While making my way through northern Kansas I notice dark circulating clouds in the near distance. In Kansas storms can sometimes look more intense due to the rolling planes and vast landscapes. And of course parts of Kansas are known as "Tornado Alley" for a good reason.
I call my roommate Ben, a notable computer guru, for a weather report. "According to the National Weather Center: Clear Skies," he tells me. "Well, except for this storm but its nowhere near you according to this map." So I keep driving, getting closer to the storm. 10min later I call again.
"Really Emily its nowhere near you but it does look like its growing in intensity," he says sternly. I can tell my call is a little anoying him this time. I keep driving. The winds start and a little hail.
I call again."Listen, there is definatly a storm. There hail the size of golf balls. When was that report made? Storms move fast out here you know," I'm a more that a little concerned a this point. I grew up in an area with tornados and the clouds I was seeing were not friendly.
"Alright, well.. it seems that the map I was looking at was not updated. In fact, there is a dangerous storm right on top of you. You're near Colby you say? The weather service says there is a tornado warning," Ben says this like a computer. He's not known to deliver bad news in an easy to hear way. I notice an exit ramp for downtown Colby and exit immedatly. The wind is blowing harder. I'm scared.
As I pull into town it looks nearly empty. Buisnesses are closing. Everyone appears to be going home. I notice a woman painting what looks like a mural on the side of a salon with a little girl standing next to her. Another artist maybe? Not having any other option I stop.
Still a little scared, I depirately introduce myself. "Hi, I'm Emily. I'm from St Louis and am traveling cross-country with a mobile art gallery. I've never seen a storm quite like this one. Not really sure where to go for shelter... do you have any suggestion? I don't know anyone in this town." She tells me not to be scared and explains that storms like this happen all the time. I'm told to wait as she walks towards the back of the salon with her daughter.
It seems to be taking her awhile or maybe time was just strange in that moment. I start talking to the two women cleaning the shop. They tell me to go to Wal-Mart since the salon is closing and so I leave.
About a 1/2 mile down the main street I noticed a local bar. Just as I pulled over a car pulls up behind me. Its the woman from the Salon. "You don't want to go in there. Beleave me," she seemed to notice my fear. "Don't worry I promise I'm not a serial killer. Besides, everyone around here knows me." She smiles. "Why don't you follow us to our house. I've got soda and food. Can't beleave those women told you to go to Walmart. That's not safe at all." She introduces herself. "I'm Devin."
I follow Devin to her aparment in a complex. Its simple but nice. There are art prints on the wall including Van Gogh and Klimt hainging next to family photos. I notice a family photo of her and her husband with a son and daughter. Everyone in the photo is smiling but her husband. There are art supplies covering the living room table including markers, paints, and pencils.
"It's a mess in here. I'm so sorry," she appologizes. "No need," I say. I notice a drawing on the table of an animated sugar cube holding a phone. It says "Ok Girls. Remember to use your suga voice." Its a good drawing. "Did you do this?" I ask. "Oh yeah," says Devin shyly. "I do a lot of the illustraitions around the shop. I love doing art but I'm not an artist," She says this quickly. "What do you mean?" I ask. "Well, you know... I don't call myself an artist. I did got to school for a few semesters. Always wish I could have gone to the Art Institute in Kansas City but then I had kids. I love my kids," she says this in a way that makes me think she still thinks about art school. "Its never to late," I say.
We end up talking for a while about our lives. She tells me about Colby and what its like growing up there, her kids, and seperating from her husband. Her daughter hangs out for a while and they goes to bed. She's 8 and has school in the morning. I'm quickly forgetting all about the storm blowing on the galss door. Its loud. "I should call my husband," she says after returning from putting her daughter to bed. The storm seems worse than usual and my son is with him. She talks for a while and then sits back on the couch. "Well... he tells me there is a wall of dirt. I'm not really sure what that means but its not good. Lots of cars on the side of the road, people taking cover. Its a good thing you stopped when you did. The storms get crazy out here sometimes." I am glad I stopped and that I met Devin.
The next hour went even faster. I was attempting to make it to Vale Colorado that night to a condo my friend Charle shares with several of his snowboarding buddies. Soon Devin and I got on the topic of tornados. She tells me about photos she took of a town in northern Kansas that was leveled in 2001. Soon she pulls them out of a drawer. The photos were taken with an SLR, some in black and white. "These are good photographs," I tell her. "Yeah?" asks Devin shyly. "Its been a long time since I've taken any. I really like photography." She speads them out on the kitchen table and tells me about them. "This X is for when no bodies are found," she's pointing to a large red X covering the front side of a delapidated house. I feel chills. "This photo is of the old man's car that died. Its crazy how these storms can do this." The car is lodged into a tree. She shows me about 20 or so photographs. All of them intense. The last one she shows me is of a nearly demolished unrecognizable building. "This was the Dairy Queen. 30 people survived hiding in the cooler." I had seen photos of tornado devistation and watched Hollywood movies but nothing compared to seeing these photos in person and hearing Devin explain them.
"I want you to have these," she tells me. "You like them and maybe you can do something with them. They've just been sitting here in this drawer." She hands me the photos, taking a few for herself. We talk for a while longer and I notice that the wind isn't blowing quite as hard. After a while I thank Devin and say goodbye.