Mother Nature, Riled

(This column was published on September 25th 2011, in my regular corner of the Brazosport Facts, where I pontificated for three hundred and seventy-eight consecutive Sunday mornings.)

Okay, let’s make a list.

The upper eastern seaboard was hit by an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week (a downright unusual couple of events by any standard).  Other parts of the country have been besieged by raging flood waters.  Killer tornadoes have cropped up sporadically and gone wandering, laying waste to just about anything in their path.  Here in the Lone Star State we’ve logged in the hottest summer ever recorded in the nation and wildfires chewed up thousands of homes and countless acres of timberland.  And for a while a line of low-pressure areas and tropical storms, each one a potential hurricane, was strung out between here and Africa like jetliners waiting to be given their approach paths.

If this was the Old Testament era, we’d all be finding goats and lambs to sacrifice.

There’s bound to be a reason for all the recent natural upheavals.  Maybe the culprit is global warming, or El Nino, or the depletion of the ozone layer, or a huge cosmic coincidence, or – the theory prominent in some circles – the prelude to the end of time.  I’m not smart enough to know the answer; you’ll do better to consult Al Gore or Nostradamus for that. It just might be that Mother Nature has been in a particularly bad mood lately.  Or she’s decided to show us just what she’s capable of, and what manner of chaos she can produce if she has a mind to.          

All I know is we’ve been treated to an overabundance of cataclysmic goings-on, and all packed into a brief span of time.  When it rains, as the old saying goes, it pours.  Mr. Shakespeare said it even better, of course, in “Hamlet”:  “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”

I don’t remember bigger battalions in my lifetime.

We had rainstorms when I was a boy up in Oakwood, sometimes real gully-washers that whooshed down through the trees, sending down branches and leaving the yard a soggy mess.  And strong cold fronts would fill up the whole northern sky occasionally with menacing blue-black clouds.  When those big blows arrived, they set the trees around our house to dancing like a fellow at a wedding who’s visited the free bar once too often.

And we were visited by the occasional tornado.  The worst one plowed through the chicken yard behind our house, picking up the coop and slamming it into an adjacent shed.  Amazingly, all the chickens survived, though the experience was so upsetting to their constitutions that we didn’t have any eggs for a few days.

But other than blue northers, rainstorms, and twisters, I don’t remember any horrible droughts, unmanageable fires, or flooding in Oakwood.  Of course, I was too young to pay much attention – I slept through that tornado that so aggravated our chickens – and I probably missed a great deal.    

I pay much better attention now.  And all the bad news lately about lost homes and lost lives has turned me into an avid blessing counter. My withering, gasping, parched lawn just doesn’t measure up to what many folks have gone through.

Nearly a dozen years ago I wrote a novel about one of the worst hurricanes ever, the 1900 Galveston storm.  And I just finished the final edits on a nonfiction account of a school explosion that killed almost three hundred people, almost all of them children, in East Texas in 1937.  It will be published by Texas A&M Press early next year.  None of my other books focus on such dire calamities, and I just hope that those two don’t me get saddled with some unpleasant moniker like “Master of Disaster.”

Because when it comes to the weather, I truly do prefer tranquil to tempestuous.  And I’m hoping for lots of clear skies, calm winds, and fair seas for all of us in the foreseeable future. A couple of feet of soaking rain would be nice, too.  But not accompanied by violent storms.

Unfortunately, as I write this there’s no rain in the forecast and Mother Nature is still wreaking havoc all over the place.

If Karen and I weren’t such animal lovers, I might be on the lookout for that sacrificial lamb or goat.

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