Oklahoma Tornado Diary

A little more than a week after the EF5 in Moore, Oklahoma that inspired my last post, a record breaking EF5 hit the El Reno area. That one came really close to home. It barely missed us, but for a while it was looking like it would be a direct hit. The story of that evening and the aftermath can be found on my art blog here: “We Don’t Want You to Be Afraid”.

Lost in an Oklahoma May

A gentle sunny day
Of an Oklahoma May

The tree cotton lands
Soft like snow in my hands.

It is hard to conceive
What brief violence will leave

A home Nature shattered
Wondering what mattered

Only yesterday…


Dedicated to the Oklahoma communities affected by the May 19 & 20, 2013 tornadoes ~ Moore, Shawnee, Fallis, Carney and Bethel Acres. My Oklahoma…


Red Rocks & Granite

This post originally appeared on Artscapes.ca. I re-edited it for a writing exercise and like the results better and felt it would be appropriate to share it here. I hope you enjoy it!


Twelve months ago, I sat in my chair looking out over a snow covered Muskoka landscape, thinking that I might move house. Perhaps somewhere a few miles down the road with a little more land and a place for a bigger and above ground studio. I didn’t get out much and when I did, I didn’t go far. Leaving made me anxious. My home was everything I thought I might need, until it wasn’t.

Muskoka is now 1500 miles in my rear view mirror and the grey and pink granite is replaced with red sandstone. I catch my breath when I think about how my life has undergone a change not unlike the way an earthquake distorts and changes the landscape beyond recognition. And yet, what I thought was weak, was strong.

With my studio in boxes, I had the opportunity to explore another part of my creative self through writing. I got to explore the old buildings in my paintings in words and wrap the images in stories that gave them another dimension. I think this was something I needed to foster in order to make the most of what the year was to bring. I did things this year that I thought would be impossible for the girl living in her Muskoka world. I had to go forward. I thought the tears would never end before the cord was cut. But then after it was done, I rarely looked back. The road beckoned and I was seduced by the unknown.


The harshness of Steinbeck’s Oklahoma is still beneath the surface. The extremes of its weather and the intensity of the soil is tempered only by the gentleness of the people who live on the hard, scarred land. The desert meets the plains here. Trees twist and curl their silhouettes into a sunset coloured by red dust. Lush fields of wheat and stark plains merge in this place, a place with a heart that has been torn out more than once and whose blood has been absorbed by the soil every time.

The center of Oklahoma City is still heavy with the horror of the bombing. I found it hard to catch my breath next to the black reflecting pond at the Memorial. The city is struggling to revitalize in what has always been a boom-bust economic climate. Its resilience revealed in the spiraling tower of light in the Art Museum only blocks away. There is a quiet energy building in the streets and its culture is growing and spreading. Oklahoma City is a place of contrasts.

The siren song of red soil brought me to the Red Rock canyon where the armadillos and water wander between the sandstone cliffs. I ran my fingers over the rough stone. Crevices created by climbers and rainstorms smelled like green caves of moss and yet there was none. The stone was a mere shell in places dissolving into ochre in my hands and staining my fingers.
And then, I feel just a little bit less anxious.

Now, ‘new beginning’ takes on a whole new meaning. Thanks to you for showing me that there was something I needed to do and helping me to find the courage to do it.

48 Hours…

48 hours.

A phone call, two flights, and 48 hours until I must say goodbye, forever.

I sat in an empty apartment filled with things. These were things she chose to take with her from her house of 40 years. By the time I arrived, all of the furniture was removed and only a few lamps with tattered shades remained. Scattered on the floor and still hanging in the closets were her clothing, jewelry, letters, shoes, perfume and toothbrush – even her curlers and the scarf she would place over them while her hair dried. I would sit by her dressing table as a child while she put on her makeup, the same scarf wrapped around her head. The blue gauze of it was nearly shredded and I tossed it away.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. She was walking after her fall. She was a miracle and yet it took her breath away a little at a time, each step a little closer to the edge than none of us believed could come so quickly. I spoke to her, her voice weakened only days ago.  No one that strong is supposed to fade so fast. It was only 48 hours…

The heat inside the apartment was oppressive and I opened a door for some relief. I poured a hastily packed bag on to the carpet of the dark apartment to sort through the cards and papers, a tiny comb and many other random items pulled from the drawer beside her bed. Amongst the papers and birthday wishes were my grandfather’s passport and his identification. A piece of blue mirrored glass had come away from a cross from a long ago visit to the Martyr’s Shrine and, beneath it, a letter dated 1933 from an unfamiliar name. Traces of the wax seal still clung to the envelope. Fragile prayer cards with the images of Catholic saints littered the pile, and I turned one over wondering how long it has been since she could read the tiny text. Near the bottom, marked in her unmistakable script, the event and the year – 1939. Many of these things I had never seen before. I suppose I never asked about them if I had, unlike the tiny wedding ring and the photo of her and my grandfather standing on the Scarborough Bluffs on the day they eloped.

On the surface the papers and cards seemed inconsequential and yet she carried them with her for 80 years. I sat among the detritus of a life of someone I loved and yet, at that moment, seemed almost unknowable to me. A late autumn breeze rushed in the open door, threatening to scatter the delicate leaves of paper into oblivion.

In 48 hours, I must leave my own letter. Words of love and grief pulled up into the sky like ashes riding a current of air to seed the clouds of heaven.


The Colour of Memory

©2011 Michelle Basic Hendry

I lay awake tonight. The wind is howling as it often does here on the Great Plains. Even in January it is not the same kind of wind that embeds snow onto the sides of wailing white pines at home. How things have changed.

Lately, I am becoming obsessed with the colour red. I think it might be a lot to do with the red soil of my new home. The colour is taking over my consciousness, everything viewed through a fog of crimson. Some days are wild and full of both creative inspiration and fury; others leave me spiraling in a turmoil of my own making.

Last Thursday was one of those days and I am left reeling in the aftermath, the wave of creativity pulling out like low tide and the things my overexuberance destroyed left behind in its hasty retreat. The more forgiving might call it my merely being passionate. I suppose this is partly true. Sometimes, I feel things so deeply that they leave a mark. I catch my breath when I find that mark is spread.

Red is in everything and yet my memories are blue and green.

A song is playing on my iPod. “Newgrange”.

Twenty years ago, I was the evening DJ at a commercial radio station. It was one of three minimum wage jobs I kept the summer after graduating university in order to keep my car on the road. It was the early nineties. I would drive the 35 minutes home along winding roads at the end of my shift after midnight.  I loved that drive. My car had an upgraded stereo. I sacrificed air conditioning to have it.

The radio station was 100 miles north of Toronto. The roads here were black and silent and the stars visible above the trees. I played “Newgrange” at full volume on that upgraded stereo and the haunting sounds of a far away green land filled the awkward spaces of my blue car.

I pulled into my driveway, gravel crunched under my tires. Before me was a large expanse of Muskoka granite cast sapphire in the thin moonlight. The rock was steeply inclined to the west. I parked in the middle of the incline with 75 feet left to go up and perhaps slightly more down to the water where the granite disappeared beneath the waves of Lake Joseph. Nature’s standing stone.

The music played. The soft late summer air was tinged with autumn cool. It smelled like viridian moss and pine needles. Mist was rising over the warm water of summer into the indigo sky.

I am not sure why I remember this now. Perhaps it is because the wind is full of red dust that colours the waning crescent moon and, for a moment, I was longing the cool blue- green of sleep and memory.

©2011 Michelle Basic Hendry