Mother Nature can change everything in the blink of an eye. Just ask any farmer or family who’s had their life turned upside-down by a natural disaster. She has the power to contribute to a bountiful harvest or to completely devastate an entire crop and destroy homes for miles.

One year ago today I watched a tornado funnel form just west of town from my second story apartment balcony. I’d been living in the Midwest for three months and though I’d made friends at work, I spent most of my time as a recluse in my apartment.

The funnel was so small I didn’t even feel frightened or sense the need to seek shelter (sorry Mom.) I remember thinking it would probably just disperse without ever even touching the ground. However, my intrigue turned to terror as itĀ did touch down and I could see debris being tossed up into the air. I was pretty sure I knew which barn it had it just hit.

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Frozen, I cringed as the tornado careened right towards the Monsanto production facility where I work. You can see the top of our white conditioning tower just below the tip of the funnel in the picture. (Yes, I live THAT close to work!) It was about that time the eerie warning sirens began blaring from the center of town. I watched the tornado on its northeast trajectory until it disappeared from view and then I did what everyone else was doing… I jumped into my truck and headed out to check the damage.

My town was lucky that day because the small funnel eventually evolved into an EF-4 tornado that killed two people and flattened entire neighborhoods. The west side of a food processing facility, just a half mile from Monsanto, was destroyed and several barns unfortunate enough to be in its path were leveled.

Even though I didn’t know anyone at the time, I headed out bright and early a few days later to help members of the community clean up debris from hundreds of acres of fields that were set to be planted in just a matter of weeks. Together we walked six miles following the tornado’s path, picking up all kinds of debrisĀ  that would’ve prevented farmers from sowing their seeds.

It was so great seeing everyone step up and come together to help each other out. Farm houses along the way provided us with refreshments and one even invited all 30 of us into their home for a potluck-style lunch, complete with finger sandwiches and homemade desserts. I’m convinced only a farm wife would have the capability to throw together that much delicious food on such short notice.

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That was the first tornado this Texan had ever met, but looking back I also consider this the moment I truly met the Midwest. This was when my eyes were opened to the support and compassion of the agriculture community, and this was when I really came to appreciate the small community I had become a part of only a few short months before.

This event brought me out of my shell and introduced me to people that have totally changed my perception of the Midwest. This was how I met the family who welcomed my horse into their barn and me into their home for holidays when I couldn’t make it back to Texas. This was how I met members of the local fire department who convinced me to get my EMT license and become a part of something I never would’ve thought to get involved with. This was how I met people I will hold close to my heart for the rest of my life. When you leave home you never think you’ll find another place that feels quite like it did, but I have to admit this place is a very close second.

I was humbled by this storm and am grateful to have been reminded of the strength of human compassion. It’s easy to forget how empathetic and resilient the human spirit can be. Mother Nature isn’t always fair, but if you look hard enough, you can always find something beautiful about her. If not in her physical acts, then in the actions she inspires in the wake of her devastation.