There's a storm coming. I can feel it, for starters -the air is scratchy, like a woolen blanket- and I can hear the first mumblings of thunder. And, because I live in the twenty-first century, I can track it on the radar. It's live and red and spreading, a rash or a Chinese dragon or an arsonist's masterpiece, and it activates, momentarily, the tornado sirens. They are startling, a deluge of noise, drowning the whipping of the branches of the trees.
What must it have been like before satellite images, before weather radio, before klaxons, when the only tools you had to tell you what was coming over the horizon were contained within your skin? Your nose, maybe your eyes and ears? Your trick knees, your gouty hips, your pulsing, pick-axe headaches? Do we lose anything, forgetting to watch ourselves for signs of storm?
But of course I am over-romanticizing. It has never been just us; humans are tricksy creatures; we have watched everything -weather vanes, dogs, sundials, red sky tonight, sailor's delight- we have watched everything we could, because it was important.
(It's raining now, great globs of rain; the forecast said torrential and it is almost impossible for me to prevent this word from streaming into the space behind my eyes.)
And we've forgotten that, weather's incalculable importance. Or at least I have. When the sirens went off I was scared, yes, but welling up under the fear was a cold kind of comfort. Tornadoes, to an Indiana native, are old hat. The ritual is soothing, familiar as an incantation. Get the flashlight. Take the radio to listen to, maybe a blanket. Go down into the basement and hunker there with the ones you love.
The sirens have shut off; the rain, fierce guard-dog rain, has not. But I can't help but think we're fooling ourselves -I'm fooling myself- with all this predictive equipment, our safeguards and our reflectivity composites. Yesterday, two dozen people were swept away by flood waters in Arkansas. Katrina may have receded into memory, but its scars have not. And tornadoes -not everyday, but sometimes, and not only to OZ- carry people away.
Get the flashlight. Take the radio. Go down to the basement. Love, listen.