The Polar Vortex of 2014

I came to Fort Wayne for the first time in November 2010 for an interview. On the drive to town I became convinced that it was too far from home, too weirdly flat and not easily accessed. The weather was chilly but sunny. There was talk about what the weather would be like but in this two-day visit I fell in love with the academic community and small college campus I was going to join. I left Fort Wayne trying to decide how I was going to explain this move to my family and friends.

I returned in February 2011 to find a place to live. I flew this time and found myself in the midst of the Groundhog Day blizzard. It was cold, roads were snow-covered and at some point prior to my arrival there had been a travel warning prohibiting non-emergency travel. During that visit it all seemed manageable. My realtor drive me around in her minivan. I drove myself around in a rented Ford Explorer. It was an adventure and surely would not happen all the time.

My assessment of the Indiana winter weather was true for the first two winters I was here. The winter of 2011-2012 was barely existent. It kind of snowed once. The winter of 2012-2013 was a bit more serious, it snowed twice and I learned how to shovel (there are strategies and techniques for shoveling snow). That was manageable and I learned something.

Now we have the winter of 2013-2014. This one is not like the others.

Since December it has snowed over a 12 inches. In the last week we have lived in the snow globe that was early January 2014. Thanks, polar vortex. This has been an unwelcome introduction to the other extreme of Indiana winters. On day one of the storm I shoveled 5 times to keep up with the snowfall.

A state of emergency was declared, the National Guard was called out and a non-emergency travel was prohibited. On day two the temperature and windchill was frightening. The temperature was around -20 with windchills as low as -40 and wind speeds of 20 mph. I did not venture out that day.

IMG_6041On day three the temperature got up to 5 but the roads remained nasty with snow drifts and layers of ice. On day 7 we got a break, it reached nearly 40 but it rained (yes, that is nearly a 60 degree change in 3 days).

Now roads, yards and fields are slush-filled ponds. Yesterday on a dog walk I stepped into an area with shin-deep slush on the sidewalk.

I’ve never seen anything like it. It is only January.

I’m told that this kind of weather builds character and stamina. I appreciate that and while I’d prefer to do that voluntarily and in the sun it is rewarding to know that I can handle it – I can live in an extreme weather event by myself (I was in the house for 3 days without any face to face human contact). One day when I live or am vacationing somewhere very warm I’ll say something like “I remember the Blizzard/Polar Vortex of 2014 and it was a mess, but Scout and I had fun.”

Also, snow in large quantities is pretty.

The Definition of Home

My Daddy says that home is wherever I am. Is it? Is home just about me?

Since I moved to the Midwest I find that trips home are bittersweet. Each visit usually ends in tears. I cry until I reach the Virginia/Kentucky state line, about twenty minutes. The difficulty leaving is directly proportional with the length of the stay. My last visit was especially rough. I cried all the way to Ferrell’s (pronounced Fur-ells) Creek, Kentucky, that is at least forty minutes. At a red light during this part of the drive I posted the following on Facebook: “I hate to leave.” And I do.

The Facebook post prompted some unexpected responses. I received a phone call from an old and beloved friend from my hometown. She thought I might be sad and she called to cheer me up, so sweet. She felt the same way when she had to leave her family in our little town. As she put it “it sucks to like your family.” Yes, it would be so much easier if I did not like my family. If I only tolerated them, as many do. Next I received a message from another dear friend who grew up two towns away from my hometown. He told a similar story – he struggled with leaving home after visits too. He described the difficulty in explaining to his parents that “it is harder on the person leaving than it is on those who stay behind.” It is. I agree. My family gets to stay there in the known, while I have to go back to a place and a thing that I haven’t completely figured out or found comfortable.

Mommy & Daddy's HouseI, like these two friends, have an intense connection to home, the place and its mountains. I feel that where I am from is very much a part of my identity. You can hear the mountains when I talk. The culture of the mountains is apparent in the music I love, the food I eat, my behavior and the choices that I make. It is more than just a place.

Sunset on the HollerI also have a remarkable relationship with my family (Mommy, Daddy, Sister, Brother-in-law, The Princess and the Benevolent Dictator). We aren’t perfect. But we do like each other, genuinely. I call it remarkable because I have had friends who are surprised that I talk with my family almost daily, we vacation together and, as one ex-boyfriend put it, “you all know a lot about each other.” And we do. We enjoy one another’s company whether it is at home watching 12 hours of nonstop college football coverage, walking around a Disney park like it’s a job or driving through California in a minivan. We have fun. We are also a fiercely loyal bunch. No matter what there are at least 6 people who will always be on my side. Where else do you find that?

Of course, I am sad to leave them. I am sad to leave a place that I know so well. A place where nearly every mile contains another story, another memory. So, when I leave I cry.

Sunrise near the state lineI never cry when I leave Fort Wayne. It is a nice place. I love my job and my little house here, but that isn’t enough to induce tears. It is not home. Home, for me, isn’t about where I am. Home is the people and place that you cannot wait to get to and cannot bear to leave.

Home isn’t something that follows me. It is something that I return to, again and again.