If You don’t Like the Weather, Wait a Minute

photoHave you ever seen a pigeon flying backward? I did today. This phenomenal occurrence was not because I spotted a mutant genius helicopter pigeon; that really might be a matter for tales of magic and fantasy, given the modern pigeon’s brain.

It was that windy. The pigeon was making a valiant effort to take off from the edge of a roof and, blown instead straight backward, finally saw the same edge directly under him and came right back in for a landing. What’re you gonna do?

The wind is giving us a good whack here in north Texas today. Two days ago, it was over 80°F/27°C, brilliantly sunny, and calm as a sleeping cat. Tonight, we’re told, we can expect freezing temperatures and should cover all of our tender plants in the garden. A couple of days before our balmy pseudo-summer day, we had a storm pass through. Parts of our town had a little thunder and lightning and a fair amount of rain with a little bit of hail mixed in it, but nothing extravagant by local standards. Our house was in that lucky sector, and so was our car while we drove home in The Weather. Just across town, others were not so fortunate: some had hail the size of golf balls or larger, and tornado-like gusts, and among the downed trees and limbs there were homes where the roofs were destroyed or caved in, cars were damaged or totaled by metal-dimpling all over and glass smashed through, and interiors soaked with the rain and debris thrown in through the broken windows.

We’re torn, in more ways than strictly the physical, around here.

We crave every drop of H2O that we can squeeze out of the sky; even after a relatively mild number of months, our lake levels continue to be well below their norms, some still fully in drought status. It’s not considered a plus if you can drive directly to where your boat is moored, in case anyone wondered. All the same, if the moisture is dumped all at once as though shot through giant firehoses, it doesn’t always stay where it’s needed but instead causes flash floods, undermines foundations, uproots vegetation and breaks down buildings and roads left and right.

Doesn’t matter what you call it—climate change, global warming, a thirty-year cycle, or evil pixies run amok—the weather all around this wonderful, messy planet is more extreme than it had been for much of recent history. The extremes are more extreme, the heat and cold, the wind and dead stillness, the flooding and droughts. Only the inconsistency of the weather seems to be more, well, consistent.

All somewhat amusing, if the worst one experiences is the occasional sighting of a pigeon flying backward. But of course, that’s the least of it. Ask our neighbors who sustained major damage to house, car and property all at once last week. Ask the people—the peoples—displaced by tornado and typhoon, those who have lost home and family to the floods and famines that massacre everyone in their paths throughout whole regions.

I don’t much care about whether we’re partly to blame for the seeming extra intensity of nature’s capriciousness and fury at this point. It’s not all that different, in my mind, from all of the displacements, distortions and destruction in history that we can absolutely attribute to human invasion, conquest, greed, prejudice, ignorance and evil. As horrible as that stuff all, genuinely, is, it is: it exists, already. What matters is what we do now in order not to perpetuate the ills, and better yet, to mitigate them as best we can. We can’t undo history, and we can’t control nature. But we can and should change our attitudes, practices and beliefs (and the governing processes needed to support those societal improvements appropriately) in whatever ways will support a far better world, one where wars, rape, murder, slavery, thievery, violence and all sorts of other horrible human actions are not only universally condemned but undesirable to enact.

And, since we expect that we, and those generations who succeed us, will continue to need to live on this specific planet and its resources, hadn’t we better think up some less selfish and more practical ways of easing the effects of nature just as much as our effects on it? We won’t likely figure out how to stop the wind from blowing with great intensity, floods from filling valleys, hail from pelting like rocks out of the sky, or lightning from searing and exploding whatever it can lay its fiery fingertip on, but if we put our minds to it, maybe we can think up some reasonable ways to protect more people, and care for those who are affected, better.

I didn’t really start out with the intent of rambling on about this stuff, but it’s on my mind. Probably not so different from the pigeon’s reaction when he discovered his original flight plan wasn’t viable. Can I fly backward? I don’t know. But I’ll bet it’s worth trying, if I find myself needing to make an emergency landing. No matter how the wind is blowing.photo


Now that super storm Sandy is mostly past, those in the wake of the destruction are left to dig out from under all of the mayhem. As all natural disasters do, Sandy left behind not only massive damage brought on by the high winds, flooding, snow, fire and explosions that were part of the storm and its immediate effects but a whole swath of financial, social, political, logistical and definitely not least of all, emotional and personal damages that will take years to be mitigated, let alone resolved. Besides the losses of life and health that are such obvious costs of a massive storm ripping through, we all know–those who have been through this grinder before, anywhere in the world most especially–that there are innumerable other things once held dear that have been slashed away in a few hours’ time and many of them will never be recovered.digital painting from a photo

The homes blown down, stripped away by violent waters, or burned were filled with people and lives and the Stuff of those lives–in many cases, all gone. The businesses closed for a few days, often in crucial periods of their peak season, are eclipsed by those whose doors, if they still physically exist, will close forever and by the many owners and employees and customers who will have to find other resources for making a living or acquiring the services and goods they count on to shape their ordinary lives. They will all find, as my spouse said very quietly to me when I came down the stairs to find him waiting palely on the 11th of September in 2001, that ‘the world as we know it has changed.’digital painting from a photo

But we also know from long experience that disasters, whether natural or human-made, can bring unexpected goodness trailing in their wake. The immediate selflessness and generosity and heroism shown by those who rush into the maelstrom to save others and who pull the stricken into their waiting arms of safety and warmth and shelter and healing are, when we others take a lesson from their shining examples, only the first wave of light and hope to follow the darkness and despair. If we all, whether by the nebulous but potent means of offering support in our hearts, minds, prayers, and invention or by the more concrete ways of donating, digging, driving; of building stronger buildings to replace those lost, remembering those who have died with forward-looking perpetuation of their virtues, and taking up whatever tools we have to recreate a more closely knit community that can expand exponentially to bring in every person with every need and every gift that can fill that need–then every storm is not an irremediable horror and every battle is not the one that will end safety and sanity forever. We are bigger than the storms. We can be the rainmakers who rise up out of ordinariness and even destruction to build something real and new and extraordinary.

Call Me Thomas–No, *Really*



graphite drawingIn some areas of experience, I am admittedly as credulous as a baby, but generally I suppose I tend toward the skeptical. If American political, religious and social rhetoric can’t turn anybody into a skeptic I don’t know what can, but I find there’s plenty of fodder for the mill in endless other realms. ‘The Most Delicious Boeuf Bourgignon You’ll Ever Eat!’ Truly? Then why does your [self-] acclaimed dish look so convincingly pre-digested and taste exactly like I would imagine cheap dog food to taste? (Just so you know, the idea that I’ll never want to eat Boeuf Bourgignon again after yours doesn’t count as its being the best I’ll ever eat.) No such thing as Climate Change? Feel free to run around in your skivvies while half of us are bundling up for the lowest temperatures in forty years and then mummify yourself in a zeppelin-sized parka while the rest of us try to keep a modicum of cool somehow–all I can say is, I learned how to read a thermometer when I was smallish, and the patterns on that alone have changed plenty in my brief time stomping around the planet to convince me that the weather’s different from what it once was.

‘Organic’ food? Great! But know thy USDA regulations–and what many needful things they may well lack. ‘Green’ energy from windmills? Well, yeah, I am fully persuaded that the simple movement of our breathable atmosphere is far more reliable and consistent and predictably present for generations than, say, vintage Pleistocene joy-juice (a.k.a. stinky petroleum-based fuels)–as long as we also keep in mind that there are offsets: the parts for contemporary wind farms are produced and serviced in very few locales yet and are often therefore shipped across the continent by truck–teams of semi tractor-trailer drivers plus guide cars are required for shipping a single giant blade of one of those behemoths several days cross-country–both to their workplaces and to be repaired. Yet I wouldn’t say wind power isn’t one of our better currently available alternatives. I just think the inquiry must be made, and honesty and transparency are useful all along the way.

Question authority? How about questioning everything and assuming nothing!

All the same, none of us is equipped to investigate every single experience, idea or item that comes our way so thoroughly as to fool ourselves we’re magically well-informed. We must assume, trust, take chances and hope or we will surely stultify and die. Not to mention that it’s very easy, especially for those who, like me, have any tendencies toward insularity, NIMBY attitudes, fear of change, anxiety disorders, allergies or eccentricities that don’t fit nicely with the communal norms to simply hole up and hide from unpleasant and unpredictable reality. And when you boil everything down, I find I’m not actually the least bit attracted to being a conspiracy theorist, aggressive activist for or against anything, or to adopting the kind of narrow, mean-spirited and curmudgeonly attitude that I find repellent in other people.

So I may pry a little bit at the lid of the shipping crate to see what’s really inside it or nag you a little to justify your claims that you’ve invented the world’s most astonishing miracle product, but beyond that, I’m content to believe that the universe is generally fairly benign and most of the people in it rather pleasant and honest, after all. Clearly, you needn’t take offense at my insistence on your being straightforward with me and my preferring to be forthright with you, although I still believe in the value of a certain few little white lies, so you’ll never know absolutely whether I do or do not think those summer pants of yours make your backside look like the White Cliffs of Dover.

Meanwhile, you may call me a bit of a Doubting Thomas, or better yet, just call me Thomas, which was in fact the name my parents had reserved for me in case I turned out to be a boy-child. Because, let’s face it, their previous one-child history of producing girls didn’t prove anything, and their doctor certainly wasn’t able to guarantee my girly-tude in those ancient days, so it was more practical to assume that the little Kathryn Ingrid sprout could possibly show up and be a Thomas Lauren instead, or even have the personality of a Katrina (another option they kept open) rather than a Kathryn, whatever that meant. It’s just best to know that we can’t always guess how things are going to turn out and we don’t always know everything, at least unless we do the homework and get lucky. And if it all catches us by surprise, that might not be an entirely terrible thing, either.graphite drawing