August 27 2011
The deep throated winds of last night and today
Are named: Irene.
We’ve feared her, gotten ready for her coming;
She’s a guest in every family, every home and store and church.
She makes the trees to dance, their branches leaping,
Banging, brushing up against our walls;
Their singing leaves add high-pitched voice to
Irene’s roar – her stirring bass clef wind- voice
Telling us to stay inside, alea and safe.
She’s charged the atmosphere with threat – we feel the void and know we’re not in charge.
We puny humans know our place; we let go,
Grateful to hold tight among ourselves,
Happy to feel safe, protected, loved.
We look forward to tomorrow’s air,
Swept new and clean by Nature’s giant blowfest — her late summer cleaning.
Mother Nature’s moods, like ours, thank God, are transitory. If we wait, she’ll smile again.
Hurricanes are majestic. Awesome. Scary. They create legends, remain whole lifetimes in memory. Like the witches in the Wizard of Oz, natural disasters overwhelm us with their power and their intransigeance. I was born a few days into 1939, when the ”Great Hurricane” of 1938 was still fresh in people’s memories along the southern New England coast. All during my childhood, whenever we went somewhere along the coast, the grown-ups would tell us how that place had been “before the Hurricane.” That storm had swept bare the coast; as if with a magic wand, it had destroyed all evidence of the cottages, piers, rides, and dining halls that provided benign entertainment to the masses all through the early 20th century. Then in 1954, Hurricane Carol had again, along the same coast, taken out all signs of human life. I was outside during Carol, watching, rapt, while the men who lived on our street stood chest deep in the swirling tide, pushing away from our flooded houses all buildings and large boats that, wind-propelled, surged up into the bay on which we lived. Our houses sustained water damage, but the men’s heroic efforts kept our dwellings on their foundations, in contrast to many buildings that during the next days, we found smashed, as we poked among the jetsam piled along the shore. During the hurricane I remember standing outside in the wind, feeling exhilarated and also awed by the deep, throaty, penetrating moan of the constant wind. Today, when I went outside into Irene’s blast and heard the keening wind again. I remembered Carol. I thought, “Oh! The sound of a hurricane! I haven’t heard it in 57 years! “ Then, I was young – 15. Now, I’m old – 72. But despite the span of years, that’s a sound I’ve never truly forgotten. Nature has many voices, and that one says “Watch out!” Here in Durham, Irene has not been a catastrophe, but simply a minor anomaly on a summer day. Yet, her voice has reminded me of Nature’s arbitrary power, against which human strength must yield. I feel a sense of awe and excitement, at one with our living planet.