Just where do the Great Plains begin? Some say at the 100th meridian, which cuts the continental U.S. roughly in half. Some say somewhere close to the Big Muddy, the Missouri River, which takes a sharp left in Sioux City then splits South Dakota as if were a rectangular cantaloupe. Some say the Great Plains begin wherever there's twenty inches of rainfall.
Siouxland isn't on the Great Plains, but it's dang close. Still, it hands out weather that's as legendary in its ferocity as anything in Kansas or Oklahoma. "This is not an easy place to live," an old woman on the Rosebud reservation once told me, even though she'd been there since she was a child.
Weather events out here always come in spades. Snow doesn't fall, it slashes. January cold makes your teeth ache and outfits your car in square wheels. July heat offers just about anything you can get in the Southwest-plus, it comes with a sauna.
An old Siouxlander once told me that we get ten really good days a year. That's it. Ten. That old woman was a seer.
Last night's storms were massive, terrifying. Pilger, Nebraska, was attacked by a pair of tornadoes dropped from an insane sky, a tag team of twisters less than a mile apart. You must have seen the pictures.
Today the whole region is a bath tub. Water, water everywhere. The Rock is twenty feet above flood stage, residents of Rock Valley and Rock Rapids last night--yesterday already--are, like the river, out of their homes. Last night, the rain came in torrents and simply would not stop.
It's just now light outside my window. I expected to see the Floyd had spread over the neighbor's beans, but it was less unruly than I imagined.
The Big Sioux is on a rampage at Hawarden, and the expected crest is still a day or more away.
I'm not about to go out back and check my rain gauge because I'd likely never be heard from again. The whole backyard is quicksand soup.
Years ago, when we were young marrieds, we sat in a nice house trailer with some other couples and tried to talk devotionally while the rain pounded away on that tin roof. The lesson we studied that night is long gone, but I'll never forget the sinking feeling that our basement was becoming a wading pool.
Both of the old houses we've lived in came with storm cellars, dim-lit boxes I rarely entered because they had this awful concentration camp feel--bare naked cement all around. I'll never forget sitting in 'em during storms, water up over your ankles, our kids, toddlers, on our laps, a single light bulb burning at the end of a bare wire jutting out from the wall.
One October, an early snow fell so heavily that leafy tree branches cracked. Standing outside in the snowy moonlight, I listened as the whole town was attacked by what seemed gunfire from maples and lindens snapping all around.
Weather comes in spades here, all of it.
But the birds are at the feeder this morning, just as they are every a.m. A couple days ago, grackles found this out-of-the-way dive. They know nothing of the golden rule. When they stop by they take over suet and seed; everyone else departs.
But they're here, their appetites ravenous despite last night's endless rains. For them, little has changed this morning, after the storm, just a little extra mud beneath their toenails.
They're probably doing the same things in Pilger, Nebraska, this morning, dive-bombing all over just as they are here, just as they did yesterday. What?--me worry? What do they care if half the town is destroyed? Just more easy pickin's in a new playground.
Nature's resiliency is as dramatic as it is unnerving. We'd much prefer the world to weep with us, to offers us tender sadness when we feel so deserving. Where, pray tell, are Elijah's ravens when we really need them?
Last night's catastrophes are recorded by rain gauges, like mine, filled to overflowing. Floods blanket the flat land this morning, river banks seemingly gone. Somewhere deaths are being mourned.
But life goes on just outside my window. Once again this morning, the players are here, even the goldfinch, full of song that's so much bigger than their diminutive selves.
Once again, the dawn. Here it comes. Another day out here on the edge of the Great Plains. Maybe this one will be one of the ten.
That would be nice.