Monday, March 4, 2013

Oklahoma weather and the people it has caused me to know

The wind howls tonight in Oklahoma.  It's from the south but the promise of change is there as an undertone to what's happening.  This is far from unusual, of course.  It's a familiar story here in Oklahoma - a big factor in why I have come to live here longer than any other place in my life.  The weather here is a constantly-changing factor in our lives.  We slide from flood to drought, from sweltering heat to bitter cold, from sparkling sunny days to periods of gloom.  That very variability is what defines Oklahoma weather.  Oklahoma weather is about change, and the impact of that change on our lives.  You just don't easily ignore Oklahoma's weather.  On a regular basis, it forces you to pay attention to what the atmosphere is doing.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Oklahoma weather makes it nature's most volatile location for severe storms.  We are the world's focus for the action that drives people into storm chasing.  Everything that happens during the course of the annual cycle of the weather here is focused on providing the setting for massive supercells and their associated tornadoes during our storm season.  It's the reason I came to live and learn here, and the reason I met my friends and colleagues who share my passion for the drama and excitement of the most ferocious storms the atmosphere provides.   Such storms pack the biggest, most concentrated punch of any atmospheric phenomenon on this planet.  And they happen more frequently here than anywhere else on the planet.

After I arrived here, I eventually came to know many people who shared my fascination with such storms.  The people I now call my friends and colleagues have assumed a greater significance in my life as time has passed.  My passion for the inanimate atmosphere put me on a collision course with people who have encouraged me, inspired me, and shared amazing moments with me over the course of my career.  Who would have guessed that this would have been the outcome of my original obsession with storms?  I certainly had no clue as a young man.  I had no idea what it was going to be like, and was clueless about what awaited me.

One of my best friends has recently been taken from me and from the world of meteorology by the ravages of a terrible disease.   I've spent so many incredible moments with him in the course of my career, it seems beyond comprehension that he could be taken from me by the cruel affliction of Alzheimer's syndrome.

In late May of 1975, we spent a night huddled in my tent in the Palo Duro Canyon of Texas - a mostly sleepless night because of the buffeting of our tent by the relentless, intensifying southerly winds, not dissimilar from those of this evening.  An approaching storm energized those winds, as it does tonight.  The winds that stole our sleep also brought moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, fuel for the day of supercells that was to come the next day.  After a mostly sleepness night, we were up earlier than usual.  We had little sleep that night, but energized by our relative youth and our eager anticipation for what was to come the next day, the day's chase had an unintended early start.

Ultimately, of course, we never can know for sure what the future will bring.  We saw powerful supercells the next day - but no tornadoes.  How was I to know that the passage of time would steal my friend from me before his body failed him?  Time brings change, and that change is not necessarily easy to forecast - so many factors control the future.  I owe so much to my friend, but he no longer even knows who I am.  How can I hope to tell him how much he has meant to me?  That time has passed, and I only hope that what words I've shared with him in the past have had the desired impact.  But those words, and any future words, no longer matter at all.  He no longer remembers them.  Or me.  It's as if all of it never was - but not to me!

The wind still howls outside my window as I write this, just as it did many years ago.  But my friend is no longer with me.  That makes the prospects for the future much less exciting for me.  Treasure your happy times with your friends.  They're evanescent moments that mostly only matter to you - and them.   But they are the moments that you'll hold onto in the face of whatever the future brings for you.

1 comment:

Garrett Fornea said...

Good, moving essay!