.  Neither could my neighbors.  Within exactly a week we gathered so many supplies we could barely stuff them in my husband’s new truck.  My then 10 year old son and I went up to Gainesville, Ga. looking for the Salvation Army center to drop these supplies and leave.  We got lost, stopped at a Kangaroo Gas Station and immediately an elderly man came up to the truck and asked if we were lost (yes we were!) and took us to the place where supplies were being delivered.  We would never have found it ourselves.

I can’t begin to relate how many times this happened…not only getting lost! but the kindness of strangers up there.  We went to Denny’s for breakfast, my little son mentioning that we had just come from Atlanta was some supplies and the waitress refused to charge us for breakfast, insisting that she pay from her tips.

We were invited to observe the many areas  we shouldn’t be in.  We collected stories about the storm everywhere we stopped, and realized that people were still in shock.

But one thing stood out in our experience.  Something my son and I will never forget.  As we entered the lovely, old town of Gainesville, exactly one week to the day after this devestating tornado, with huge clouds like clipper ships in an azure blue sky, there on a hill, stretched between two radio kiosks, was a large yellow banner:

“Help Can’t Wait”.

My son turned to me, his brown eyes like saucers, and said: “Mom! God’s talking to us!”

Well, I’m not at all a religious person, and soon after left the Quaker Meeting.  But something was in the air that day and it wasn’t just the afterblow of the tornado.

We drove through areas  like landscapes from Hell.  Huge metal pieces from trailers  like ribbons twisted in the tops of huge oaks.  The landscape had piles of debris either scattered across fields, with piles burning, or not even yet touched by any clean up. A baby carriage was on the side of the road, backed by crushed and destroyed refrigerators and other unidentifiable debris.  Whole roofs had been torn off, and blue tarps met the blue sky in most neighborhoods.

Devastation all all around (the tornado was 1/2 mile wide and 12 miles long of travel) and there, across the road from these scenes from Hell, were cows chewing their cud.  Blessed calm and normalcy in the middle of destruction.

My husband’s truck was new, and the paper license plate had blown off somewhere…but the many police never stopped us, never questioned why were were going through those areas.  We met many people who told us that even after a week, their areas, their neighborhoods had not be touched by cleanup crews.  There was still no power if I remember right.

On the way home to Atlanta, I remember pulling over on the highway, being overcome by what we saw.  I couldn’t drive until I regained my senses.  But I do know that something had shifted in me…and something had been created in very profound ways in my son. We were both effected in ways that would manifest in our lives over the next few years.

I did write a long article about the experience, published in “Quaker Life”, a national publication.  That probably was the beginning of my writing ‘career’.

I am still frantic when I hear of tornadoes heading our way.  There is an old train track behind our property….and when a train comes through, if I don’t see it, and it’s spring, I have to check myself from heading down in the basement.  I know it’s probably silly, or maybe not, but I have set up a store of blankets and chairs in this questionable basement.

After you see the effects, the results of a tornado, nothing is ever secure and easy in your life.  You watch the sky, listen to the tv, and hope for the best.
Lady Nyo

Om namah shivaya…….

September 19, 2008

I honor the divinity that resides within me.

For a while, I have been looking for something unknown in me, something elusive. I thought it was power, feeling rather powerless in the face of many things. Some were small frustrations, but mostly they were interrelationships. Dealing with people.

I turned to outside forces, and some questionable. It was not an issue of ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’ but I had, in the doing, lost my way. I had given over my own self to such an extent I had lost my vision of myself. I was floundering. When you flounder in the sea, you attract sharks, those who would eat you up. Perhaps that is why you have to be ‘still’, to go inward to something more essential than what is being offered outside. To try to remember the bedrock of who and what you are. That inner strength that got you through marriage-divorce-marriage and keeps you alive and creative in life.

Yesterday I acted the crazy woman to get away from a rather foolish fellow. It worked. But I wonder in the end how much truth there was in the craziness. I touched something raw and uncomfortable, a piece that I wasn’t so ‘disconnected’ as I thought. I had become needy. And this was because I had denied or covered over my own strength, that stuff, whatever you call it, that got me from one year to another. I had given over too easily my own power, and I suffered the consequences.

I was denying part of my true nature, which is full of flaws but also of strengths. I was denying my full creativity, the stuff that colors and is a part of what makes life worth living.

That perfection was in there, I just was just hell bent on denying it. And, I was casting my pearls before a swine herd.

In looking for something outside myself, some foreign answers, I had denied what was always right there. I went a far distance, tripping and falling, looking for answers when the inner journey would have been closer, faster and more satisfactory.

Had I embraced that divinity inside, that perfection already in place that was waiting for me to notice it, I would have come home.

What I had done wrong here was to believe that my limited little ego constituted my whole nature. Somewhere within us is that balance, which is that we bear God within and don’t know it.

Om namah shivaya.

Lady Nyo

I got this message this morning from Brady Sutton, who posts here on occasion.  He is a firm friend and his words go from hysterically funny to profoundly comforting.

Sweet Jane, I’m heartened by your discoveries. We are all a part of God, thus we are all a part of one another. Each of us has perfection inside, because God resides within us. Some of us search for paths (the road less traveled?) that deliver us to a temporary tranquillity, and then the search resumes. Others are content to take a seat alongside their particular path and watch the wanderers pass by.

Some of us wander because we were made to wander. God likes variety and gives some of us a bit extra of whatever it is that makes us see things differently. Sometimes better. Sometimes worse. And sometimes misleading. We can’t always see things clearly. God’s variety, as we see every day, is not always made of happiness. But happiness is there to be found, inside us.

Look inside, sweet Jane. You’ll see that, for whatever it’s worth, you have my love. You have my brotherhood. I am always available. You aren’t alone, although, as I’ve experienced, it sometimes feels that way, no matter who stands by your side.

Peace and love, sweet Jane. Be happy. You DO have the choice.

BS…Brady, I choose you every time. Jane