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Clay Henry

Tornado changed the sounds in Baxter County

Surveying the destruction left behind from EF3 tornado in Baxter leaving a wake of damage affecting homes, destroying work.

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This was supposed to be the peak of the cicada hatch on the Norfork River. I planned for it over four months ago. It was a bit of a guess on the timing because it’s been 13 years since we last saw those bugs on the southern end of Baxter County.

The hatch would begin when the ground temperatures reached 64. That would probably happen in mid May. It could last for five to six weeks, with the peak in early June.

But I wanted to be ready. I went to YouTube in late February and watched about one dozen videos on how to tie cicada patterns. I wanted one that a middle of the road tyer could handle. Mainly, I tie midge patterns, in particular ruby and root beer in sizes 20, 18, 16 and 14.

I volunteer one day a week at Two Rivers Fly Shop in the heart of Norfork, 2.5 miles from my home in the woods about 500 yards up a ridge above the catch and release zone of the Norfork River.

Jean Ann and I just began our seventh year as permanent residents of Norfork. I’ve been helping at the fly shop for just over two years.

I started hyping the cicada pattern on Facebook and my radio spots at ESPN Arkansas about two months ago. I first tied a pattern called the Super Simple Cicada, exactly as expert Tim Flagler detailed in the video.

I gradually changed it into my own pattern. It evolved over two months from natural deer fibers, to dyed orange fibers and from a post of orange floating yarn to a white post as recommended by guide Kristopher Bouldin, my son-in-law.

Bouldin said the fish don’t see the post (or anything else above the water) and white is easier for guides to spot on the water. If the fly lands right, the white is sticking up. If the guide can’t see white, it needs to be recast.

The pattern worked. Almost 300 have been sold at the fly shop, but I won’t need the supplies that I’ve accumulated for another couple hundred. The hatch is about over except for stretches of the White River near Bull Shoals Dam or in the first few hundred yards of the Norfork. There are no cicadas anywhere else on our grand tailwaters.

I am still tying cicadas, just not dozens a day like in May. And, I’m quicker. Like with any pattern, the more you tie it, the faster you get. I’ve gone from almost 10 minutes for a pretty cicada to about six minutes. I was making about two dozen during a Razorback baseball game during the two weeks of postseason play.

Cicata flies

How fast I tie a cicada fly became irrelevant early in the morning hours of Sunday, May 26. I had gotten an emergency call from guide Oscar Chapman about 8 p.m. Saturday as we watched TV. Could I get him at least four that night? He was going to meet clients at 6 a.m. Sunday before our shop opened. He’d have to leave home around 5:15 a.m.

Sure. I got them done and in 30 minutes Oscar was on my porch. My last words to him as he walked off the porch concerned a potential early morning storm that the TV guys out of Springfield, Mo., had warned about on the 6 o’clock news.

Little did we know that at 6 a.m. Sunday the trees in our part of Baxter County were still falling and the metal from trailers and roofs were still flying through the air. There was no guide trip.

I was in a basement bedroom (below ground level) as the southern edge of an EF3 tornado ripped over my home. I could hear that awful sound I’d heard so many tornado victims talk about. My ears were popping from pressure changes, but there it was, a freight train chugging right above us as we huddled, three people and two dogs in a bed.

We had a few trees down in the woods around our home, but mainly the stuff that had to be dealt with were limbs and maybe 1 million sticks. There were also some roof shingles in the yard, but not from our homes. Best we could tell, they were from Salesville, about four miles away. That little town was shredded and one life was lost, a lady tossed 300 yards from her mobile home.

I’d heard of the issues in Salesville (and wondered about friends there) about mid morning Sunday. That was as a dozen of our neighbors began to clear treetops from our three roads that converge near the river and out to Highway 5. We had handsaws, loppers and a few chainsaws. We cleared one lane through about 60 trees.

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One by one, we also helped friends clear a path through their driveways, if it was even possible. We even had some guests in rental properties on the river lend a hand. That seemed like a fine gesture until it hit us that those folks wanted to go home. Nonetheless, we made new friends and thanked them.

It was a devastating storm, first hitting Decatur in far northwest Benton County. It ripped Rogers apart and skipped here and there on an east west path along US 412. Because of a week without power, we evacuated two days later to a luxury cabin on the Buffalo River near Snowball along that path. We saw devastation in Snow and Valley Springs.

Tree on a boat

When we returned and began the cleanup around our house it finally hit me that I needed to drive north on highway 5 to check on friends in Salesville. The first place I went was to the home of Marvin Scates, a craftsman who built our garage and an add-on den when we first moved to Norfork.

Marvin had just built a new home next to his old home (that he did not build) and a massive 40×40 garage. As I pulled off the highway, I wondered if it was a good idea to even bother Marvin. He was climbing off the roof. He had just secured a tarp where his roof once was, for the second time.

“I need a break,” Marvin said. “I’ll take you inside.”

I wanted to hug Marvin and in the same moment felt like crying. He smiled.

“Hey, it’s all good,” he said. “We are still alive.”

Marvin had finished that place 18 months ago. He was still adding furnishings. The day before the perfect sectional arrived. You could sit there and see blue sky above until Marvin put the tarp on again.

I love Marvin’s work. That the garage and his new home are still standing is a testament to his work. When others would use a 2×4, he uses two 2x6s.

When he built my garage with the more expensive 2x6s, I asked if it would be cheaper with a 2×4. He said he didn’t want t build for anyone who didn’t let him build it his way.

That his structures survived in the eye of the storm tells the story. There is nothing but slabs left when you turn in about any direction – except for what he built.

Marvin had built a storm room in the basement of his new home, but there wasn’t time to get there when the tornado hit.

“You have to go outside and there were too many things flying through the air,” he said. “It sounded like a freight train.”

Some of those things – trees, pieces of roofs and steel beams – turned into missiles. They left two foot holes in Marvin’s walls.

Harry Potter tree after storm

Marvin explained the way some of his stuff disappeared in a matter of fact way that only happens when you are numb. It was just stuff. Some of that stuff blew all the way to Lake Norfork about two miles away.

Slowly, we got to the tales of what had happened to Marvin’s neighbors. He called them by name and pointed to the direction of where there homes once stood. He knew the exact story on his nearby friend who was killed and how. I won’t retell it.

It’s been almost two weeks and no one is close to being whole again. Some have relocated to rental properties in other parts of the county. There is one constant noise in the air, the combination roar of home generators and chain saws. Most are not close to clearing the hundreds of thousands of mature oaks and pines that criss-cross their properties. Some will never be touched.

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My daughter and son-in-law live about 600 yards away from us, at the top of the hill near the cul de sac that changes from Norfork to Salesville. They have around 200 massive trees down on their 10 acres. Some have been cleared, three removed from atop a pickup truck and his guide boat, both no doubt totaled.

Like us, nothing did anything major to their home. Others in our neighborhood were not as lucky. Trees are on their roofs, or blocking their garage exit.

I found out I can run a chainsaw this week. I turned the huge limbs from our Harry Potter white oak – big enough for the five tree houses we never built – into firewood for the next two winters. There are a couple of other trees in our woods that will just be jump overs for our huge deer herd.

Firewood

I don’t know where the deer go in a tornado, but they are back. So are the hummingbirds, cardinals and so many other songbirds that love our back deck and the feeders Jean Ann provides.

But the cicadas are gone. They were here by the billions two weeks ago. They hummed sweet music to my ears. They were the reason I tied dozens and dozens of cicadas deep into the night. I filled the bins at the fly shop with a dozen fresh ties each morning. They would be gone by lunch time.

It’s wonderful to create something and elite guides buy them in bulk each day. What I tied was a variation of another pattern, but my adjustments and the way I added cement and a floating post made it mine. That’s cool.

I’ve been tying patterns created by others for the last two decades. I longed to come up with my own.

I was fishing it with limited success Thursday. I caught a few trout, but mainly they were not interested in a cicada. They were no longer falling from the sycamore trees.

There was a film crew from out of state working near me. They had come to Norfork because they thought it would be the peak of the cicada hatch. They said they were greatly disappointed, but filmed anyway. There was an expensive camera drone flying above a handful of fly fishers – and me — in the heart of the catch and release zone of the Norfork.

It made a loud buzz. It should have been inaudible. The cicadas had been much louder two weeks ago in that very stretch when I wrecked big trout on my cicada.

Trout

That was the weekend that I found out John Streckewald put a sign over the bin with my cicada flies. AKA Malibu John is one of our fly shop regulars, just back from St. Thomas where he captains fishing rigs. The man with a great nickname came up with a name for my creation. The post it note said: Clay Henry’s Flies, the CiClaydas.

I could be sad about the end of the cicada hatch on the Norfork, probably three weeks early. A cicada hatch starts slowly and ends slowly. So until the 130 mph winds hit, it was clear that the cicada hatch had not started to wind down.

There are other thoughts about the abrupt end of the hatch. Did the cicadas fulfill their mission, to breed and bury into the ground to return in 13 years? Will it be another grand hatch in 2037?

I can’t worry about those questions. I just want to know if Marvin’s house is going to be OK, or will the insurance adjusters write it off as totaled? What will southern Baxter County look like in 2037?

The cicadas are gone but no one in Baxter County really cares.

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