Living in western Massachusetts we are savvy on blizzards, nor-easters and summer thunder. This is the way it is and has always been. We bundle up and deal. Yesterday changed all that as we received a line of summer weather that resulted in three tornado touch-downs better suited to the wide plains of nowhere and things blew apart.
Up here, just west of the mighty Connecticut River, we had hail and winds and thunder and lightening and suffered the great loss of trees. Losing trees is to me visceral as I think I may once have been one. Just south of here people lost homes, jobs and lives. The sky went green and the winds swirled and the horses in the barn tried their best to kick their way out past the deafening hail and wind and noise. Sirens roared and television news focused on loss and anguish and damage and terror.
I thought about Australia. When people talk about environmental challenges in Oz they tend to mention all the wildlife (scorpions, snakes, jellyfish and sharks) that can kill you but they don't usually mention storms unless they involve water or fire. The first day we were there we met a brown recluse spider
who took ownership of our Byron Bay veranda, dangling down every evening on its silvery, poisonous thread. We avoided running our small car over a huge snake sunning in the road by driving up the verge.
A week later we were acclimatized-- swimming behind shark fences, avoiding bluebottles, wearing sun hats with huge brims and slapping flat white sun block over exposed skin. Arriving on yet another sunny day in Teagardens, a watery town north of Sydney, we checked into the town's hotel/motel which offered backpacker rooms set around a tropical courtyard, each room demarcated by pairs of hiking boots placed in the sun to de-odorize. Wandering down to the Myall River to find dinner we settled
on Mumm's and a table in the tent where we could see the water and enjoy the cool evening. The restaurant was pleasantly full and we ordered fish, wine and greens.
The wind picked up when the wine arrived. By the time dinner came the wind had risen and we heard thunder from across the river. When we could see the lightening I was gauging the conductivity relevance of metal table to metal chairs to metal tent poles. This lightening was not what we generally know (or knew until yesterday) in western Massachusetts. It appeared as a gilded serrated column of spectacular orange and gold, often two or three or twelve driven deeply and directly from sky to water, sky to ground in a vertical and deadly ear-splitting thrust. Tom happily tucked into his tilapia but I had just finished a book where the key character dumbly dies from being electrocuted by trying to fish a spoon out from under the fridge. When the tent lights went out with the next fiery explosion there was a brief silence amongst the diners until one Ozzie voice called out to unseen waitstaff in the darkness, "Oy mate, bring us another bottle of the shiraz?" and the sounds of pleasant conversation and clinked glass resumed, audible briefly between thunderclaps.
It took only one more huge and dramatic flash for me to grab Tom, leave our meal and rush to pay our check in the generator-fueled main restaurant. We foolishly ran handheld together down the center of the deserted street in an Armegeddon downpour chased by bolts of serious electricity. By the time we reached the motel we were drenched and exhilarated in the way that happens only when you have dually toyed with death and reaped the highs of powerful negative ions. We dried as best we could with the motel's ancient towels and stayed awake until the wee hours watching night to day as each bolt lit our view of Oceana, listening to the world at its end.
The planet is at a strange place right now, weather-wise. If the choices are between American panic and Ozzie calm, I'd say open your cellar door to the neighbors, don't toy with disaster by video-iphoning that tornado and have another glass of the red.