"It really was no miracle—
What happened then was this:
The wind began to switch,
the house began to switch, and
the hinges came unhitched"
It was a hot and very humid August day, the kind where everyone can feel the chance of a big storm brewing. The blue sky was filled with white, fluffy clouds, though, with no sign of a change in weather. When you live in the valley, the horizon may be only a quarter mile away. You don't see the weather coming until it's on top of you. That was the case for me this particular afternoon, when dark clouds came in from the west in late afternoon, bringing thunder, lightning and ten minutes of hard rain—but not much wind.
The skies didn't clear after the short-lived thunderstorm passed, but they no longer looked threatening. In fact, the rest of the day looked like it was going to be quite pleasant.
Ten minutes later, the sky again began to darken, gathering momentum by the minute. The breeze began to pick up, and a heavy wall of rain could be seen coming, along with thunder and lightning. It looked like a good old-fashioned summer thunderstorm was on its way.
Then the wind got aggressive. Within seconds, trees were bent over, and there was debris flying everywhere. When large trees began to break and pull up from the ground, it was obvious that a twister was upon us. In fact, a pair of them had cut two zig-zag paths through the wooded landscape, and were headed for the Kickapoo River town of Viola, a few miles to the east.
The tornadoes hit head on, seeming not particular about what was in their way. They left a trail of flattened barns and farm sheds, garages, and trailers. They took the roofs off houses. It would be impossible to count the trees that were turned into splinters.
The indiscriminate twisters showed no mercy on the quiet little town of Viola, running up one street and down the next, twisting and smashing everything in their path. Even the cemetery wasn't off limits, and many trees there were destroyed.
The twisters headed eat out of town, leaving Viola looking like Godzilla had paid a visit. Within a matter of minutes, things were changed forever, and people were left to pick up the pieces.
It was truly amazing—miraculous, even—that no one in Viola was killed in the storm. Most of the country folk here have lived in the little river town all their lives. Their spirit is strong and they have the heart to put things back together. Volunteers came from all over the Kickapoo Valley to help clear debris and bring relief. It's very heartening to see communities pulling together like that. The town will never look the same in my lifetime, though, because the loss of so many large trees dramatically changed the landscape.
A couple hours after the tornadoes passed, I drove along a side road under blue skies with calm white clouds. If it weren't for the tell-tale signs of destruction, you'd think it had been a perfect, calm summer day. I watched a pair of Sandhill cranes flying just over the tree tops along the river, as though nothing had happened. A bald eagle, too, followed the river to the south. Not far from where the terrible wind had gone, a Horned owl sat on top of a utility pole near a farm yard. His daytime roost in a stand of cedars was gone, and he couldn't find a safe place to hide.
A little further down the road, I noticed a very large bird standing on the broken branch of a cedar tree. At first glance, I thought I was looking at a turkey, but then I realized that it was a big, beautiful peacock. He just stood there as I drove by, looking quite proud that he had survived the wind. Like the folks in Viola, he would survey his surroundings, adapt to the changes and get on with the business of life.
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