Saturday, August 4, 2012
The Emerald Ghost
It’s the season of summer storms on the eastern seaboard. Every day the weather forecast includes a thunderstorm warning for our area, and it’s anyone’s guess if one will materialize over our particular neighborhood. Almost every day at some point the clouds gather and distant rumbles slowly get louder. Then it’s time to disconnect my laptop, make sure the windows are closed, and bring my hanging petunia plants inside. Sometimes it’s a false alarm. After little more than a brief shower, the sun comes out again and steams the faint moisture from the tarmac. But often we find we’re in for preview of Armageddon, with sheets of lightning, deafening explosions of thunder, and rain so torrential it turns our street into a river.
When these storms are accompanied by damaging gusts of wind as in the recent derecho or last year’s Hurricane Irene, it is best to stay away from the top floor of the house. After one freakishly sudden storm a couple of years ago, the entire giant oak tree at the corner of our road had fallen, barely missing our neighbors’ house. As with many urban trees, its root ball had been too small, so the violent wind was able to knock down that 60-foot tree like a skittle. And of course in the wake of these storms with painful regularity we lose power, often for several days, leaving us with no phone, no internet, no fridge, and, worst of all in the heat of a Washington summer, no air conditioning or even a fan. It’s at those times when it becomes completely clear why Washington DC used to be considered a hardship posting in the diplomatic world.
This poem by Emily Dickinson expresses the end-of-the world quality that these storms can have and how extraordinary it can feel to look around after it’s all over and see how much has survived.
There came a Wind like a Bugle
There came a Wind like a Bugle-
It quivered through the Grass
And a Green Chill upon the Heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the Windows and the Doors
As from an Emerald Ghost-
The Doom's electric Moccasin
That very instant passed-
On a strange Mob of panting Trees
And Fences fled away
And Rivers where the Houses ran
Those looked that lived-that Day-
The Bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings told-
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the World!