This fifth challenge of the Handbook for Nature Study blog’s Outdoor Hour Challenge was, well, a challenge. We were to define a list of exactly WHAT we wanted to learn about trees. Easy enough, right? Well, no. Not when there are six people attempting to decide with a lot of electricity in the air…literally.

We knew and could feel that a storm was on its way. We could see the sky beginning to deepen in gray shades. We could feel a strange stillness to the air. But we’d already delayed our outdoor hour challenge for two days because of, well, life. And we ALL wanted to move forward. We were full of bouncy energy from having just learned that croquet, while invented a couple of hundred years prior to the Baroque period, that it indeed only became popular during the Baroque period. The kids remembered that they’d seen a croquet set in the barn where Daddy’s famous pony Champ once lived. So this walk followed the excitement of five bouncy kids walking up to that part of the property and then cleaning it up and setting it out to dry.

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And so we walked. I left the phone inside and so I have no pictures. But we walked on the bottom leg of the racetrack and into the woods and sat not far from where we buried Hydro, our loyal and still very missed shepherd/lab mix. We all had a moment looking at how his spot is now all grass 18 months later. A few quiet tears settled the rambunctiousness.

And read a story about trees from The First Book of Trees by H. B. Cormack published in 1951. So precious. And full of facts! I thought this might be a sweet way to help us decide what we wanted to learn. I had already read the Table of Contents section on Trees in the Handbook so I was prepared to “gently guide” the decision towards “The Way a Tree Grows.” Well, I was only partially successful in my guidance. We will learn together about how a tree grows, three individual trees on our property: Shagbark Hickory, Virginia Pine, and when in Rome, er Ashe County, the Mountain Laurel. Oh, and the kids want to learn how an apple grows. And yes, that is in the Handbook as well!

It was funny, this Challenge, because there was this over-riding electricity in the air. There were moments of fidgeting and inability to quit speaking and then there were moments of solitude. As if I were alone in the woods. It was strange. We sat and listened to the stillness while watching the sky grow darker. We were mostly without noise for a good five or six minutes, I’d guess. And then I knew we needed to prepare the outside for a storm. And so we walked, not ran, back to the house. And handed out a few tasks…

Move the croquet set into the garage, lower and secure the patio umbrella, feed the cat and dog, get the keys and roll up the windows of my truck. Please.

We had just moved most things inside and I was on the phone with my Husband as I walked to the dock to bring in my chairs. And the wind changed. Dramatically. I very abruptly said goodbye to him and turned around to see Sawyer following behind me. “Sawyer! Go inside NOW!”

*blank stare*

“Run inside NOW!”

And he listened.

The wind nearly pushed me over. I am not a small person. I ran to the barn and opened the gates so the horses, who were going crazy, could get into the barn as they needed, and huge, hard rain drops were hitting me. I didn’t know at the time it was hail.

Then the hardest storm I ever recall seeing hit. Hail and rain were so hard and so thick and so fat and so fast that I could see nothing outside. I could instinctively feel the wind, driving at the back of the house. I sent the kids to the basement. And began taking photos.

(these photos are from AFTER the storm because the storm photos were just white/gray blurs…)

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We lost many healthy, strong trees. Not a single dead one. There were sticks, leaves, acorns, hickory nuts, pine cones, everywhere. People call it a tornado. I don’t know if it was or wasn’t. Husband thinks it was straight line winds. I don’t know why it matters. It’s over. And we’re safe.

I am so grateful for this little storm. Yes, it was the biggest storm I remember, but it is little. And I know this because I’ve been following Kelly’s family’s rebuilding process. They are, she is, the family is, so very gracious and loving. And they lost everything in a tornado. Everything…

So, this little challenge, which was indeed challenging at times, was a delight. And I am so looking forward to our study about how trees grow, the shagbark hickory, the Virginia Pine, and the Mountain Laurel. And apples.

I am grateful.

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