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"Even with all our technology and the inventions that make modern life so much easier than it once was, it takes just one big natural disaster to wipe all that away and remind us that, here on Earth, we‘re still at the mercy of nature." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson
Growing up in the tornado alley of rural central Oklahoma has shaped my ideas of the earth and permanence. I remember my first time witnessing the mass destruction of a tornado, as a teenager driving through Stroud, OK in May 1999. The Tanger Outlet Mall had been the focal point of the news, since it was the largest structure in Stroud and had been demolished. However, what resonates with me to this day is the sight of a large tree in someone’s backyard. The chain link fence around the yard was still standing and appeared to be untouched, however the massive tree that was in the center of the yard had completely twisted upon itself. Still rooted in the ground, all of the branches appeared to have swirled and bent around each other. It was beautiful.
Later on I would experience a more personal account of witnessing beauty in the face of danger. In January 2006 a wildfire that started in Stroud, Oklahoma, raged 20 miles south into the northernmost area of Paden, Oklahoma, my hometown. We raced to help my grandparents evacuate their home. As we were frantically piling the trunk of the car with pictures, family heirlooms, our entire family felt this overwhelming helplessness. The black night sky lit up with orange just above the silhouette of treetops is a sight burned into my mind. My uncle arrived with good news that the fire was under control. He loaded us up to drive around and survey the damage. It did not feel like the woods that my cousins and I had so frequently played in. It was now hell on earth. It was in that moment I realized how much stronger these forces in our world are than us.
The conversation of force and beauty can be sometimes hard to talk about in Oklahoma. Imagine discussing the beauty of a twisted tree with the relative of someone whom died a block away from that tree from the same destructive power. Yet, somehow after experiencing a traumatic event such as a tornado encounter, the feelings associated with that event remain connected to us and become part of us. Although I have a deep respect and fear for these natural phenomena, I also admire their beauty and sheer strength. The feeling of extreme pressure change and how the wind stops right before a major storm hits brings this aspect of thrill that cannot be replicated any other way. It’s an adrenaline rush, a pure sensation of living in the moment. I aim to examine these feelings and provoke conversation about the terrible beauty that surrounds these events.