This morning I heard from a couple of friends up in the Adirondacks where I used to live. They were anticipating an ice storm. People up there get nervous when one is on the way, especially if they lived through “the big one” in 1998. It killed thirty-five people by fire, hypothermia, falling ice and carbon monoxide poisoning.
My friend Mary wrote that they were “hunkering for an ice storm.” She’s a dear person who lets her light shine by working for the Nature Conservancy. She once spotted bear scat in my back yard in Saranac Lake, she can play the violin, and she’s a skilled copy editor. But she’s a Yankee, so she doesn’t know that the expression is “hunkering down.” Oh well.
I’m wondering if Mary and her neighbors are laying in supplies of water and candles and topping up their cars’ gas tanks to get ready. That’s what we do in Texas when a hurricane is coming. But as dangerous and inconvenient as an ice storm can be, I somehow doubt it results in empty shelves at the grocery and hardware stores the way even a small possibility of a hurricane will.
I expect that except for those who experienced “the big one,” an impending ice storm is more like when a blue norther is gathering force in Texas.” Neither one generates much in the way of precautions. That’s not to diminish their power to get your attention. They’re something you feel in a mysterious, goose bumps kind of way. They let all creatures great and small know that they have limited power to control the most basic conditions of life. It’s a moment when the most committed atheist might experience what religion scholar Karen Armstrong calls the ineffable transcendence that is God.
I can’t recall but one ice storm when I lived in the Adirondacks, and I didn’t discover it until I woke up one morning. So, I’m guessing, but I expect that this morning people in the Adirondacks are checking their generators to make sure they’re working and moving some firewood up closer to the door, but not a lot else. That’s pretty much an everyday preparation in those parts.
Down here where I live now, we treat the coming of a blue norther with similarly little in the way of precautionary tactics. It’s mostly limited to setting the outdoor faucets dripping to keep them from freezing. Most of our preliminary actions are generated by eager anticipation not anxiety. If you have a fireplace, you check to see if you have any wood that hasn’t rotted since the last time the weather cooled off. We stand in open spaces and study the sky out over the over the Great Plains weather trough to watch it turn a color of blue that occurs only when the temperature drops twenty or thirty degrees in a few minutes and Arctic air is beginning to barrel through and strip the leaves off liveoaks. (I once overlooked preparations of any kind, fearful or thrilled, and while I was a long way from home jogging in shorts and dripping Texas amounts of sweat, the front arrived and swallowed me up and smacked me around without mercy and I had to make my way two miles into a cold north wind. That’s hardly the equivalent of remembering “the big one” of 1998, but it’s all I’ve got in my bank.)
Poetry was pretty much my favorite art form back in the fifties when I was in college. It was a performance art, much like singing or dancing. At some point since then, poetry became more cerebral, and I lost interest. So I was pleased this morning to come across a poem that took me back to my former passion. It was written by a friend, Dale Hobson, who posted it on the website of North Country Public Radio where he works. It makes my point about weather events as an experience of God.
These parts, III
The radio plucks dance tunes from the air,
spun out from an empty glass booth at the far end
of a hundred miles of sleet. Terry sleeps,
but not me. So many nights, in lonely parts,
this wind rushes through me: night rushing by
like dark liquor from the last bottle’s bottom.
This wind, pure with death, that rages to come in.
It tramples the stubble, overbears the birch, slams
the north wall windows and worries putty from the glass.
We call its opposite the Thaw, but have no name
for this, when winter closes in all at once
in the night, and all the lights are lost in weather.