Creative Nonfiction

Creative Nonfiction Issue #72



In Kansas City, Missouri, where I grew up, tornadoes are an uncomfortable fact of life. At least once every spring the sirens went off and we’d look up, like plucky wartime Britons scanning the sky for incoming Stukas. You’d think about what cover was available, where the nearest basement or ditch was. It was usually raining hard, or strong gusts of wind were driving fat raindrops into your face. The sky was sickly gray-green and smeared with huge, ugly cloud bruises. If only it was dive bombers screeching down. If only.


I’ve had three experiences with tornadoes. The most recent was when I was 24, living in a farmhouse in Olathe, soon to leave the Midwest forever and migrate to safer environs on the San Andreas fault. My two roommates and I were closely monitoring the weather reports when the sirens went off. We pushed the kitchen table aside and opened the trap door that led down to a black root cellar. We had never ventured down there and had no desire to; it looked cold and wet and spidery. We left the trap door open and went out on the front porch. In the field across the highway, three long, slender funnel clouds gyrated together. If they had moved towards us we would have jumped in our rabbit hole, but they didn’t. We stood there, sipping our beers, and watched them dance away.

We were cool dudes, just beginning our real lives. We weren’t afraid of no tornadoes.

A far murkier memory: I was twelve when the sirens erupted. Sister Mary Theodautus, the oldest nun on the planet, lined up her eighth graders and led us across the playground to the safety of the convent basement. We had rehearsed this drill before and always loved the break from long division and sentence diagramming. But it was different now; rain pelted us, biting winds buffeted us, and the sky roiled with dark, ugly clouds straining to birth something horrible. Sister Mary Theodautus was not only the oldest nun on the planet; she was the slowest. We had nicknamed her “Turtle,” and now we were creeping behind her, across the endless plain of the asphalt playground, fifty kids in two neat columns. We glanced wildly at each other, every one of us desperate to break out in a mad dash for safety, but more afraid of Turtle’s ire than we were of funnel clouds. She’d grab you by the shoulders and shake you. A tornado couldn’t be worse than that, most of us figured.

And once I was four, standing in complete blackness with my mother behind me, her hand on my shoulder. My father was gone. Something inconceivable roared overhead.


 On May 20th, 1957, my mother Marie spent the morning outdoors. Spring and autumn in Missouri almost compensate for summer and winter. You linger outdoors in May and gulp down the fresh, wet, muddy air, knowing the sauna of July will come soon enough, drive you inside to breathe refrigeration.

That day, Marie helped our neighbor Pat plant a tree near her house—too near, Marie thought. Everyone in the new subdivision was planting trees, and every tree was six feet tall. Then she hung her laundry to dry; in May, she could hang it outside, instead of in the garage. Wet laundry was a constant problem to solve, what with a husband, four kids, and her mother in the household. Marie’s husband Don, my father, had left early that Monday morning on a sales trip to western Kansas. He would be there for most of the week, crisscrossing the state’s grid of gravel roads, but Marie was used to his frequent absences. We kids were good and she kept us close. Grandma Suzanne, sweet and apologetic, was beaten down by strokes and horrible rheumatism; she could barely walk and rarely left her chair in the living room. She was easy to keep track of.

Getting her older sons Kent and Drew off to school. Hanging laundry. Gabbing with her neighbors. Planting a tree. Fixing me and my sister Lori sandwiches for lunch. Washing dishes, throwing more dirty clothes into the washing machine in the kitchen. That’s how Monday morning, May 20th, passed for my mother.


The Ruskin Heights tornado of 1957 was part of a flurry of 57 (coincidence!) twisters that hit the Midwest from May 19th-21st, now referred to as the Central Plains Outbreak. On May 20th of that year, the U.S. Weather Bureau registered the highest one-day count of tornadoes yet recorded. Fifty twisters flicked down that day. (That record sounds impressive but it’s been steadily exceeded; the current champ is the 2011 Super Outbreak, during which 216 tornadoes touched the ground on April 27th.) One of those fifty twisters hit Concordia, Kansas, and flung hail around that measured seven inches in diameter. 

But those were small potatoes compared to what the Ruskin Heights tornado, the big guy in the bunch, wrought. That tornado touched down in Williamsburg, Kansas, and didn’t leave the ground for two hours; its path was 71 miles long and peaked at 700 yards wide. That one didn’t “flick down.” It was a Hound from Hell, licking the earth with a huge black slobbering tongue. It killed 44 people, including my brother’s best friend, and injured 531 others.

It’s called the Ruskin Heights tornado because that’s where the most people died.

We were in our neighbor’s basement when it rolled over us like a funeral train.


Don was not looking forward to his week in Kansas because it required more driving than he liked doing. His customers were spread across the huge state in little towns linked by interminable gravel roads and two-lane highways. Don grew up on a farm and he found the hilly farmland of Missouri vastly preferable to the boring, endless mud fields of Kansas. His auto-store clients were mostly ex-farmers, forced into retirement and driven from their land by agricultural industrialization. They were no longer patient and stoic. That day, he had to retrieve a crate of defective brake linings from one notoriously cranky distributor. But he was good at his job and moving quickly up the company hierarchy; he’d be off the road soon, safe in some office. He drove without stopping for six hours and reached Hays at noon. He got some lunch and began his sales calls.


In 1957, the U.S. Weather Bureau had just begun using radar to monitor weather fronts, utilizing old surplus units left over from World War II. The local weather and radar observation post was located at Kansas City Municipal Airport, and that office communicated with the media using teletype. If you have no idea what teletype is, and I don’t blame you, it’s basically a bunch of electric typewriters wired together that can message each other. If you worked for a radio station and were monitoring the endless newsfeed on the teletype machine, you might spot a weather bulletin and relay the urgent message to your listening audience, but not every station concerned itself with “news.” 

There was no mandate and no integrated system in place for disseminating emergency information. In fact, in 1957, the term “tornado warning” was not part of the U.S. Weather Bureau lexicon. So, if you were a person who habitually listened to station WDAF on your FM dial, you got the warning; if you were tuned into the far more popular WHB (810 AM), you were listening to the top 40s, jitterbugging along.

TV stations were better at interrupting programming with breaking news; 78.6% of American households had TVs in 1957. But the vast wasteland had meager, dreary pickings, especially during the day, and few people were watching when the first teletype warnings began to go out at 11:00 AM.


Those early alarms were entitled “Severe Weather Forecast #167.” They alerted all weather offices to the threat of severe weather, including tornadoes, for a large area including Kansas City. It was updated at 1:30 PM to include actual tornado sightings. “Severe Weather Forecast #168” went out on the teletype at 3:28 PM, reporting the tornado at Concordia with the humongous hail.


Marie loved her afternoons, when her chores were done and she could sit quietly with her mother and peruse the Reader’s Digest or work crossword puzzles, her favorite hobby. Lori and I would take our naps and then play together, rarely fussing. Grandma always had the TV on, and sometimes Marie would do the ironing and watch along, as she did that day.


It was windy and dusty in western Kansas and Don was exhausted from the drive, so he cut his sales calls short and checked into his motel. He showered and took a short nap. There was no TV in the motel room but when he woke, he turned on the radio; he hated being alone and music eased his loneliness. He already missed his wife and kids. He sat on the bed and did paperwork, tapping his pencil to Buddy Holly and the Crickets.


“Severe Weather Forecast #169” at 4:30 PM called for “Scattered severe thunderstorms and several tornados (sic) for the rest of the afternoon and until 9:00 PM this evening.” The teletype message identified the area targeted by these storms as “bounded by a line from 40 miles north of Grand Island, Nebraska, to Salina, Kansas, to 30 miles west-northwest of Wichita Falls, Texas, to McAlester, Oklahoma to Joplin, Missouri to 50 miles southeast of St. Joseph, Missouri to 20 miles west of Des Moines, Iowa to 40 miles north of Grand Island, Nebraska.” This alert outlined an area that was roughly 575 miles long and 275 miles wide—about 158,000 square miles. 

They were still working on the accuracy thing. 

If you were listening to WDAF, this forecast did not focus your mind. If you were listening to WHB, you just kept jitterbugging.


There are no “heights” in Ruskin Heights; the neighborhood is flat as a pancake. And it is unlikely the first tract housing development in Kansas City was named in honor of the 19th-century English essayist and art critic, John Ruskin. Perhaps the general contractor’s name was Bill Ruskin; perhaps he was the son of Polish immigrants who changed their name from “Ruskinsky” when they arrived at Ellis Island with dreams and ambition. Perhaps their son became a rich American building hundreds of cheap houses without basements, popping out two or three a week. 

Ruskin Heights would have been the crown jewel of his empire.

My parents had dreams and ambition too. Not for wealth and power but for a quiet, secure life. Marie lived in an orphanage during the Great Depression. Her mother, Suzanne, was fourteen years old when she emigrated from Romania in 1904. She soon married Adolph, a German pastry chef, and bore him six children. Adolph was an alcoholic who continually beat Suzanne. One of their children died at birth, one from exposure when a drunken Adolph locked the five-year-old out of the house on a wet winter day. Divorce was forbidden but Suzanne’s pastor sought an annulment on her behalf, and the Catholic Church eventually granted it, an exceedingly uncommon, even astounding, act in those days. In retaliation, Adolph abandoned his family but continued living just blocks away.

Suzanne had no skills and spoke broken English; she found random cleaning jobs but couldn’t keep her children. For five years they lived in the orphanage. Eventually the local parish hired her full time, to mop out classrooms and polish marble altars, and she was able to retrieve her children. They were finally together but still impoverished, constantly evicted from one apartment after another when Suzanne could not make the rent. Then the family would pile their belongings into wagons and pull them down the sidewalk to the next flat the Monsignor managed to scrounge up. Meanwhile, Adolf worked at the Bellerive Hotel and sometimes Marie walked there to beg money for school supplies.

The hard life broke Suzanne’s health, and by the time Marie graduated from high school she was her mother’s caretaker. It was difficult to imagine any man wanting to marry her, what with her mother in tow. Her parents’ example didn’t inspire much enthusiasm. Plus, World War II broke out, and there weren’t many men around. Marriage and a family seemed unlikely.

Don dropped out of high school to join the Marines after Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was seventeen. He moved to Kansas City to work in a war plant for six months, until he turned eighteen and could enlist. That’s where he met Marie. They corresponded throughout the war. He fought at Roi-Namur, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima, with the 4th Marine Division, and was awarded two Purple Hearts. After the war, he returned to Kansas City, to Marie.

When Don called her from the Union Station in town, she scurried around her office to find bobby pins to fix her hair, because she had gotten drenched walking to work that morning. She was rattling on to everyone, Don is home! Then she turned around and there he was: twenty years old, tall, with thick black hair, incredibly handsome. She fell in love with him.

But Marie was five years older—too old for Don, she thought. Plus, she was Catholic; he wasn’t. For months she kept fixing him up with younger girlfriends. Finally he told her, “Let’s not play any more games, Marie. I don’t want to date anyone else. You know I love you and I want us to settle down and get married.” They did that.

They had lived through enough turbulence and upheaval. All they wanted was peace, and a big family.


The thunderstorm warnings on TV troubled Marie because my brother Kent had baseball practice that evening; he’d be disappointed if it was canceled. Tornadoes were spotted out in Kansas somewhere, but that didn’t concern her. Somehow, she felt the city provided protection against tornadoes; they only touched down in the country. The rain was the real problem. But the rain did not come. She fixed dinner and kept checking the sky; it was gusty but cloudless. Baseball practice would not be canceled, so she called her kids and mother to the table for an early dinner. She turned off the TV. Marie would hear no more weather updates.

The teletype messages she never heard:

5:30 P.M.: “A severe thunderstorm at Emporia Kansas was giving hail up to 1 inch in diameter. Radar at the Kansas City weather bureau showed the storm to be very severe and moving northeastward in the general direction of Kansas City at about 50 miles per hour.

6:05 P.M.: “The severe thunderstorm mentioned at 5:30 P.M. at Emporia, Kansas is now centered 55 miles southwest of Kansas City and continues to move in this direction. It is now several separate cells and is still severe. “ 

6:30 P.M.: “A funnel cloud touching the ground was sighted 40 miles Southwest of Kansas City moving northeastward.”

7:15 P.M.: “Radar shows the largest thunderstorm cell from the southwest portion of Kansas City, southwestward to the vicinity of Olathe. There have been numerous unconfirmed reports of tornadoes from this massive storm.” 

7:23 P.M.: “Radar at the airport shows an echo which appears to be very severe just 3 or 4 miles southeast of Olathe, Kansas, moving northeastward.”

7:37 P.M.: “Airline pilot reports funnel cloud 2 miles west of Grandview Airport.”


After dinner, Marie took Kent to baseball practice, taking me and Lori with her and leaving her mother and my brother Drew behind. Drew wanted to ride his bike with a friend, the neighborhood kids always played on their own. She had a grocery list and planned to do her shopping while Kent practiced, but the weather made her hesitate. The sun was out, the sky clear, but strong gusts of wind carrying specks of rain would blow suddenly across her face. The sky was strangely colored. She felt uneasy leaving 10-year-old Kent alone.

Around 6:30, dark thunder clouds swept in, and the coaches ended practice as a light rain began to fall. Lori and I had to use the bathroom, so Marie detoured home on her way to the grocery store. She passed Drew pedaling home in the drizzle. Grandma had gotten drenched taking in the laundry and was in her chair wearing her bathrobe, watching The Huntley-Brinkley Report. Intent on getting her shopping done, Marie herded all of us kids back into the car. Normally she would have left us at home with Grandma (and my brothers would have headed out to play) but she wanted to keep her children near.

She finished shopping and drove home in pouring rain. The windshield wipers could barely keep up. Then the rain stopped, but the wind nearly blew her over as she carried the first bag of groceries into the house and set it on the kitchen table. A weather alert on the TV her mother was watching caught her attention.


Don ate dinner in the coffee shop attached to his motel. Then he decided to sit in the motel lobby and read the newspaper there. The TV in the lobby was blaring out an Arthur Godfrey show. Don didn’t like TV and he didn’t like Arthur Godfrey. He reached over to turn it off when a news bulletin came across the screen, reporting a strong tornado hitting southern Kansas City. A shopping center at 110th and Blue Ridge Road was heavily damaged. That was blocks from his house. He rushed to his room to call Marie.


Marie’s phone rang; it was her next-door neighbor. Pat’s husband Jack was still not home from work. “That tree we planted is beating on my window. I’m afraid it’s going to break that window. I don’t know what to do,” she said.


“What’s a funnel cloud?” Marie asked her.


“It’s like a tornado. Why?”


“One was just spotted in Grandview.”


“You better get over here.” Pat and Jack were the only neighbors Marie knew who had an actual basement.


Marie hung up. “We’re going next door,” she told her kids, who were all standing in the kitchen watching her.


“I can’t leave the house,” her mother protested. “I’m in my bathrobe!”


“We’re going next door,” Marie repeated. She grabbed her crossword puzzle book and pulled her mother out of her chair. “Kent, help me.” Together they walked Suzanne out of the kitchen and across the driveway to Pat’s house.


The rest of us ran ahead. The wind was ferocious but it delighted us; laughing, we leaned into it without falling to the ground.


Pat met us at her kitchen door. “You guys go on down. I’m going to get some pillows and blankets.”


“No, Pat. Let’s go downstairs now. We need to go down now.”


Pat saw the look on Marie’s face and didn’t argue. She led us out to the garage and down the stairs to the basement. We were heading toward an old couch against the far wall when the lights went out.


The phone rang and rang. No one answered. Don called Marie every night at this time, and she always answered. He called the operator.

“If the phone’s ringing, that’s good news,” she told him. “If it’s busy, that could mean trouble.”


“What about the tornado?” Don asked her.


“I haven’t heard about any tornado.”


He hung up, threw his things into his suitcase, and began driving home.


Marie kept moving us in complete blackness towards the far wall. Then immense, shuddering noise froze us. Something huge and horrible rumbled above, grinding against the ceiling. I imagined a giant train. Dust sprinkled down. The night howled, the world was shaking. My mother was holding grandma’s arm and had one hand on my shoulder, but she didn’t know where the rest of her children were. When the awful din subsided, Marie called to us; we were all huddled round her. Then she started to pray, but not the standard prayers. “Help us God. God, help us. Sweet Jesus.” All of us were crying.


Light began filtering in through the basement windows. Mom seated Grandma on the couch, and she and Pat peered out through the basement window wells but could see nothing but blue roof shingles on the ground. Pat’s next-door neighbor had just re-roofed their house a few days before. Marie felt her way through the dim basement, to the stairwell door, to see what had happened. The stairwell was filled with lumber and rubble. We were trapped down there. Water from broken pipes had started flooding the basement, and Marie was quickly ankle-deep. She realized if the power came back on, she might be electrocuted. She moved away from the water, back to her whimpering children.


Almost immediately we heard firetruck and ambulance sirens, and within minutes a voice was bellowing from the top of the stairs: “Is anyone down there?”


The drive home normally took six hours, but Don drove wildly fast and made it in four and a half. The news he could pick up on the radio made him sick with worry. Ruskin Heights, it seemed, had been wiped off the planet.


In Salina, he pulled into a gas station and called home again. This time he got a busy signal. He called Marie’s brother, Ed, who told him that Marie and the children were OK. They were on their way now to Ed’s house.


At 2 a.m., Don pulled into Ed’s driveway. Marie and Kent greeted him at the door. He embraced his wife, tears streaming down his face. Don was no longer a man who cried; by the time he’d waded ashore at Iwo Jima, he was past shedding tears. But he cried now. “Thank you, my darling, thank you,” was all he could say, over and over.

Kent was glued to the radio. After we had all been pulled from the basement, we were taken to the fire station to recover. That’s where Kent had learned his best friend R.W. was missing. R.W.’s mother was found trapped in the rubble of their house, screaming for her son. We were all exhausted by that point, but Kent refused to lie down; he wouldn’t rest until he knew R.W. was okay.


My father put Kent on his lap and they listened to the news together. Near dawn they learned that R.W. had been blown off his bike as he pedaled home. A deep freezer then fell on the nine-year-old boy and crushed him.


The Fujita Scale was developed in 1971 by the meteorologist Ted Fujita and applied retroactively to recorded tornadoes. It measures a tornado’s strength and wind speed based on the amount of structural damage caused, with F5 being the highest score, assigned to those tornadoes causing “incredible damage.” The wind speed of F5 tornadoes is estimated to be more than 261 mph; by comparison, a Category 5 hurricane has a wind-speed greater than 157 mph. 

The F-Scale, however, was a crude measurement, making no allowance for evolving building codes or engineering principles, nor for tornadoes that didn’t touch down, or for those that merely flattened a corn field. It was replaced in 2007 with the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF-Scale), a more nuanced measurement which takes 28 damage indicators into account.

Still, both scales merely estimate a given tornado’s actual strength and wind speed. Because tornadoes are so transitory and unpredictable, their actual wind speed frequently eludes measurement. What the Fujita scale does reliably measure is the damage a tornado causes, as if we were to guess a mugger’s size by counting the number of broken bones, lacerations, and bruises on the victim’s (possibly dead) body. 

Recent technology, such as mobile Doppler radar, has made inroads in this regard. Such radar recorded winds as high as 324 mph during the 1999 Bridge Creek-Moore tornado in Oklahoma—the highest wind speed ever recorded on earth. Thirty-six people died.

We can also accurately measure the physical size of funnel clouds. The largest tornado on record, 2.6 miles wide, was the 2013 El Reno tornado, also in Oklahoma. (A state filled, coincidentally, with climate change deniers. To be fair, we don’t have the historical data to conclude that climate-change is making tornadoes worse. But the strongest and biggest ones on record are happening now.) Doppler radar recorded El Reno winds up to 302 miles per hour. However, this tornado was only rated EF3 since it did not level any buildings. It whirled around in the middle of nowhere. Still, the National Weather Service declared it “the most dangerous tornado in storm observing history.” Eight people were killed, four of them storm chasers.

The number of human fatalities does not figure into the Enhanced Fujita scale. The Tri-State tornado of 1925 killed 695 people, but it was retroactively (and unofficially) rated F5 because it completely leveled two towns (completely—not a wall left standing) and inflicted “incredible damage” on many others, including Murphysboro, Illinois, where 234 people were killed, the highest tornado-related death toll in a single U.S. city.

At one time, Ted Fujita toyed with the idea of adding an “F6” gradient to his scale to cover, what he called, “inconceivable damage.” The 1974 Super Outbreak tornado in Xenia, Ohio left 32 dead. It was just one of seven F5 tornadoes that touched down that day across five states. That and the 1977 Smithfield tornado in Alabama, which left 22 dead, were both considered by Fujita as good candidates for such distinction based on aerial photographs he studied.

But he resisted the impulse and stuck with the six damage gradients he initially formulated: “Light,” “Moderate,” “Significant,” “Severe,” “Devastating,” and “Incredible.” Nothing inconceivable.


I had turned four a few days before the Ruskin tornado. I have no memory of the event, save for the darkness, my mother standing behind me, and the train I thought was rushing overhead. What’s recorded here is drawn from my mother’s stories and written accounts. Our house was obliterated; all that was left standing were the two walls of the hall closet where coats were hung. The coats were gone, but a shelf above the coat rack still precariously protruded, and on the shelf was an untouched bottle of cognac. It was the only alcohol in the house, kept for dinner guests. Our closet and cognac were widely photographed by survivors allowed to scavenge for personal effects, or so my mother told us, which amused and embarrassed her at the time. She didn’t want her neighbors to think she and Don were drinkers.

We lost clothes and furniture, family records and photographs, much of my father’s war memorabilia. But most things were quickly replaced; in those days people didn’t have as much stuff as they do now. And for me, the Ruskin Heights tornado was never a traumatic experience. Far from it. To this day, it’s a good story to tell, five minutes of minor celebrity status as the tornado survivor. Even for my mother it was not traumatic. She loved telling the story, too, and took special pride, as well she should have, in the role she played guiding her family to safety. She was a small actor in a big historical drama; she kept all the newspapers, none of which mentioned our family name.

The story she didn’t like to tell took place seven months later. It was also in the newspapers, and our family name figured prominently. 


I’ve often wondered what kind of tornado Fujita envisioned when he played around with that “inconceivable” designation. Such a tornado must cause destruction that transcends the physical—a tornado so sudden and unbelievably vicious, with such horrid tentacles reaching down that it not only obliterates a town, but the possibility of town. Even the memory of town. The two tornadoes that so impressed Fujita had not only wiped away houses—they’d gouged into the earth and lifted basements out. They left nothing behind but scars.

Ruskin Heights was rebuilt within a year, and within two years, no one could tell anything bad had ever happened there: all the sod and saplings restored, the cheap starter homes, still without basements, popping back up like dandelions.

R.W.’s mother never recovered, though. Her little boy was plucked away while riding his bike on a spring evening. When she was pinned beneath the rubble of her home, her legs were mangled. Several toes were amputated and she never walked unaided again. She almost never left her living room chair, falling into a life-long depression. Practically the only visitors she allowed were my mom and Kent.

For Marie, the Ruskin Heights tornado turned out to be a mere dress rehearsal. 

Seven months later, in December, my father was on another sales trip in Kansas. It’s a myth that tornadoes never occur in winter; they do. But the skies were clear that cold wet day as he and a customer, Jack Wenzel, drove fast down a gravel road outside Winfield, Kansas. Wenzel was driving. They must have been deeply engaged in conversation, perhaps about brake linings, because the road was flat and straight, and nothing but mud fields stretched out around them. A pick-up truck hauling a trailer full of silage pulled out in front of them, and Wenzel blew right through a stop sign, T-boning it. Both men were killed instantly, according to the highway patrol.

That night we huddled together and cried in the dining room of the rental we moved into after our home was destroyed. We children tried to comfort our mother, hugging her and patting her back as she wailed. But there was no refuge from this blow, no walking away. Our family had been leveled by a wicked combination, left-right: a sharp jab we managed to shrug off, setting up a haymaker.

My father was killed instantly. Whirled straight up to heaven, mom firmly believed, even though he never did convert. But he was a good man, the best possible man, mother insisted. Gentle, generous, always laughing, never complaining—a man so ideal, so unblemished that he never became real for me. I have almost no memories of him; I’ve lived my entire life pondering his absence and how that vacancy molded me. The image of him inhabiting my mind is a company photo, fished from the rubble of our home. After he died, we framed and placed it on the table by the front door. As the years passed and I outlived him, lapped him, I found less and less resemblance between us. Now seventy, I look nothing like the young man snatched away and hurled into the clouds. 

My mother led us to safety that May night, all by herself, and she wound up shepherding us for the next twenty years, all by herself. She never dated again. No man, except a plumber or electrician, ever entered our house. Replacing her husband, our father, was inconceivable. 

By Brad Shurmantine

Brad Shurmantine lives in Napa, Ca., where he writes, reads, naps, and tends three gardens (sand, water, vegetable), seven chickens, two cats, and two bee hives. He backpacks in the Sierras, travels when he can, and prefers George Eliot to Charles Dickens, or almost anyone. Website: