Safe Under Ominous Skies

Nikolas Noonan on Unsplash (public)

We walk down a dusty road under a green tornado sky. After sharing family Sunday dinner of corn on the cob, fried chicken, deviled eggs, and sliced tomatoes, Grandpa asked me to take a walk with him. I love going anywhere with Grandpa, but a storm is coming on. He points out dark clouds in the distance.

“We’re OK, Lanie,” he says. “They aren’t close.” I trust him.

My small soft hand curls inside his calloused farmer’s hand. His hair is white and his gait is slow and steady. As we head home, the storm strengthens. He keeps an eye on the sky and holds my hand with a strong grip as though he’s afraid I’ll disappear. When the swirling wind blows harder, an eerie howl quickens our steps before we find shelter in my parent’s garage.

Elaine with Grandpa a few years earlier

Later, Grandma says the sky turned green when Grandpa was 16 and a tornado hit his Missouri school house. That storm killed Grandpa’s beloved six-year-old sister, my Great Aunt Eliza. His eyes fill with tears when he speaks of Eliza seventy years after her death.

Ithaca College Campus, Eleanor Kay, The Ithacan, June 6, 2023

“You remind Grandpa of Eliza,” Grandma says.


Seventy years later, my world shimmers with an odd tangerine glow. I stand on the back deck of my home and keep an eye on the sky as the world turns dusty orange. Instead of tornados, ominous smoky skies come from raging Canadian wildfires and strange wind patterns.

Later, inside my house with the air purifier on high, I make a salad from my garden lettuce and arugula. I wish I had an ear of corn or a ripe tomato from Grandma’s garden, but mostly, I want to hold Grandpa’s hand.


Unlike Missouri, we rarely have violent weather in the New York Finger Lakes where I live. Locally, the worst of the Canadian fires has been  smoky air and irritated lungs, although I know the fires are leaving a path of destruction a few hundred miles from me. Have you had to deal with extreme air pollution or strange weather patterns? Do you feel safer with certain people at your side? For other articles about my Grandpa Ware, see How I Learned to Trust a Man. For more about my relationship with my dad who was Grandpa’s eldest son, see When Dad’s Die Young.

  1. Dear Elaine,

    Well, I was riveted from opening to closing line! Thank you for sharing another of your wonderful family stories. Your relationship with Grandpa Ware sounds like it was a blessing for both of you. No doubt you reminded him of Eliza, often. How healing that must’ve been.

    Here in the UK we don’t have the hurricanes (yet!) other countries have, although our storms can be fierce and floods, devastating. Living next to woodlands, much like yourself with your forest, does make me worry during the summer months when a sudden heatwave causes fires.

    Happily, we moved to our house twenty years ago and made a point of getting to know all of our immediate neighbours well, so if something happens I know we can rely on help up and down our street in both directions. It was probably one of the wisest decisions we ever made.

    Happy Litha and Solstice Blessings,


    • Your home sounds just right for you and Lin. A mix of woodlands and garden with neighbors you know. I hope Blessed Litha sends a few Monarchs my way. Today the only surviving Tree Swallow left the nest (photos on Facebook). I love my live “nature channel.” Sending you hopes for Blessed Solstice, Joyful Litha, and gorgeous spring flowers. Love from here to there.

  2. Of course, you want to hold Grandpa’s hand. I understand the impulse with loved ones also long gone. The touch you describe is palpable.

    But before that you said, “Seventy years later, my world shimmers with an odd tangerine glow. I stand on the back deck of my home and keep an eye on the sky as the world turns dusty orange.” Yes, you attribute it to the Canadian wildfires that got out of hand. But you also mention tornado skies.

    Last week our son’s family visited my daughter-in-law’s family in Ohio. The extended family stayed at a nice resort (all 14 of them!) But then a tornado struck, almost a direct hit. In the retelling, I was struck by the 4 different responses to sheltering from the storm: My daughter-in-law was worried about the whereabouts of her second child. Oldest grandson, age 19, acted nonchalant; our son started filming the spectacle but then moved indoors at the urgent screams of our youngest grandson.

    Happy summer solstice to you, Elaine. Thank you for this gift of beautifully crafted prose. 😀

    • Thanks for your comment, Marian. My limited experience of the strange hue of tornado skies (or a sky before a big hail storm) comes from my early life in Missouri. My dad was raised there on the farm where my grandparents still lived when I was young, and I lived in Missouri until I was 12. I’ve never been as close to a tornado as your family was last week although I’ve seen them in the distance. Scary! I’m glad everyone is OK. Your screaming grandson had the appropriate response.

      Blessed Summer Solstice to you and your family. I celebrated Nature’s transition by finishing your second book with its celebration of marriage last night. I haven’t felt well this spring since intense weather changes intensify Meniere’s symptoms, so everything has been delayed. (I’m now writing a short review for your book in my head.) I’m also sad that I haven’t seen one Monarch. That would give my energy a lift. Have a joyful day and may the weather treat us kindly even though my generation did not treat the Earth kindly.

      • Thank you for letting me know your status. I am praying now that you will see the flutter of a Monarch’s gauzy wing. Here’s to lifted spirits! :-Ds

  3. Wonderful story, as usual Elaine…

  4. I’ve been living with those ghastly muddled orange skies and the grey charcoal red sunsets for several years now on the west coast, days stretching into weeks sometimes. In the beginning of those first years I felt an ominous reach into my psyche, the world on fire and so much sorrow at the destruction taking place. Now I’ve come to think of it as just another spring/summer/autumn fire season. We all look at each other and shake our heads, sigh and gasp and go on with our day. We’re all in it together with no where to run, even the coastal areas are a mix of fog and smoke at times. We mourn together but never feel we are entirely safe.

    • We’ve been a little smug in the northeastern US, Jan, thinking we lived in the place where there would be fewer weather disasters. We got a correction this spring. I have friends on the west coast, so I have some idea of how hard it’s been. I’m glad the reservoirs are full, but I know there are new issues. I agree there is no place to hide and nowhere to run. We’re all in this together and we made the mess. In the unlikely case the weather gets easier, there’s always the political situation to fret about. The safety I felt as a child feels like a distant dream–and it was only a dream then, too. I just didn’t know it.

  5. Such a beautiful post Elaine. How lovely to remember the safety of Grandpa’s hand. I hope the fog/smoke from the canadian fires becomes a distant memory soon and that the monarchs return.
    Blessed Solstice to you.

    • Thanks, Susan. I immediately remembered watching ominous skies with my trusted Grandpa when the sky turned orange a few weeks ago. The air quality for my area is “Good” today. It’s the first time I’ve seen that since early June. I also hope the Monarchs will return, partly because I love them and partly because their arrival would say something about the health of the ecosystem. As of today, the days are lengthening there and shortening here. There was a lovely crescent new moon last night to mark the change. Blessings to you and your family.

  6. Oh, dear Elaine. I have heard about this horrible fire in Canada which polluted a vast area, even the US. I hope you and yours are safe and well. Seeing these old pictures and reading such beautiful memories is always lovely. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Aladin. I’m safe, but still coughing. An event like this reminds us there are no national borders in fact. Only human borders. We’re all in this climate change mess together.

  7. You’ve brought back some fond memories with this lovely piece. I spent my summers at my grandparents’ Michigan farm for many years. My grandpa was a benevolent source of comfort to me too. Grandma and Grandpa kept chickens and let me collect the eggs. I’d take them to the nearby family owned fresh food market and spend my pennies on orange dreamcicles. Or I’d walk to the drugstore in that little town where I’d buy pads of paper to write on.

    The summer I was ten, I covered 30 pages of a yellow legal pad with the beginning of a novel before I got my first case of writer’s block. Realizing I had no idea what I wanted to say, I tore it in half and dumped it in the kitchen trash can. Later that day Grandpa came to me with the pieces in his hands and with great gentleness said, “I found this in the trash. Are you sure you want to throw it away?” I said, “Yes! It’s awful.” So he turned away sadly and disposed of it. I’ve always wished I hadn’t told him to do that. I’d love to read it now!

    I’m so sorry about your air pollution from the Canadian fire. We’re at our place in the Smoky Mountains where the “smoke” is usually just a harmless haze. But this summer the air quality index is much higher than usual, to the point that there’ve been warnings for people who are at risk due to breathing issues. It’s moderate today, but nonetheless deeply disturbing to realize that the clean fresh air which I’ve always counted on here is in jeopardy.

    Thank you for your always inspiring stories that fill me with nostalgia for the kinder, gentler world I grew up in. Jeanie

    • What a sad story, Jeanie. I’m sorry your threw away your first novel draft and that the inner judge was already pushing you around. I know that guy well. He shows up early when our mothers are critics. Sweet, sweet Grandpas and husbands and sons. Our air is right on the edge of moderate today, so the best it’s been in a long time because it’s been raining on and off. It is deeply disturbing to watch nature’s struggles. No Monarchs, plus not many other butterflies. Lots of baby birds didn’t make it and nests were raided by house sparrows when the weather was so dry. My plan was to finish the Monarch book this summer, but it’s hard to feel the enthusiasm I need without them here. So on we go dealing with the world as it is, not as we want it to be.

      It’s wonderful you’re giving a workshop at the Pacifica conference. I have many friends who studied at Pacifica and I loved how they honored Marion Woodman there. I don’t know if you’ll do your workshop online or plan a trip to CA. Either way, have a wonderful experience.

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