“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
~ Robert Frost
Tuesday, I headed due north, not really having a sound destination save perhaps a city in Kansas like Wichita or Topeka. I was traveling along a country byway when I came to a fork in the road; to the right was pavement with a painted yellow line dividing the blacktop equally; to the left, an Oklahoma, red-dirt, farm road that funneled into a gauntlet of corn. I thought of Robert Frost’s poem and how I started this trip with the idea of seeing rural America. I veered left onto the dirt road “and that has made all the difference” in this day.
I had so much fun celebrating this amazing journey that I’m on, feeling so free, laughing at where I was in the world – one month ago, Warwick, Rhode Island; on this day, bouncing down some muddy, red-dirt farm road alone in Who-knows-where, Oklahoma, seeing whatever there was to see. It’s funny where life takes you from one moment to the next. I am so grateful!
So I’m driving down the middle of some backroad, in the middle of farm country, somewhere in Middle America, when I came upon a sign that seemed familiar.
Does it seem familiar to you?
I looked it up on the Internet. (Can you believe I had 3G network out here?) The reason the name seemed familiar is because the town of Wakita is the very town that Steven Spielberg and crew filmed the movie, Twister
So I got back on the blacktop and rolled into the town of Wakita.
There’s not much going on in this town. There’s a market and there’s a museum dedicated to the movie, Twister
, not much else. The town’s major claim to fame is
the movie. The museum, a little two-room storefront has limited afternoon hours and a phone number to call if no one’s there. Luckily, on this afternoon the museum was open and I was greeted by a lovely caretaker named Linda who seems to be the motivating force behind the museum. Linda is retired and likes to meet new people so she spends her afternoons here. She said that the movie studio predicted they would have fans of the movie stopping through town for a year or two afterwards and that’s about it. Well, it’s been nineteen years since and people from all over the world are still visiting the town because of the movie. Linda welcomed me in, walked me around the entire exhibit, pointing out all the significant pieces and shared a number of inside stories about the filming of the movie.
Not listed: future Academy Award-winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman .
When you first walk into the museum you think they must be in the middle of remodeling because everything is scattered about like a twister just came through, but that’s part of the charm because it’s a movie about tornadoes. Plus, once you’ve had the free twenty-minute tour you realize that there is some sort of cohesion to the displays that you don’t see at first glance.
Even these doors are from the movie.
Linda said the entire town, all five blocks of Main Street, became the movie set and all of the local townsfolk could come and go as they pleased; for the whole summer of ’95.
See the fake storefronts built between the existing building?
You can see them constructing the fake storefronts in the top picture. In the bottom picture the entire town is buried in debris.
I asked Linda if the town’s residents were compensated for there troubles. She said some locals were cast as extras in the movie and were paid. The movie people wanted to destroy this one particular house so they bought the woman who lived there a new, improved house on the other side of town. Then they moved everything she owned, along with her three children, all for free. Also, the town had a lot of old, abandoned buildings that would’ve cost the town one hundred thousand dollars to remove; the movie people tore all the buildings down, used them as twister debris in the movie and then disposed of it all afterwards for free.
Aunt Meg’s house before filming.
Aunt Meg’s house after they renovated for the film.
Aunt Meg’s house after the film’s twister came through. Notice the red crane? They lifted the house took out a bottom section, then dropped it down to look like the tornado collapsed it.
Linda showed me some behind-the-scenes video. She said that Helen Hunt was a little standoff-ish but that Bill Paxton was a great guy who liked to play football with the local kids in between shooting movie scenes. Take the time to read his letter; he seems to be a very eloquent and caring person.
Behind the scenes footage
Letter from Bill Paxton
Before leaving, Linda suggested I go see the Great Salt Plains about twenty minutes up the road, so I headed in that direction and, again, I came to a fork in the road with pavement going left and a dirt road going right. I went right.
I came upon a reservoir with a campsite on the shore so I parked my XTerra with the back end facing the water, opened the back hatch and sat there watching the multitude of birds congregating in the area. Turns out this was an animal sanctuary. I never saw another human being while I was there.
I rolled out my sleeping bag to watch the setting sun when I heard a thud
on the ground next to me. I turned my head to see a Great Horned Owl standing there on the green grass, looking at me and looking around for food. That owl stayed in my campsite for the next hour, flying up to this tree branch, then over to that tree branch, then back down onto the grass, then back up to another tree branch, always looking around for some small animal to have for dinner. He was an enormous, powerful bird with razor-sharp talons and a ferocious beak. He knew I was there but didn’t seem to mind so I just sat there snapping pictures of him until the sunlight faded.
When the sun was gone it was almost pitch black at this site. The only light came from the trillions of stars hovering in the night sky. When it’s this dark you have to rely more on your other senses. I listened to the cicadas and the crickets as they chirped, whistled, and shrilled loudly in concert. When they reached a low point in their symphony I could sometimes hear the lapping of the waves on the shoreline or the rustling leaves overhead that made a sound that tricked me into thinking it was raining. When the insects were too loud you could focus on your sense of smell. The overwhelming scent was from the salt flowing from the salt plains on the other side of the lake; it smelled like a mixture of salty ocean water and dark, rich, moist earth after a rainstorm.
I don’t know who’s campsite that was or if I was supposed to be there but I was happy I found it and appreciated every moment…it was a magicical place.
I hope you dance.
The gam continues…