The Opposite of StormChasing.

The Alabama Weather Scene has changed since I was a kid.

Not in content so much – I remember tornadoes and warnings and staying indoors as things were flying about Wizard-Of-Oz style from my youth. My mom claims to have sat in a rocking chair on the front porch with me in her arms while a tornado tore through, dropping a tree on the back of our house. (I guess it was just a mother’s instincts to know that the front porch was our safe room that day. Who knows.)

Anyway.

The weather is the same. But the warning time of coming storms has greatly increased, as has the paranoia around those warnings.

When I was a kid, most of Alabama, it seemed, laughed off tornado warnings. In the same way, yet opposite, that we laugh at ourselves for shutting the state down for an inch of snow, we laughed at ourselves for never worrying about tornadoes – they happen all the time, after all.

2011 erased that attitude. We as a state suffer from PTSD of 4-27-11, and we take even thunderstorms seriously now. That, along with tornado prediction technology and coverage being greatly improved since I was a kid, is what has changed Alabama. When you add paranoia + predictions, you get state shut downs.

On Wednesday, a good portion of the state was in Tornado Possibility Dark Color 4 (out of 5 – if we ever get Dark Color 5 again, Chris swears we’re leaving the state), and so out of precaution, every school system closed – even The University of Alabama.

(Except for homeschool. If we’re going to be stuck at home all day, we might as well do school. Poor kids.)

But this type of “Tornado Day” was the weird, unpredictable kind – there would be no “front” or long line of storms coming through that you could watch with dread and trepidation, knowing to the minute when it would reach your neighborhood. It was the mostly sunny day kind, therefore adding to the explosiveness of the atmosphere, with violent pop-up storms coming seemingly out of nowhere in random areas.

Ugh.

Existential weather dread is worse when the sun is shining and the radar is clear. It’s downright ominous.

So I spent the day indoors, checking the radar every 5 seconds, fighting the losing battle of cell phone battery life versus the constant reminder of “Charge your devices in case you lose power!”

We were antsy. SO antsy. It was a beautiful day but even going out into the front yard seemed un-recommended.

Finally, at 5pm, I could take it no more. We were originally supposed to be out of danger by then. There was one small yet nasty storm east of us that the meteorologists were covering nonstop (seriously y’all – hail the size of freaking baseballs), and so no one was giving Birmingham the promised all-clear. There was some sort of “dry line” that was supposed to be coming through any minute, therefore clearing the environment of anymore storms.

You can’t see dry lines. But you can imagine they’re there if you think really hard and are positive you’ll explode to stay indoors for one more second.

So Chris and I decided that surely we were good.

Chris left straight from work to run, and we arranged to meet him at the Botanical Gardens later to trade off so that I could run, and that way the kids could run around the gardens in the meantime.

So we set out on a beautiful summer afternoon. When we got close to the gardens, big fat raindrops began to fall.

Of course.

But it was surely just a sprinkle, so I decided we’d ride up to the top of the city first – for a peek on how it looked on this weirdly sunny stormy day.

As we got closer to the ridge, the skies behind us began to look darker and more ominous. Quite like an Oculus bearing down upon us (for those of you who have already seen “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”)

I checked where Chris was running on my Find My Friends app – a mile away, in the direction of the nastiness.

I should save him. He’s gonna get soaked.

Right after I get my picture.

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I grabbed a couple shots, the dark cloud eerily covering the sun on a clear and innocent-looking day, then began chasing down my husband.

“Okay kids – you’re on Daddy watch. Keep your eyes out your window.”

It took a few turns, but we found him, right as he was crossing the street. He had headphones on, so I yelled at him. “Hey!! Do you need a ride??”

He didn’t even look back. He shot me a peace sign from over his shoulder and kept running. He totally thought I was some random busybody motorist.

I followed him down the road and yelled again. He yelled back that he was okay and kept running.

I drove around the block, parked, and started checking Twitter and the radar. A spectacularly nasty little storm had unpredictably (as predicted) popped up from nowhere and it was headed straight our way, then on toward our house.

Chris took the clue that we’d chased him down and paused to look at his radar. He texted me.

“On second thought, come get me.” (Paraphrased.)

I drove around the block, grabbed my husband, and peeled out to drive to his car.

We discussed what we should do. I wanted to go home and hide in the basement. He wanted to drive away from the storm. I finally realized he didn’t want hail damage on his precious car. He concurred. It made sense – as long as we could decisively tell which way the storm was not headed.

As we got back to his car, things began looking worse. And closer. He quickly formulated a plan and told me to follow him north – to a suburb on the opposite side of the city. We screeched out as rain began falling in earnest and giant lightning bolts started touching down. I might’ve whispered a few choice words just out of earshot of my children (I hope.)

Managing no red lights, we got on the freeway and sped north of town.

In no time, it was a bright, sunny day in front of us and to the left – but behind us and to the right it looked downright gross.

We ended up at a lovely park we’re never close enough to visit (Black Creek Park in Fultondale), taking a nice, calm family walk, while getting multiple texts from neighbors asking if we were okay and sending pictures of hail everywhere and the tree down on our next door neighbor’s house.

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The wind was powerful and dry where we were, and we quickly surmised that we had, indeed, finally found that “dry line”, whatever the heck that was anyway.

We walked down the lovely rails-to-trails path, pausing with a hush to watch some groundhogs scurry into their holes, and finding a playground with delightful eccentricities to add to the beautiful and deceptively placid sunset.

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The kids even found a massively nasty bug they followed around the playground for a good while – clearly a win.

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He was inches long, y’all. I looked him up later and – no lie – he’s called a Hellgrammite. They usually live their entire larval lives (5 years) under rocks in streams, and only emerge if a thunderstorm chases them out. Everything made so much sense.

(Then they’re a full-grown adult for one week before they die – but for that one week they’re the most terrifying, dragon-sized fly you’ve ever seen. Go ahead – Google “Dobson Fly” and see what I mean. Add that to Alabama’s Hunger Games status.)

But I digress. Besides that nightmare, we spent our evening simply enjoying the exultation of successfully fleeing a hail storm.

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Hands-On History: Brierfield Ironworks

After a few false starts, we finally got back into the groove of history field trips after the holidays. It’s harder now, because our dear friend and adventure comrade Carla Jean has moved to Colorado, and nothing is as much fun when you lose your buddy.

We set out to Brierfield Ironworks, a furnace built in 1862, used for a minute to make iron for farm implements until the owners were strong-armed into selling it to the confederate army, then used to forge iron to make cannons, then promptly destroyed by the union army and never truly resurrected, despite a few attempts. I’d heard it was a less impressive Tannehill, but we often like the “little guy” places, so we wanted to check it out for ourselves. It was also the only furnace actually owned by the confederate army, so it definitely fit into our history studies.

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We arrived and found that we seemed to be the only people at the historic state park. There were log cabins and historical buildings scattered about the grounds, sitting peacefully and quietly.

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We found the one titled “Information Office”, and opened the creaking door to find a kind lady who gave us a trail map and sent us on our way. We first walked over to what was left of the furnace, covered by an oversized carport to protect further decay.

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Unlike Tannehill’s furnace, which is made of giant stones and is still in beautiful condition, Bibb Furnace was made of bricks, and many of its bricks were pillaged for other projects during World War II. As such, there’s not as much left.

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Noah liked the mining cart, though. Mining carts make everything better.

There was a lovely hiking trail above and around the furnace, where we found the old reservoir and several other interesting artifacts.

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We used the opportunity to spot seedless vascular plants, the chapter we were reading in botany at the time.

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We adored the covered bridges scattered throughout the park, acting as bridges in some places and covered picnic pavilions in others.

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It was an easy 1.5 mile circular hike, which was just about the right amount, since Ali was rather overdressed for the hot February day and Noah can always find something to whine about.

Briarfield_MG_3642_7392s“The sun is so bright, Mommy!! I need away from the sun!!”

The most fascinating feature that Brierfield possesses are the bright and dark green rocks all over the park – we at first assumed that they were some of the very minerals that drew people to create a furnace here (Tannehill was created around the red ore mineral line – could this be green ore?)

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The pieces ranged from tiny to small boulder size, and we compared and contrasted color and features. Ali noticed that they had many holes, so surmised that they were like sandstone – on the softer end of the rock spectrum.

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We also talked about how cool it would be to come upon a mineral line like this long ago – and what if it had been gold? We had just read about the Alabama Gold Rush the day before, so we daydreamed about happening upon a whole area of golden nuggets the size and quantity of these curious green rocks.

After we finished our hike, we went back into the welcome center and asked the kind lady about the green rocks. She informed us that they are actually slag, left over from the years of furnace operation. Slag is stony waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore. This made the finds more exciting – we had found byproduct from the Civil War era.

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While she explained this to us and I examined the beautiful pieces of slag she had in the gift shop, Noah shopped, itching to spend his allowance.

“Can I buy this, mom? How about this? And this?”

Without ever really looking up, I agreed to his purchases. He slowly counted his dollars while the nice lady giggled – I assumed she was pleased with his independent economic prowess. It wasn’t until we got to the car and he proudly showed me his new possessions that I questioned my hands-off parenting strategy.

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And that, dear readers, is how a family ends up with a confederate flag shot glass that says “Heritage not Hate.”

Geez.

I’m the best.

After our hike, we visited the playground, where the kids fawned over the vintage playsets,

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while I enjoyed creating super creeptastic “Dementors Are In The Neighborhood” footage.

On the way home, I slid through KFC to get the kids some food.

As we were pulling around, Noah said, “Hey Mom, can you roll down my window?”

“Sure…”

“Thanks! I want to show them my new little cup that I got at the gift shop!”

“NOOOOOOO!!!”

Geez.

I’m the best.

Here’s Ali’s report on this trip and another stop we made on the same day – but I will write about that fascinating place next time.

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On Creating a Roadkill Kit.

The cliché “You Snooze, You Lose” has never been truer than it is with regards to roadkill.

I sadly lost both a raccoon (would’ve been my first!!) and a beautiful armadillo last week because I put off for tomorrow what I could have done today.

These two sad misses occurred for two reasons:

1. Both creatures were very close to the road on main thoroughfares and I don’t want to die while shooting dead things, and

2. I didn’t have a clear idea of how to stage the precious creatures. Their memories must be properly preserved, after all. No hurried, personality-less photos here.

It made me start to wonder if I could make a deal with Streets and Sanitation to drop off all fully-in tact critters on my road for 24 hours…would a $20 bribe be enough?

My neighbors already love me so much…

Anyway.

The cliché “An Ounce of Preparation is Better than a Pound of Prevention” has never been truer than it is with regards to roadkill.

So I decided that it was high time I had a roadkill kit in the back of my car. Ready for swerving stops on highways and biways. Ready for many scenarios, poses, and carcasses.

So I swung into my children’s Favorite Place in The Whole World, The Dollar Tree.

(It’s the children’s favorite because they didn’t know it existed until Noah’s Godparents took them there and they were astounded at an entire store of items for the same price. Every time they stay with them they make a glorious visit and gleefully come home with random trinkets such as front desk bells, fly swatters, and very roughly hewn washcloths.)

The kids were thrilled with this deviation from my normal shopping habits and couldn’t wait to see what exactly had prompted this delightful outing.

“What are you getting Mommy? Huh Huh Huh?”

“You’ll see…”

I walked down the aisles, grabbing various and random items such as leprechaun hats, toy soldiers, and energy drinks.

“WHAT are you doing with all this?”

“You have to figure it out…”

“What do baby pacifiers and Easter eggs have to do with each other?”

“Think about it…you can get there.”

“Are these sharks and balloons for someone’s birthday?”

“Of course not…”

“Get Well Soon Cards and a toy gun??? I don’t get it, Mom…”

“Keep thinking…”

They proposed all sorts of wrong ideas. Each one I shot down and encouraged them to continue using their powers of deductive reasoning. It was a school day, after all. And kids these days don’t do nearly enough thinking.

Finally, as we were checking out and surrounded by other human beings, Ali said, “I think I figured it out. Is this all for your roadkill note cards?”

“Ding ding ding!!!”

I happily took my purchases, added them to a box with a few pairs of rubber gloves and a pair of Squirrel Underpants I was gifted by a blog reader, and am now driving around ready for whatever comes my way. Or rather, whatever doesn’t come my way.

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Because the cliché “Life Comes At You Fast. {And So Does Death}” has never been truer than it is with regards to roadkill.

It was days after creating my One of a Kind Kit that I finally had a chance to use it. It’s not that I hadn’t seen any roadkill – I’d seen plenty, but I’m very particular. I’m a Roadkill Diva, if I’m being honest. To be classified as @happyroadkill, you must be still mostly in tact and recognizable. No intestines can be visible. The more lifelike, the better. And, if you ask my kids “Where does your mom draw the line?”, they’ll be quick to tell you. “She draws the line at former pets. Because that’s sad.”

Saturday night gifted me my first qualified opportunity.

We were in two cars and driving from the park to dinner. I spotted a new friend and quickly did a U-Turn to pull over. Chris drove past me, puzzled and confused. I was sad that he wasn’t observant enough to know what was happening.

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(Those last two texts were later in the evening when Noah was taking his very melodramatic once-a-week poop. It has nothing at all to do with this story except that one cannot possibly crop out such goodness.)

Anyway.

There was indeed a squirrel. I parked and began rummaging around in my box, as the kids excitedly inquired as to my plans.

“What are you going to use, mom? Huh? Huh? Huh? The balloons? The soldier?”

“Hmm…let’s see. I really want to use the leprechaun hat but when is Saint Patrick’s Day? Hey Siri! When is Saint Patrick’s Day?”

“Saint Patrick’s Day is on Friday, March seventeenth, two thousand seventeen.”

‘Yeah…not time for that. He looks like he was going out for a long pass. Let’s go with the football.”

“Oooh, yay mom! Good choice!”

staged roadkill“Verne, I think we’re going to need to see the instant replay to know if that was a catch or not.”

Poor guy. Definitely looked like a victim of targeting.

A car was coming up behind me so I hurriedly jumped in the driver’s seat and carefully scooted around Julio the Squirrel. I watched in my rearview mirror as the car slowed and observed my art installation. Meanwhile, the kids were horrified.

“WHY did you LEAVE the football??”

“Because it was touching a dead squirrel…”

“BUT THAT WAS A FOOTBALL!! YOU COULD USE IT AGAIN!!”

“That’s why we went to the dollar store. So that we could create our art and leave it for others. And also so that we could not carry around dead-thing-touched-props. It’s okay. We have plenty more.”

“When you run out of things in your box, will we go back to the Dollar Tree?”

“I imagine we will.”

“YAAAAAAY! Thanks for leaving the football, Mom!!”

Because the cliché “Waste not, want not” has never more false than it is with regards to roadkill.