Because I promised my daughter yesterday that we would go to the Friendship Square Park, after dinner the whole family set out, me in my hiking boots, which are just beginning to feel comfortable, and the kids in the big blue stroller. The air felt close and heavy but the cloudy sky still looked high and light and a fresh breeze had sprung up that ruffled our hair and cooled our sweaty backs. Downtown we stopped at the park for quite a while. The kids enjoyed the play structure and their friends from church who showed up also. Hubby and I read a book aloud while we watched them play. The capricious breeze picked up swirling handfuls of slender leaves, making me think of fall though I wished summer to last a while longer since it was so late in arriving.
At last it was time to go but instead of going home I really, really wanted to put some miles in before going to bed. So we headed west rather than towards home in spite of the increasing wind and darkening skies. The previous few days had been so unbearably hot that the cool breeze felt good although the gusts blew dust and grit into our faces. It seemed that the air was full of dust from the harvest in the surrounding fields. I had already felt my asthma grow worse through the day, a normal occurrence in the fall as the dust gets replaced by burning fields. (So far Little Mister's breathing has been normal although I watch him closely because soon the air will be full of smoke.)
We walked along the Chipman Trail which skirts the UI campus. At the kids' request we stopped for a few minutes at an elementary school playground but moved hurriedly on as the electricity in the air began to make us feel anxious. As we moved briskly along under the trees by the rec center we still felt mostly unconcerned, however, and we chatted amiably as we strode along.
It was after we had turned back toward home that the drama began. I had suggested we head back along the city street rather than the walking trail and it turned out to be a good thing we did although I did not know it at the time. As we passed Arby's and Wendy's the wind began gusting harder and harder; suddenly after crossing the next street it became a gale, driving bits of dirt into the backs of our legs and arms with sandpaper force. Spattering raindrops crashed into us like some kind of bizarre power-washer and the kids started to scream as sand flew into their eyes and hair along the side of the stroller. All around us trees began dropping limbs and had we been on the path we just vacated, we would have been in serious danger.
As it was, we were caught in the worst of the storm just outside of Jack-in-the-Box and it was there we fled for shelter. Hubby ran ahead with the stroller as fast as he could while I followed awkwardly in my stiff hiking boots. Within minutes we had reached the safety of the building where the kids calmed down although Curly Miss's eyes were red-rimmed from the irritating grit in the air.
Stranded in the brightly fluorescent restaurant, we consulted with each other on what to do. Since Hubby had on running shoes, it was decided that he would brave the storm to go home and get the car. It was over a mile to the house so I thought it was gallant of him. He left at a dead run while the storm raged and more tree limbs crashed to the ground. The rain began in earnest just as he returned with our car and began loading our children. Unsettled by the strange events, Curly was having trouble obeying but Mister was his usual unflappable self. As long as Mommy and Daddy were there, he was secure.
By now night had fallen completely and the sky looked inky black. We loaded the stroller in the driving wind and rain then drove home in the sanctuary of our Subaru. Our first priority once there was to bathe the sand out of children's hair and eyes and every body crevice where it had lodged. Finally they were clean again, pajama-clad and given their nightcap of milk. After they had been bedded and prayed over, Hubby and I sat in the darkened living room watching the lightning and listening to the rain lash against the closed front windows. Seldom have I been aware of the basic human need for shelter and never have I been caught in a dust storm of the magnitude that sand-blasts the skin directly from my body in the way that this one did. Even Jack-in-the-Box can become a haven if the storm is bad enough.