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Romanticizing Nature: Acts of God


Whenever we faced severe weather, my parents would remind me that Alabama is on the lower end of Tornado alley, a long stretch of ground that runs thru Oklahoma and Kansas and ends in the south-east. It was intended to be a way to normalize the strangeness of the need to take shelter and keep my mind on something other than our possible destruction. Growing up in North Alabama and traveling around the greater southeast, I realized how lucky we were that we were close but not too close, to much of the ‘action’.

I’ve lived through tornadoes that carved a path of destruction before, so the most recent spate of wicked weather is not new to me. I remain grateful that none of my family was effected in the recent rash of storms that roiled the South. I’ve outrun hurricanes by traveling up the east coast and holed up in basements euphoric because I had survived serious damage to the home I was taking shelter in. Foul weather, when you survive it, is a rush of sorts for very particular reasons.

Philosophically, we are inclined as thinking and feeling human beings to romanticize nature and see it as something kind and nurturing and altogether one-sided in our modern age. This was not always so among human beings. In some schools of thought, some religious and a-religious as are the Buddhist and Catholic cases, nature is recognized as being less benign. I am not a fan of those schools ideas when used as sweeping metaphors of feminine humanity but I value their overall perspective as a kind of intellectual ballast in the grand scheme of things.

I didn’t encounter what I consider to be real ‘Act of God’ weather phenomena until I was in my twenties. I was visiting Savannah Georgia and had a job interview for a position as a Massage Therapist in a riverside Resort there. My father called me before we left to suggest that I reschedule the interview but I wasn’t listening and I hadn’t bothered to watch the news. While I did take my career seriously, I wasn’t mature enough to separate myself from the good time I planned to have with a few friends I planned to meet in Hilton Head. Neither did I recognize that I might have a bigger opportunity if I gave myself more time to plan a strategy. At any rate, the day after I had the interview, orders came for a mandatory evacuation. Hurricane Floyd was gearing up for an assault on the east coast and eventually made landfall just above the Outer banks of North Carolina. Within a few hours, the roads were almost impassable and interstate travel was at a standstill. I still remember seeing a trailer of horses and feeling so sorry for the poor creatures. Eventually we made it back to Georgia after 7 hours on the road. I later learned that we were fortunate. People who traveled the interstates out of Florida were trapped there for upwards of 20 hours. One positive thing that happened was that a long-winded and whiney letter I intended to give to a boyfriend was sucked out of the window of the car and I watched it splash across the road behind me. Thank God for small miracles but I didn’t call it that at the time.

My second brush with the angry face of Nature was actually my first. I had just graduated from The Atlanta School of Massage and begun working at a local Marriott Resort. Two weeks into my new job, I had come home and sat down to watch My Fair Lady and eat Taco Bell. About 11 p.m., I called a friend and stepped out onto the front porch and noticed that the sky looked strange. I remember a greenish tinge to the night, even through the artificial light of the darkened Dunwoody skyline. The air smelled both wet and dusty. My room-mate had not left enough room for me to park my car in the garage but I thought nothing of it and went to bed about 11:30. Within the hour, I heard the rain start and a sound reminiscent of screeching metal. A loud thwump, a sharp crack and the sound of rain louder than it should be alerted me to the fact that something was amiss. I stepped out into the hall of the basement where my bedroom was and saw a wall of water descending from the ceiling. It literally looked like a scene out of Titanic. I had to run through the wall of water to reach my room mates bedroom on the other side of the basement. Together we went to explore the house. One upstairs bedroom was so damaged that we couldn’t get the door open. Other rooms were missing part of the roof and the garage had similar damage. The next day, we found a neighborhood in shambles. Homes appeared as dollhouses, with one side entirely open to the world, exposing the people and furniture inside. Gas mains were blown and electrical towers were not only down but laying across main thoroughfares. We made it to a hotel two days after the storm. The third night, we had managed to workout an employee discount with Marriott, only to have the Hotel catch fire the first night we spent there.

At the time, I was busy surviving the situations as the arose. But in the safe distance of hindsight I find these situations open to me like a book and I am free to read, or not to read, all manner of pseudo intellectual innuendo into the ‘hidden messages’ of ‘disaster in typically ‘feminine’ fashion.

The area where I now live survived the devastation of Wednesday’s tornadic activity. Our power blinked for all of 30 seconds and we had amazing rain and thunder. The biggest problem statewide is power. The major news networks have reported that Brown’s Ferry Nuclear Power Plant may have to close but that is incorrect. The power plant is good shape. It’s the electrical towers that deliver power from the facility to the rest of the area that are down and severely damaged.

Given that the human control of nature in this situation is failing to provide us with the modern conveniences of life that make self reflection an act of leisure rather than laziness, I do not doubt that the initial romanticized appeal of roughing it in the short term will not survive long among those dispossessed by the storm.

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