Friday, May 06, 2011

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Peter, my brother, in Grandpa's garden

When I lived on my boat, I woke up every morning at six AM to listen to the weather on the shortwave. I developed a notation system so I could record every variable reported. How many knots the wind would blow, the swell, the projected systems beyond the ten-day forecast. The weather was a daily, ever-present part of my life.

I remember the first tropical system that reached us. Andrea, she was called. The first named storm of the season. By the time she reached our boat she had dwindled to little more than a line of black clouds. But I remember that line of darkness. I watched them drift forward, a clear system, a line, an identifiable being. This is Andrea, I thought. She menaced on the horizon, a named thing.

She passed, and we had other storms to deal with, none severe, but it was then I figured out a meteorologist’s intimacy with her storms. I understood why they named them. Each system had its own presence, its own being, as if it was, in fact, a created individual.

One of the things I gained on the boat was the equivalent of a university degree in astronomy, meteorology, and marine science—all the ancient nautical arts. That’s not quite true (in fact, I’m rather sure it’s not true at all) but it felt that way. In order to survive, I had to study my texts, listen to the radio, dig through data. If it wasn’t a degree, it was certainly a crash course.

The storm that passed through northern Alabama and Georgia last week had that same gravity. I’ve only seen the barest edge of its passing on my drive, but my friends, the maps, and the photographs all convey that same presence. The storm had its own identity, its own individuality. The destructive force felt personal, as if it came from something with a name.

I don’t know what’s causing all of this horror. The Japanese earthquake and tsunami, this tornado, now earthquake clusters along the Maine coast and flooding in the Midwest. One thing follows another, like there’s something seriously off-kilter that needs correcting. Like it’s personal.

The Christians say rapture is near, the scientists say climate change, the Aztecs say the world is ending. I don’t know. I can’t quite believe in any of those answers (I believe in global warming, not that it causes earthquakes), but it does feel like something major is changing in our weather systems. Right? Don’t you feel that way, too? Why aren’t the scientists saying it? There has to be a reason.

Maybe there isn’t. Maybe this is how it’s always been, always will be. Years of peace, followed by years of disaster. The farmers and the sailors both know it. I’ve talked about it before, how both farmers and sailors have the same intimacy with their weather. They hug the weather to themselves, hold it next to their bodies like a lover.


Rodger said...

I appreciate the sentiments and like you miss the connection of life and weather that you experienced on the boat. These days it takes a horrific event like a tornado--or a night of hundreds of tornadoes--for the weather to have any lasting impact on our lives. When the power came back on at our house in Chattanooga (we were very lucky and only did without for about a day) I felt a twinge of regret: back on the grid, connected and therefore disconnected. Sometimes I think we might as well be living underground.

Melissa said...

Going back and reading my posts from '07 made me almost ache with longing, despite how stressed and teary and dirty I was most of the time. Being that connected to the rhythms of weather and the earth makes me feel so much more alive. I know what you mean about electricity--there's something about being separated from modern convenience that makes life more exhilarating. Not to diminish the tragedy of the tornadoes, but it does force us to realize that even in the modern world we're at the mercy of the weather.