Sunday, October 28, 2012

Apocalypse Now

The 1938 New England hurricane

I know I harp on a lot about weather in this blog, but where I live, not far inland from the Eastern Seaboard of the Atlantic coast of the United States, it’s a constant looming presence in everyone’s life. Washington D.C. is still recovering from the freak derecho storm that knocked out power across a huge swathe of the Midatlantic earlier this year. The area was rendered post-apocalyptic for several days – no gas stations, no cell phone or internet coverage, no emergency 911 service, and – of course – no means of escape from the 105 degree heat.
Now, a mere four months later to the day, we’re awaiting the arrival of what we’re told will be the most destructive storm of the century, Hurricane Sandy. The region has been under the most stringent of weather alerts for several days and the storm is due to hit us with its full force tomorrow (Monday) night and throughout most of Tuesday. Schools are closed, thousands of flights cancelled, stocks of bread, water, batteries and flashlights are depleted – we’ve even been warned to have plenty of cash on hand in case the ATMs are knocked out. It sounds like the derecho was just a rehearsal for Armageddon.   

But these are all tedious adult concerns. Our neighborhood children are looking forward to the excitement of living by flashlight and having to wear all their clothes at once to stay warm. For them, this will be an adventure, pure and simple, something to look back on as a milestone of childhood.

This perspective was beautifully captured by Sylvia Plath in a 1962 essay called “Ocean 1212-W” that appears in her posthumous collection Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams. In the essay, Plath wonderfully described the devastating New England hurricane of 1938 through the eyes of her childhood self:  

"The sulfurous afternoon went black unnaturally early, as if what was to come could not be star-lit, torch-lit, looked at. The rain set in, one huge Noah douche. Then the wind. The world had become a drum. Beaten, it shrieked and shook. Pale and elated in our beds, my brother and I sipped our nightly hot drink. We would, of course, not sleep. We crept to a blind and hefted it a notch. On a mirror of rivery black our faces wavered like moths, trying to pry their way in. Nothing could be seen. The only sound was a howl, jazzed up by the bangs, slams, groans and splinterings of objects tossed like crockery in a giants’ quarrel. The house rocked on its root. It rocked and rocked and rocked its two small watchers to sleep."
Isn’t that wonderful? I leave it with you until I re-emerge - après le déluge.

Postscript (Tuesday, October 30, 2012) - We in the Washington DC area emerged largely unscathed from this one. Sandy gave us a good battering but saved its worst for elsewhere. We feel for those in NYC, my home state of New Jersey, and all along the Atlantic seaboard who weren't so lucky.

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