Playing The Numbers Game

Whether it was the zip code or the seven-digit phone number which came first hardly matters. Both were traumatic in their way. When the telephone exchange for my home town (PYramid2) was dropped in favor of all-digit dialing, you could hear the wails of the afflicted rising up to heaven: “They’re turning us into nothing more than numbers.”

Writing in The Atlantic, Megan Garber recalls that period of transition:

All-Number Calling—it is clear in hindsight—stood in the minds of many for the age of the impersonal, when people live in huge apartment buildings, travel on eight-lane highways and identify themselves in many places—bank, job, income tax return, credit agency—by numbers.

Stephen Baker, author of The Numerati,  contends that such simple and relatively straightforward numbers are relics of the industrial age. Today’s data miners seek to turn us into combinations of numbers as they gather, compile, and interpret information about us before drawing their conclusions about how we will — or, more precisely, how we might be persuaded to — behave.

As Baker points out, the digital revolution may have enabled us to express our individuality through the use of new tools, but it’s quite clear that others are busy devising the most efficient ways to convert our individuality into numbers on a spreadsheet.

Whatever we think of this new intrusiveness, we continue to live by old-fashioned numbers: social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers. We memorize them, or use software programs to track them. Some continue to write them down on slips of paper before tucking them away for safe-keeping.

Especially for people along the eastern seaboard or on the great, looping Gulf coast, two of the most important numbers come as a pair. My own special numbers are 29.54 and 95.06, nicknamed 29N and 95W, respectively. The numbers– latitude and longitude coordinates — not only provide an accurate way to locate my home on a map, they also help to predict the chance of my home getting wiped off the map by a hurricane.

During hurricane season, latitude and longitude reign supreme on the Gulf coast. From the time a depression forms in the Atlantic or Carribean, the coordinates lurk at the edge of consciousness. If a storm scoots through the Yucatan channel and heads across the Bay of Campeche, shoppers begin talking probabilities in the lines at Target. Drivers engage in cryptic conversations at the gas pumps: “Has it crossed 25 yet?”  “Don’t think so. I heard it’s still at 22”.  Around the marinas, boaters’ gossip is faintly anxious: “Did Cyrean head up-island yet?” “Nope. They’re staying put below 15 until after the season.”

As storms form, dissipate, and re-form, wobbling or surging their way through tropical waters, latitude and longitude take on the feel of ancient incanatations: mysterious, trusted charms whose endless recitation somehow can influence  a force of nature.

The response, while totally irrational, is understandable. Watching a tropical low, a nascent storm, or a hurricane making its way across the Gulf toward 29N, latitude becomes more than a number. It becomes the boundary for fear itself. Once experience has proven your place in the world can be obliterated in hours, the latitude called fear becomes as real as the monster spinning into life over the water, and people sometimes live at that latitude for years.

Some months after hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the northern Gulf coast, I traveled to Louisiana and Mississippi. During a second trip to Bay St. Louis, I encountered a little girl and her mother at the waters’ edge.

The young girl, barefooted and solemn in her green and white checked dress, circled her hands above her head like a ballerina. “Does she dance?” I asked her mother. “No, not any more. She used to, before the storm. Now, she puts out her arms, or holds them above her head. But she doesn’t twirl. She says she doesn’t want the water to come when she isn’t looking.”

Gulfport, Mississippi beach prior to Hurricane Isaac  (Megan Jordan)

None of us wants to be surprised by turbulent waters, and so we watch: obsessively, intently, compelled by the chaos swirling just beyond the horizon.  Whether a storm arrives on our doorstep or goes elsewhere to wreak havoc in a different neighborhood, there’s no escaping the watching and waiting, with all of its attendant anxiety and fear.

In the midst of the watching and waiting, we ponder the basic question: do we stay, or do we go?

Sometimes, the decision is made purely on the basis of fear. Some people flee because they never have experienced a storm, and they fear the unknown. Those more experienced in the ways of storms may run to avoid being pummeled by another hurricane’s wrath.  Anxiety sometimes leads people to provision as best they can and hunker down, staying to protect property they fear would be lost in their absence to wind, water, or looters.

But more often than we imagine, decisions in the face of a coming storm are influenced by love.

Along the coastlines, people exist who know their land more intimately than many of us know our children, our spouse, or our best friend. Attuned to its rhythms, they recognize its voice; bound to it by ties unspeakably strong, they would willingly die in its arms rather than turn away and leave.  Some stay because they love their community — the people they’ve grown up with, and a heritage they’re determined to preserve. Work requires others to remain. Steadfast and resolute, their commitment, too, is a form of love.

Others leave their homes because of love. They never would subject  their aging parents, their children, or their disabled relatives to the fury of a storm and the discomforts of its aftermath. Some respond to the loving pleas of far-off family members, or realize in a fit of clarity that their love for life itself will not allow them to risk that life by confronting a surging storm. “Hide from wind, run from water” is ages-old wisdom, and here on the coast, that wisdom is taken seriously.

Fear, then, is the latitude crossing the storms of life, while love is its longitude: a line running as deeply through our lives as the worst of human fears. Confronting a storm, those who leave and those who stay often differ only in their final decision. They are equally courageous, standing at that intersection of love and fear where the questions always are the same: “What shall we do, now? What will we do, then? Will there be something left, or will the water overcome us at last, and wash our lives away?”

For now, asking the questions is sufficient. The time for decision has not yet come; there still is time to feel the air cooling and the breeze stirring.
For now, the music of life trills like a seabird taking flight, and life itself continues, lapping toward the shore.

While clouds part and stars still glimmer against a glowing, perfect dawn, someone who remembers a storm-scoured coast is walking toward the water’s edge: their child’s heart newly courageous, newly determined, and perfectly poised to dance at the intersection of love and fear.

Comments always are welcome.


113 thoughts on “Playing The Numbers Game

  1. I’ve been a trained storm spotter for years in the midwest. Our life threatening storms are typically either a few minutes long or maybe an hour. After effects of flood or blizzard conditions can last days. Nothing has prepared me for the effects of a hurricane. I’ve been in hurricane strength winds of 120+ mph one time which lasted a few minutes. To have it go on for hours would be frightening.

    1. My one experience of riding out a hurricane was with Alicia, in 1983. Her top winds were 115, but that was enough. I was staying with friends on the edge of Houston’s Rice Village, and the eye passed right over us. What they say about birds singing and flying in the middle of the eye is true. We had about 15 or 20 minutes of peace until the wind shift, and then it got noisy again.

      You’re right that those strong, ongoing winds are nerve-wracking at best. The relief when we realized they finally were letting up was substantial.

  2. Eloquent. Clearly a 10.
    I just recently read “Isaac’s Storm,” and Erik Larson is a heck of a writer, but that entire book, which is excellent, didn’t contain anything as eloquent as this essay.
    “Fear, then, is the latitude crossing the storms of life, while love is its longitude: a line running as deeply through our lives as the worst of human fears.”
    I hope that little girl finds her way to dancing again.

    1. I suppose the difference in tone is partly due to Larson’s different concerns: both historical and meteorological. Isaac’s Storm is an excellent book, and I’ve re-read it several times — usually in hurricane season.

      When it comes to the Great Storm of 1900, another book I’ve found valuable is The Complete Story of the Galveston Horror: As Told By the Survivors. It was compiled by John Coulter in 1900, went out of print, and now is available again. You can find it on Amazon and also on the web. Coulter was a historian, biographer and journalist, and he presented the story of the storm in the survivors’ own words. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a good one. The book’s especially valuable for the lists of those killed in the storm: not only in Galveston, but also in the surrounding communities.

      1. I’ve read several of Larson’s books, all good. If you haven’t read “Devil in the White City,” wait for a stormy night when the electricity goes off. But for me, the tale of a killer was 2ndary to the wonderful fair they put on, and kind of inspiring to read about a city full of optimism, public spirit, and a can-do attitude in spades.
        I spent a day in Johnstown PA a couple of years ago, and learned a bit about their flood. If Isaac’s Storm was about hubris, Johnstown was about rich people’s indifference and immunity.

  3. My sister’s father-in-law was born in Iran in a tiny village whose name translates into “dusty little place”. He calls himself John because his given name is too difficult for most Americans to remember. His father had the same name, so he was known as “John, son of John, from a dusty little place”.

    In much of the world, you don’t need more than that.

    It is only when you move to a bigger place, a place with more Johns who are sons of John that you need to add a surname and a middle name to distinguish yourself from all the other Johns.

    Then when you move to an even larger place, one that keeps health and financial records, do you need something more – like a birth date.

    I analyzed the uniqueness of names for the State of Minnesota and it is surprising how unique, given, middle and surname is, even with all our Johns, Johnsons and Ashleys, It is rare to find a full name that is common to more than five or six people – but when you add a number, like the date of birth, names become (almost) absolutely unique.

    With one major exception, there are thousands of Minnesota residents with the name Mohamed, Mohamed’s who were born on January 1st (signifying that they don’t know their birthday. Sadly, we do not include a field in our database name structures to signify, “from a dusty little place”.

    1. In the process of writing this, I drifted into the world of data mining and algorithms, and found an assertion that 87% of our population can be identified by date of birth, gender, and zip code. I couldn’t quite believe it, but then I found discussions like this one at YCombinator, and decided that it was so. Your example falls right in line with that. Just for grins, I did a search for my name to see what the databases would turn up, and there are seven or so of us — with the middle name being the difference.

      You’ve also reminded me of the complications that could arise in Liberia because of a belief that children shouldn’t be named until after the measles had passed. It was the custom to give babies the name of the day on which they were born until their survival was guaranteed, which led to a lot of Tuesdays and Saturdays running around. At that point, the second name became a necessity.

  4. The little girl touched my heart… I didn’t live such an experience like yours (in USA), of this kind of storms, dear Linda. I just try to compare the strong winds in here, even they makes me fear in here too, but storms, hurricanes, etc. I can’t imagine…. Coastline seems in a risk area… Decision of course not easy but shouldn’t be good to go on to live in this area… always you will be waiting for storm… But then I ask myself, where is safety! The climate problem of the world, because of the human world… still goes on… we all did this.

    One of important problems you made a point, and as I said at the beginning, this little girl really made me sad.

    Thank you, and have a nice day and days, dear Linda, Love, nia

    1. Every place has some kind of natural phenomenon to contend with. In truth, I would far rather deal with hurricanes than tornadoes. At least with a hurricane, there is the opportunity to get out of the way. When I was growing up in the midwest, the run to the storm cellar — with only a minute or two of warning — was much more anxiety-producing!

      There always have been natural disasters: fires, floods, earthquakes, avalanches. They are a part of the natural order, and learning to cope with them can be a great challenge. But we do learn. As for the little girl — I think she’ll be fine. I thought later how good it was that her mother was bringing her back to the shore. Facing the things we’re afraid of can be the best way to move beyond them.

      1. Yes dear Linda, I agree with you, as earthquake, where I live! We should learn to live with natural disasters. But, on the other hand, so many disasters started to happen in the world, I was not talking just for hurricane, storms at the coast line, there is also melting glaciers, especially in antarctica! They are expecting the big cracking,….

        The mother of this little girl doing great. I don’t want/wish any child to live such a fearful experience in the world. They all carry them in all their life….

        Once again Thank you dear Linda, as always it is so nice to read you. Love, nia

  5. Pythagoras is reputed to have said, some two-and-a-half millennia ago, “Everything is numbers.” Scientists in today’s world have done a lot to show that that’s true and to make it true.

    1. With all due respect to Pythagoras, I’d be willing to quibble a little about everything being numbers.

      On the other hand, there’s at least one artist, Crockett Johnson, who painted equations and proofs because he was more or less convinced of just that. One of his paintings is called Proof of the Pythagorean Theorem (Euclid). His biographer writes that, “Despite his lack of a formal advanced mathematical education, Johnson was fascinated by complex algebra. Eventually, he began experimenting with his own mathematical theorems. He would paint versions of a problem until he arrived at a solution, and when he arrived at a solution, he would correspond with mathematicians to try and get the algebra,”

      What’s most amazing is that he also was the author of the well-known children’s book, Harold and the Purple Crayon.

      1. That’s a fascinating story about Crockett Johnson. I’d not heard of him or Harold and the Purple Crayon. If I were still teaching math, I’d find a way to include Johnson’s work in an appropriate course.

    1. You’re quite right. With a hurricane, you know that it’s coming. It wasn’t always so, as the poor people of Galveston and Indianola and elsewhere found out in the days before satellites and radar and computer modeling, but it’s so today, and I’m glad of it.

      When I stepped out just at sunset tonight and felt the humidity, I thought, “Well, here it comes.” It’s beginning to look like our portion will be mostly rain, but it’s still too soon to know. You’re right again; the waiting is hard.

  6. Witnessing the changes in personalities after the earthquake, I can identify with the little girl’s attitude. I hope that she will one day dance again.

    It’s been interesting to see how those affected by the quake react with their plans… Some returned to their primary country; others moved to new countries – reasons were health, lack of a home, stress from the quake, health issues, etc…. Two friends are building back, to the shock of many…They love it there, they love their community, are rebuilding on the back side of their lot – and i suppose they are well insured… they hope they’ll live out their lives there in harmony with the locals.

    Their choice seems to give the locals hope, while ‘outsiders’ think they’re nuts!

    I shrug and say that if it makes them happy, why judge or criticize…

    I, on the other hand, am on a slow search for a new place of solace…I do factor in the questions you state, and one question for me concerns availability of pure fresh water as well as clean air….I also have a very old ‘dream’ that continues its incubation.. and one day I might stumble upon a match for what simmers on the back burner…

    Thanks, as always, for a lovely post.

    1. At some point after Katrina — probably a couple of months — someone made a remarkable video comprised of images from the Mississippi coast and Lee Ann Womack’s song, “I Hope You Dance”. That video was taken down because of copyright issues, and their replacement just wasn’t as stirring. Still, Womack’s song and video is beautiful: a good background for remembering.

      I was in Galveston with a friend on Sunday, and we were commenting on the way the island continues to be covered with huge new homes. It’s the same story around Galveston Bay. The little homes that had belonged to families for generations nearly are gone, replaced by mansions used as weekend getaways. It’s interesting to watch them spring up in only weeks, while the beach cottages and beach shacks continue to be repaired, one staircase, one deck at a time, over months. Someone who is “BOI” (Born on the Island) put it this way: “The bigger the beach house, the less attachment to Galveston.” Harsh, but with a degree of truth.

      Your story of your rebuilding friends reminds me of conversations I hear every time our rivers rise. People who have lived on their banks for decades say, “Of course we were flooded. That’s what a river does. Why would we leave the river just because it’s being true to its nature? Its nature is what we love.”

      And there you have it.

  7. While living up here relatively unaffected by hurricanes and most tornadoes I still feel deeply for those who are affected. With the continual increase in urbanization, the numbers that really bother me are the sheer numbers of people who live in hurricane or tornado prone places, and the increased helplessness of just being part of the immense gridlock that affects even their safe retreat.

    1. Enough time has passed now that I can tell the story of our evacuation for Rita with great good humor, although remembering that night still raises a little anxiety. But, honestly: me, my mother, and the cat in the car for over fourteen hours for what commonly is less than a four-hour trip had its moments.

      That traffic gridlock and the general chaos is why I live by my personal variation of an old Chicago rule. I “evacuate early and often.” The emergency planners are fond of saying, “Wait to leave until your officials tell you it’s time to go.” In your dreams, says me. I’ll make my own decision, thank you very much.

  8. This is truly a wonderful article with symbolism that can be applied to other life hazards. I grew up in Florida where my family stood several times on the intersection of fear and love. And now I stand daily on the same intersection as my husband and I face the onslaught of old age and ultimatel endings.

    1. It’s true, isn’t it? That intersection shows up in unexpected places, and deciding which road to take is a challenge, every time.

      I had to smile at your mention of old age. I’m still able to get myself out of the way of a storm, but the time will come when that won’t be possible. That might account for some decisions to stay put that I’ve read about. At eighty or ninety, the trials of an evacuation might be worse than the alternative. As one fellow on Bolivar Peninsula told his family, “I was born here, and if I die here, so be it.” The last time they saw him, he was heading to the deck of his house with a drink in his hand. These things don’t just happen in fiction.

  9. As a Midwesterner now relocated to the Rocky Mountain west, I dealt with the occasional tornado threat but little else. My brother now lives on a barrier island near Wilmington, North Carolina, and the constant fear of hurricanes is palpable, even though most of his neighbors find some way to deal with it (mostly humor or religion). Not sure how well I would do always looking over my shoulder…

    1. It’s taken a lot of years, but I’m finally past the always-looking-over-my-shoulder phase, which I think everyone goes through.

      In the beginning, the number of decisions that have to be made seem overwhelming. Going or staying is one thing: deciding what to take along is another. Some personal treasures fit in a car. Others, like my old grandmother clock and large oil paintings, don’t. So we choose. But once the lists are made, and the packing up becomes routine, it’s not so bad. I even have my evacuation playlist, that starts with this one. Music’s not a bad tool for coping, either.

  10. Linda, once again you’ve woven a tapestry of the unassociated into a beautiful narrative. As someone raised in the Greenwood 2 exchange I can relate to that change being hard to take. But it was the ten digit dialing that hit me hardest.

    But your remembrances of Katrina and Rita were more of a gut punch. Especially for those who were trapped on freeways for hours on end trying to evacuate. Though neither of those storms stand out in my memories like Ike those few short years later. But, your closing paragraphs give hope… hope for the future, hope for the child in all of us stuck between fear and the courage to live live fully after the storm.

    Thanks for the morning muse…

    1. It really is amazing how we absorbed those telephone exchanges. I suppose there aren’t many under 40 — or 50, or 60 — who would understand references to BUtterfield 8, or to BEechwood4-5789, but I remember them both as surely as i remember my own old numbers.

      I’ll never forget the manager of the La Quinta in Nacogdoches standing at the front door of the motel at 4 in the morning, with a tray of orange juice and coffee. My first question was, “Where are the restrooms?” Once that was out of the way, his first question was, “Are you tribe Katrina, or tribe Rita?” I laughed then, and I still laugh when I remember it. He also was the one who authorized setting aside one room for general use. Everyone who couldn’t get a room and had to camp out in the parking lot was free to recharge phones, take a shower, and so on. It was a wonderful gesture.

      If Cindy moves a little more west and keeps on truckin’, it looks to me like she’ll be out of your way before you take off. I certainly hope so. The only thing worse than being stuck on the Atchafalaya bridge is sitting there in the middle of tropical downpours.

  11. Beautifully written. Hurricanes are nothing to sneeze at and I am ever so glad that I don’t live near the coast however, there are still tornadoes to worry about. Thinking about weather seems to dictate much of our lives. This morning it began raining, at precisely 8:15am by my watch. There was a great deal of thunder and lightening which caused two little dogs to follow me around the house. I continued my pet chores but had to be mindful to not trip over the furry ones.

    1. Honestly? There were times in northern California when it was so beautiful for weeks at a stretch that I began to long for some change, like a good thunderstorm. They do have their wonderful fog, which helps, but still — variations in the weather from time to time is good. As you point out, it at least gives us something to talk about. The funniest weather conversation in the world is midwestern weather conversation, which usually goes something like this: “Looks like rain.” “Yup.” “Think it’s gonna?” “Maybe.”

      You’ve been getting a good bit more active weather than we have this spring. Instead of moving north to south, it’s been moving west to east, and we’ve stayed pretty much out of it. That’s about to change — depending on how far west Cindy moves. I’m hoping for one more day of work before it gets here but we’ll see.

      1. I have not been following the weather but Cindy sounds like the name of a hurricane. I hope and pray that it does not hit the Texas coast and if it does then I hope and pray for no damaging winds or flooding. Do take care, Linda.

  12. Most everyone here in south Florida’s east coast area listen to the weather daily, just to check up on any developments out by Africa. When it starts getting closer and all the projected lines go up on the weather map, speculation is the main topic!!

    1. I’m sure there are plenty of people in your area who remember storms like Andrew the way people here remember Carla. I certainly remember landing in Miami and seeing parts of Homestead after Andrew. It was my first look at recent hurricane devastation, and it was nearly unbelievable.

      You might be interested in my go-to site for tropical analysis. I first met Levi when he was a high school kid hanging around Weather Underground. Now, I think he’s in his master’s level studies in meteorology — although he might have begun his doctoral program. He’s one of the most thorough presenters around, with a knack for making things understandable — with no fluff. Ironically, he grew up in Alaska, and developed his interest in tropical weather there. If anything starts stirring in your neighborhood, you might want to check him out.

      1. I took a quick look-see and put it in my Favorites. He shows quite a comprehensive and well- shown report. I’ll definitely check him out regularly. No one seems to be able to report on my area accurately. We’re forgotten about – too far south of Palm Beach and too far north for Ft. Lauderdale!!

  13. You can take any topic and turn it into a lovely essay. Thank you for this! I think we might have to worry about tornadoes here, but not hurricanes (although, just as I wrote that I remembered one that slammed so hard into the Carolina coast that trees were uprooted in my home county in the foothills of the Appalachians!)

    1. That’s the thing about hurricanes: it takes a while for them to dissipate. With Ike on the way, we went up to Tyler, Texas, about five hours inland, and we still had hurricane force winds (79 mph tops) and plenty of rain. I can’t remember which storm it was, but I remember my aunt in Kansas City being highly irritated that a hurricane had sent flooding rains in her direction. Of course, wind and rain are one thing. The storm surge is the real killer, and that’s pretty easy to get away from.

      No storm surge with Cindy — just elevated tides and plenty of rain. Or so they say — we’ll see!

  14. A timely musing on numbers, place, fear, and love – an unlikely but thought-provoking combo! Having left a place where tornado warnings sounded a few times a year, I am now in hurricane country and just starting to think about what that means for me. Hopefully not much!

    1. That would be a great name for a cover band: “Unlikely Combo.” There was some discussion earlier today among weather watchers about good band names for meteorologists. My choice? “Blown Forecast.”

      Every now and then I have to remind myself of the dates of Alicia, Allison, Rita, and Ike — my “big four.” Given the vividness of my memories, each of them could have happened yesterday. But of course they didn’t; Ike was nearly ten years ago. What’s interesting is that some of the smaller storms can wreak just as much havoc. In 2011, Lee brought flooding when it came ashore, but its winds fanned the flames of the terrible Bastrop fire, and then it went on to cause historic flooding in Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada. The winds are the least of it, sometimes.

      In any event, I think your first storm since landing here will be a fairly well-behaved one. I hope so, for all our sakes!

  15. The little girl’s story is so poignant and its an example of how good you are at pulling emotion out of your readers.

    I always learn something interesting in your essays. This time it’s the scary reason for knowing your latitude and longitude coordinates if you live on the Gulf Coast.

    1. It’s interesting how deeply latitude and longitude are woven into our life down here. For years there was a ship’s chandlery named Latitude 29. I know of at least three bars that somehow incorporated either lat or long into their names, and no Third Coast guitarist can play a gig without being asked for a rendition of “Changes in Latitudes”.

      In some ways, those pairs of numbers are no more scary than a street address. They’re just an easy way to track the movement of weather over the water. It’s no different for people in Florida, or the Carolinas, or the Caribbean Islands. None of us has figured out how to control the weather yet, so we practice keeping an eye on it — just in case.

  16. Earthquakes of course are the curse of California. That sudden bang, perhaps in the middle of the night, and the curious shaking and crashing of things which “go bang in the night”. The last big one in our area in 1989, came at 5:30 in the afternoon, but that morning the hot breeze had come from an entirely different direction and the silence was somehow prophetic.

    I have been in many earthquakes, some simply a rocking motion, some loud and frightening. The Alaska earthquake in the early ’60s climaxed with a gigantic tsunami where all the water was drawn out of the bay. It came back four hours later with a loud swish. A large ship was washed in about a mile and they made a restaurant out of it.

    1. I know several people who swear there’s such a thing as “earthquake weather,” although most in the professional weather community just smile. I don’t think there’s any question that animals can sense coming quakes, though. There’s been plenty of testimony to that.

      I may have told you about my experience of an earthquake in Berkeley. I was sitting in the chapel at Pacific Lutheran, atop the Marin hills, when it hit. It didn’t shake as much as it rolled. We watched the waves of energy ripple through the tile floor, raising and lowering it just like waves on the ocean. It was so interesting everyone just stared, and never stopped to think that perhaps it could be a precursor to something more serious — which it wasn’t.

      When Carla hit in 1961, she was huge, and covered nearly the entire Texas coast. A large freighter was washed about 25 miles inland — I’m not sure how they got that one out. One of my customers, a pilot, flew rescue sorties in to Galveston. He had to land on Seawall Boulevard, the only clear space in the city. He said at one point he refused to get out of his plane, because of all the snakes that had gathered.

      It’s sometimes amusing to listen to twenty-and-thirty-somethings declare that things never have been so bad as they are now. They just don’t know. In fact, that’s something that emergency planners here really worry about. It’s been so long since Ike that great numbers of new residents never have seen a storm, and really don’t have a clue about how important it is to prepare, and/or to leave town.

    1. Thanks, eremophila. One advantage you have now is that, if there’s any need to leave home, you can take your home with you. That’s not the worst thing in the world, at all!

      1. Actually the ability to relocate in disaster was one of the reasons for my chosen new style of living…….

  17. Linda, your story of the little Bay St. Louis girl nearly breaks my heart. I hope she finds her way back to dancing!

    This is such a poignant piece, filled with references I remember like I remember my own name. I, too, was one of the “stayers.” Of course, as a journalist, I had a job to do, so when a hurricane was predicted to come ashore, we packed up the equipment as best as possible, hugged each other, and promised we’d be careful. When it had blown out its wrath, we returned to our offices, unpacked everything, and offered prayers of thanksgiving that things weren’t worse. Then again, others weren’t so fortunate, and we fanned out to record their stories.

    I understand there are storms churning in the Gulf right now, so please be safe, my friend!

    1. It takes time to get over a trauma of any sort. There are tiny traumas that we recover from in only hours — like the day I dropped my wallet in the grocery store parking lot, and had it back within an hour thanks to the person who found and returned it. Other recoveries take more time, like driving again after an accident. Recovery from hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, and earthquakes can take much longer, and often the personal recovery comes long before the rebuilding is complete. I suspect that little girl, older now, is well over her trauma.

      We do have Tropical Storm Cindy — and yes, I do intend to be safe, not that I’m much worried about this one. Along with latitude and longitude, I always check to see where Jim Cantore has landed, and he’s in NOLA. The joke is that if Cantore shows up in your town, you’re in for it — and it is beginning to look as though Louisiana is going to get the brunt of this one. Of course, by morning things could change. We’ll see.

      1. I chuckled at your comment about Jim Cantore! Yes, he’s definitely the one to watch! I noticed he was in NOLA while Stephanie was in Mobile — guess they decided to split the difference.

    1. Did you — or do you — have family who were in Carla? I knew people all along the stretch of 59 from Edna to Victoria who experienced that one, and the stories were eerie. The most amazing was the ranch couple whose brick home had straw driven into the bricks at ninety-degree angles. The destruction was terrible, but the oddities were the stuff of conversation for years.

  18. Rather like fire from your last post, water is another power that reminds us our self-proclaimed sovereignty is a sham. We have had a rather wet spring this year, and although it is no hurricane, we are all reminded that we live at the mercy of forces that brook no insurgency. We can shake a fist at the storm, or God for that matter, but at the end of the day we have to figure out how to live with fire and water as surely as with the land and one another.

    1. So true. And believe me, one of the most difficult aspects of turning myself into a varnisher — who necessarily works outdoors — has been learning how to predict the weather for myself, and how to live with what actually shows up. There’s a long and interesting history of humans trying to control the weather in one way or another, but droughts, floods, fires, and blizzards still are part of the cycle. One reason they continue is that they are natural: however much we’d prefer it otherwise.

      Your comment reminded me of the many examples of these natural forces giving rise to our arts. Robert Frost’s poem, “Fire and Ice” comes to mind, and James Taylor’s song, “Fire and Rain.” We love to complain about the weather, but we clearly sense a kinship with its cycles, too.

  19. I become extremely put out with those self-deluded idiots who deny “climate change” (aka global warming) and call it a “bugbear” to frighten the public into enacting “pointlessly” restrictive legislation. One of the very real effects of global warming that we are already witnessing is to intensify severe weather and make it more frequent. Those in high places who hide their comb-overs in the sand and kowtow to the self-serving big money that funded their campaigns instead of trying to do what is best for those constituents they are supposed to represent and serve are not the ones whose lives and livelihoods are going to be devastated and swept away by the hurricanes, tornadoes and wild fires that global warming entails.

    1. One of the best things that could happen is for the discussions of climate change to become a bit more dispassionate and scientific. Such discussions can be found, but unfortunately they’re often drowned out by those who profit by scaring the public half to death. I finally turned off the radio this morning, after listening to the here-comes-the-apocalypse sorts trying to convince the public that the end is nigh. I’ll take a storm as seriously as anyone, but I’ll not give my time to people who use weather as click-bait. In the end, that sort of thing distracts from the real issues at hand.

  20. Oh, and speaking of latitudes, 33°34′N 101°53′W is me, 33°30′47″N 36°17′31″E is Damascus,Syria, and 33°32′N 7°35′W is Casablanca, Morocco, which puts our days of 100+ F weather in perspective.

    1. It certainly does. On the other hand, I suspect it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. I’m in my own yearly process of adapting to working in summer, and it certainly does make the old saying — “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” — seem on point.

  21. This is such a well written thoughtful piece about one of the most pressing issues of our time.. that is climate change which is impacting the rising levels of sea water, causing tremendous tragedy and trauma for so many in so many parts of the globe and no doubt will only get worse.

    Just recently in Sri Lanka we have had severe flooding with many losing their homes and many lives lost. Every single year this happens, it is just a matter of how severe it is and how many get impacted.

    Your post made me think as well of when we live in Nicaragua, where there is an island called Ometeppe with two volcanoes on it. One still active. The last time it threatened to erupt the villagers put the children on boats to safety but they stayed with the land and the livestock and would never have left their land, their earth.

    Excellent post.


    1. I’ve often read a blog from a woman who lives in Nicaragua, and she’s written about Ometeppe, including some musings about the relationship between the volcano and the people who live around it. Learning to cope with an unpredictable neighbor can be hard even on the purely human level. When you’re coping with natural forces that you know are lurking, I suspect the process is just as difficult.

      In this country, and I suspect in other parts of the world, two of the multiplier effects are the increase in population, and the apparently limitless desire of humans to live in places that are inherently risky, like the coast. We saw the effect of media after Katrina, too. The horrible evacuation chaos associated with Rita was due in part to thousands of people who had no need to evacuate doing just that because of fears engendered by the media. We need to become better at educating people, and at finding ways to counteract the stupidity and misinformation rampant on social media.

  22. It looks like the season is starting early this year. May it be a peaceful one. But I reckon there’s no trying to reason with hurricane season.

    1. I knew I could count on you, Bill. What’s The Season without at least one good Buffett reference? Now I’m making coffee to the song (which has a great video, by the way) and getting ready to see if I can finish up a job today before “whatever” finally shows up.

      Actually, this isn’t particularly early. Our big ones usually wait until August or September, but Tropical Storm Allison, which took out a good bit of Houston, was in early June. It looks like this one may be the same kind of rainmaker, even if it doesn’t arrive with wind.

  23. You certainly found the right words to address these issues — beautifully expressed. Had never thought of latitude and longitude being so meaningful in just this manner, and literally when it comes to your facing a hurricane’s prospect. Living inland in the midwest earlier, and even now an hour or so from the Pacific, we’ve not encountered issues in such a numbered way as you describe.

    1. And yet numbers are important as a way of describing the damage left by many natural events. Tornadoes are ranked on the enhanced Fujita scale: EF1, EF2, and so on. Earthquakes have the Richter scale, and hurricanes have the Saffir-Simpson wind scale that lets us talk about hurricanes in terms of categories. I’d never heard of a scale used to measure the intensity of forest fires, but it turns out there’s one that’s been proposed: the wildland urban interface (WUI) hazard scale, a tool that will help predict the threat and severity of wildfires.

      Always, the trick is learning to interpret the numbers. Many people will stay put for a Category 1 or Category 2 hurricane, but that’s where Ike fooled them. It was a Category 2 in terms of wind speed when it made landfall, but the storm surge exceeded what would have been expected with a Category 2. Thanks to that experience, storm surge is predicted separately now — very helpful for people trying to make such difficult decisions.

  24. Loved this story. I love the ocean, and I feel your love for it as well. Don’t know if I could live where I had to endure hurricanes on a regular basis. This just about broght me to tears with the little girl afraid to dance. Hope she rediscovers her “twirl” and God takes away her fear.

    1. What’s interesting is that our storms aren’t that “regular.” Some years there are many, and some years there are none. In fact, we haven’t had a significant storm since Hurricane Ike — nearly ten years ago. But of course when they do arrive, they tend to impress themselves on the mind.

      What’s amusing down here is the number of people who still tell the story of our Christmas Eve snow in 2004. One of the best photos from the occasion is this one, of a snowman with a surfboard next to the memorial to the victims of the 1900 hurricane. No one wants to re-live a hurricane, but I’d re-live that snowstorm in a minute!

  25. Much of the US is in weather turmoil, while here in WI it’s been pitifully pleasant. Rainy with fantastic clouds, but quite nice with lovely temperatures. I even wore my knit cap briefly today while working at the nursery.

    Snow generally stays put. It doesn’t often come through the front door, but does open ceilings from time to time. So I have little fear of snow and have been known to seek out opportunities to drive in blizzards. Water is such a thief. You just can’t trust it. A lovely rain storm, then it takes your whole house away.

    You being a nautical gal, I can understand your interest and serious attention to numbers. I just watch the clouds.

    Algorithm me up into the 7th heavens. That’s where I will be.

    1. The first rain bands have just rolled through here. I had a lovely day at work, since the wind was out of the north, and the humidity was down. Being on the backside of one of these systems can be quite nice; being on what they call the “dirty” side, not so much.

      I laughed at your comment about snow staying put. It brought to mind all those end-of-season piles of plowed snow that would linger well into March. Even where we’d only shoveled and piled it up alongside the drive, there would be little piles for weeks into the spring thaw. Sometimes, to make it linger even longer, we’d make snowballs from the last of it and put them in the freezer. Snowball fights with those things were strictly forbidden, of course.

      What’s interesting about latitude and longitude is that they’re a great equalizer: nautical sorts and landlubbers alike know their coordinates. Even people who don’t understand many of the details of hurricane formation understand that they’re sneaky little things, and can fool you up to the very last minute. I had some friends who landed — with their boat — in a canefield north of the intracoastal waterway, compliments of Ike. They thought they were getting out of the way of the storm, until the surge picked them up and carried them across three tree lines. They were safe, and so was the boat, but they lost their confidence in their ability to predict a hurricane’s path.

  26. Another passionate and informative sharing —
    My psyche is tuned differently from June – November, especially August through October! Doesn’t matter that I am no longer living or visiting “home”! Always be prepared to “Batten down the hatches!!”

    1. It’s true, isn’t it? There are certain ways of living during The Season that become a part of us, and a level of awareness that ebbs and flows, but never disappears. You’re right about the time frame, too. I don’t worry too much about June — its storms tend to be rainmakers, like Allison — and after early October, the water temperatures begin dropping. But July through September are iffy. I don’t literally mark the days off the calendar, but I know people who do.

  27. I find it hard to imagine what it must be like to live in an area prone to hurricanes or tornadoes but this well-written article has provided some clues. I vividly remember the night – must be over thirty years ago – when our house was so nearly hit by a lightning strike, or perhaps it was actually hit. The burglar alarm was certainly affected – it started sounding, couldn’t be switched off, and went on for hours until an engineer repaired it. Ever since I have had an anxiety about thunderstorms. It’s said that lightning never strikes twice, but rationality tends to go out the window in the middle of a storm. And with climate change, and the increasing volatility of the atmosphere, storms are becoming more violent everywhere.

    1. I understand your anxieties about lightning. I’m both fascinated by it and fearful of it, and my caution increased substantially when I learned that a “bolt out of the blue” is quite possible. They typically come out of the back side of a thunderstorm cloud, travel through clear air away from the storm, and then angle down and strike the ground — as much as 25 miles away, according to NOAA. That sort of information makes it perfectly rational to be concerned about the stuff.

      Living next to a marina filled with sailboats, I’ve had a few opportunities to see lightning strike a mast, and it’s quite a sight. Better the marina than my place, I guess — although I’m sure the boat owners aren’t too happy when it happens. We often have the pleasure of hearing car alarms, too. Like your burglar alarm, they get set off by close strikes, and can go on and on and….

  28. You are a true poet, Linda. This superb piece of writing, apart from bringing it home that I live somewhere which does not have to contemplate such life-wrecking weather, has given me a new metaphor. As an astrologer who works with Latitude and Longitude more metaphorically than literally, you have given me a wonderful new metaphor: fear as latitude, love as longitude. Thank you.

    1. I’ve never really thought about it, but your weather is different than ours. Friends in England and Wales will talk about damp, chilly weather, or interminable rain and gloom, but it seems you’re more likely to get gales than thunderstorms, and no hurricanes because of cold sea temperatures.

      I’m delighted to have given you a new metaphor. I hope you can find some creative ways to use it that will please your readers — and you!

  29. What poignant writing, fascinating as always. Glad the child is back on the coast, yes, we have to face our fears. I can’t imagine living with hurricanes, it’s mind boggling to me. I got caught up in a tornado, just outside Disneyland, we were visiting a cousin and actually skating outside when the world went black! I couldn’t believe how it hit and missed buildings so randomly! Scary stuff

    1. If I have to confront despicable weather, I’ll take a hurricane over a tornado every time. Even the most-quickly developing hurricane gives some notice, instead of just dropping out of the sky with no warning. And they’re just as random as you described. It’s amazing to see the paths they can take, dipping in and out of the clouds, skipping over some houses and taking others. Unnerving, indeed. i hope you enjoyed the rest of your visit, once the storm was over!

  30. I well remember that change in telephone exchanges. Amusingly, I’ve lost the numbers of our original exchange, but the word was Sycamore (SY). The loss of that word worked something of a loss of a piece of one’s identity, didn’t it? You post is beautiful, yet once again, and the story of the little girl a heart-stopper.

    1. And before there was PYramid2, there was 1906: not the year, but the telephone number I had to memorize before I could leave the confines of the front yard and start running the neighborhood. I regretted the loss of that four-digit number most, because it was part of the days of a telephone with no dial, and a nice operator who’d ask, “Number, please?” With all of our fussing about privacy (and rightly so, I think), it’s worth remembering that those operators knew who was talking with whom.

      The girl’s experience touches us at least partly, I think, because it’s an experience we all go through: driving again after the auto accident, going out again at night after being mugged, and so on. It takes time, but if we’re lucky we have someone to urge us along as that mother urged her daughter.

  31. I remember the trauma of going from IVANHOE 28646 to the 482-8646, losing a zone (Lansing 10, MI) to 48910 (and many after as the city became larger). And I still remember those strings of phone numbers (our first house, grandma’s, the I grew up in, the office number) along with SS, Driver’s License and more.

    But I can see why watching those you mention is of major importance in your part of the world and it is my hope that you’ll not see a single one of those numbers get too windy or too wet this coming hurricane/tropical storm season.

    The story of the girl on the beach who won’t twirl anymore broke my heart. There is a short story in that, or a novel all its own. Lovely post, Linda, and one worth pondering.

    1. I’m not surprised the story of the little girl touched you, Jeanie. Thinking about the past few years — especially the years of the Moscow Rules — it occurs to me that it must have been hard for you to keep twirling through all that, too. The next time you’re at the lake, you ought to go down to the beach and have a twirl: just because.

      I like Ivanhoe. I wonder who had the job of thinking up names for the exchanges? That would have been fun. If we went back to exchanges today, I wonder what they’d be named? There’s something to think about at work today.

      I’ve never really thought about it, but there’s less need for latitude and longitude when it comes to tracking other weather events: at least, for most of us. With a well-defined center and a slower speed, they’re perfect for hurricanes, but by the time we figured out the lat/long of a tornado, it would be somewhere else. The storm chasers get a lot of criticism, but the good ones play an important role.

      Of course, for a lot of us, the big question always is, “Where is Jim Cantore?” He landed in NOLA first for Cindy, but then moved west to Lake Charles. As always, he was spot on. If you ever see Cantore walking down the streets of Lansing, it’s time to pay attention!

  32. Excellent essay.
    Climate is climate, it is always changing, it has since the beginning. My motto is be as prepared as you can be, and then go on with your life.
    Here in earthquake country, and I’ve been through more than a few, the animals send off warning signals. I don’t know if it’s a disruption in magnetic fields or what.
    Been in 109 range here for some time now, this too shall pass…in the mean time I will have another glass of iced Luzianne…

    1. Prepare, and then live, is the best motto possible. I always swear I’m going to have all the chores done by June 1, but of course I don’t. Still, once I have the papers gathered, the inventory updated, and the extra kitty litter in the closet, I mostly don’t think about it: until the next one.

      As for the heat, the best advice I ever received was on my first night in Liberia. I landed in the middle of the night, and the air temperature still was over a hundred at the airport — probably because of the black asphalt as much as anything. When I got to my lodgings and discovered no AC, no fans, and no breeze, someone said, “Just don’t think about the heat. If you think about it, it will be worse.” And that was true. It’s one instance where not thinking is a good thing.

      Some friends who were anchored off Phuket when the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami hit said they heard many, many stories later about animal behavior — specifically, creatures heading for higher ground as soon as it stopped shaking.

  33. You have such an amazing ability to weave the most wonderful stories. Thank you!!
    I do hope you received a gentle rain from Cindy. You are so correct, that if Jim Cantore is in your area you had better be prepared. I saw him at the local truck stop one winter morning years ago, just before a major blizzard hit our area. Also, if Reed Timmer is around, you can count on a tornado in your area.
    Have a wonderful weekend.

    1. Here in Houston, Cindy turned out to be the storm that almost wasn’t. We got perhaps an inch or two of rain, and there was no wind to speak of. In fact, over the past month it’s been far more windy than it was for the “storm.”

      Isn’t it funny how everyone who pays attention to weather knows Cantore? And Reed Timmer is another one. The man’s crazy, but he knows his business. I follow both he and Cantore, just to keep track of them. They’re my early warning system. As I recall, Cantore was in the Hilton Hotel across the lake from me during Ike — the night the concrete panels were falling off the side of the building. Ah, me.

      Happy Sunday to you — i hope it’s a lovely one!

  34. Longitude and latitude… That in combination with our DNA, lets us know that we are small specks on the landscape but are, collectively, a being on this planet. As a group, we’re still small, but we’re more relation than not. Longitude, latitude, DNA speaks much to our troubled society.
    See what your thoughts inspired? Thank you for posting.

    1. Speaking of algorithms, I thought of you last week when this earthquake report crossed the wires. Well, it didn’t actually cross any wires, but on the other hand, some wires clearly got crossed. I laughed and laughed. It’s the funniest example of fake news I’ve come across yet.

      I have no idea why this occurred to me, but adding DNA to the mix is like moving from two-dimensional chess to three-dimensional. I’m not even sure that analogy works, but it’s interesting.
      And as you suggest, our place in the world is more than geographical. The numbers only describe where we are — not why we’re there.

  35. When I was a little girl, our house was smashed twice by falling trees during hurricanes. On one of those occasions, I was inside. After that experience, I tried to stay awake all night so I could warn my family when the storm hit.

    It’s that time of year again. Let’s hope for a mild season.

    1. That would be an unnerving experience, to say the least. Even without falling trees or flying roofs, the sound of the wind puts me a little on edge. Up to 60 mph, I’m good. After that, I start waiting for it to stop.

  36. So thankful that I live in the valley! It’s interesting how some people believe it’s all in the numbers, but I’m a word girl so I would write about it! I can only imagine what if feels like to live where you’ve lived through one or more hurricanes…unless you want to trade snow for water?

    1. Actually, I grew up in snow country, and loved it. Shoveling could be a pain, and the season could drag on a bit by March, but all of the sledding, ice-skating, blizzard-watching? It was great. And, yes: we did walk to school, even in the snow. It had to be really cold for our parents to agree to take us. In a way, living in hurricane country’s no different: it’s just the way it is, and once you’ve figured out how to deal with it, life gets a whole lot easier. Well — easier, at least.

    1. Of course we’re more than just a number. The problem is that some people don’t realize that — or prefer to ignore it. I suspect it’s related to our growing intolerance to those who differ from us, and the preference for the collective over the individual. I’ve been thinking more and more often of the funny but true line from Charlie Brown in Peanuts: “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand!” There’s a lot of that going around these days.

  37. I love how your writing wiggles through, starting with numbers and ending up with storm watching and the love of life. Since I don’t live in a hurricane area I don’t even know my numbers. This I know, though, numbers may one day be obsolete. We are already on to that path with almost only 0 and 1’s left of the numeric scale.

    1. As has happened with so many things, we may choose to ignore the role of numbers in life, but the realities they describe still will be there. As far as I know, we’ll not be able to legislate the value of pi or the Fibonacci sequence out of existence, although plenty of politicians and bureaucrats would like to think themselves that powerful.

      If nothing else, pinecones, seedheads, and pineapples will continue to follow those patterns — and where would photographers be without their numbers for aperture and shutter speed settings? If numbers become obsolete, I suspect humanity might follow right along.

      You tickled me with your description of my “wiggling” writing. There are times when all that wiggling gets me into a tight spot. Then, I have to back up and look for a different opening.

  38. It must be horrendous to live in a place that regularly experiences hurricanes and I can well imagine the extra-attuned senses that many people develop. The only hurricane I’ve experienced was what has now become known as “the 1987 storm”… Some storm, that! Winds of up to 100mph, dreadful damage. Very luckily for me and my family, I was in a big strong house (very thick walls) in London at the time… I ofen think of the three little pigs’ story and shudder at what might have happened if I’d been living in a house like the one I’m currently in which is wood-framed. I had a flat in my parents house and on the night of the 1987 ‘storm’ all the power went down, and my mother joined me in my kitchen to watch dustbons (trashcans) flying many feet off the ground round and rond the curcular road that the house was in. Despite being a strong house there was a lot of room damage and part or our 6′ high brick wall round the garden blew down. But the wosrt of the damage was to trees and, two years later I saw the full extent of the damage while driving through country roads on the oiutskirts of London.

    Here, whenever there are strong winds, I am terrified it might happen again as I don’t think this house would survive and we have no basement or cellar to get own to. We’re in a wide valley and wind always sounds ferocious when strong as it glances off the hills on either side and rushes toward us.

    I have a friend from Louisiana who was made homeless by Katrina, and I spent several weeks trying to find her when she went missing. Eventually she got in touch and we’ve stayed in touch since. I remember how worried I was for her.

    That poor child, I hope her mother manages to get that idea out of her head and that she can dance again.

    1. I don’t think of living here as horrendous, partly because the storms aren’t a “regular” occurrence. When they arrive, they certainly are disruptive and destructive, but given a choice between hurricanes and some of the problems experienced in other parts of the country (not all of them meterorological!) I’ll accept hurricanes as part of the deal. On the other hand, that kind of matter-of-factness is a part of the coping mechanism for many of us. “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best” is another expression that gets used a good bit.

      I’ve read some accounts of that 1987 storm, including recollections from blog friends who remember it all too well. One of the problems of post-storm life always is communication, as you experienced with your friend after Katrina. When even the cell towers go down, things get complicated. It’s one reason to keep a land line phone — and an answering machine. After Ike, I knew when the electricity was back on at my place, because the answering machine started picking up again. Ah, technology.

    1. Very interesting, particularly the details about the forecasting. I was a little envious of your 24-hour power outage. Two weeks after Hurricane Ike, a full quarter of Houston’s population still didn’t have electricity, and for many people it was much longer than that. I was lucky. I had taken my mother to her sister’s house in Kansas City, and by the time I got back home, the power was on.

      1. I can’t remember how long our power was out for, but parts of the UK have some dreadful times with flooding each winter that takes power out for longer.

  39. My grandparents had a house in North Carolina on the outer banks. It was wiped away by a hurricane after my grandfather died: and none of us were surprised…. but oh, it was beautiful and my grandparents walked the beach every day….

    1. It’s always hard to lose a special place like that. Even when rebuilding is possible, it’s never the same: even though thinking that it can be is one of our favorite fantasies. Of course, in the midst of the chaos few of us stop to think, “Perhaps it will be better than it was.” But sometimes it is. And the beach is still there for walking, just as the memories still are there for cherishing.

  40. Your love of the area always comes through, Linda. It’s a bit like being married and taking marriage vows. “Do you take the Gulf in good times and bad?” Obviously, you answered yes.
    I also think there is a whole psychology built around natural disasters which range from escape, to risk taking, to community building, to the experience of a powerful storm. It brings a break in the normal routine. One that people almost wish for, as strange as it seems. There’s also an element of self-identity and pride that comes from being able to say, “I lived through such and such. I was there. I experienced it.” As always, a thought-provoking, good post.
    As for numbers, lattitude and longitude are good numbers. :) As for us becoming nothing more than numbers, in 1964 I initiated a protest at Berkeley based on the fact that we had all become numbers. It was all for fun. My point was that a certain student’s number was lost in the basement of the Administration building. Therefore, he no longer existed. We wandered around campus with a casket looking for him. –Curt

    1. I’d forgotten one post-storm ritual that always follows a big storm: the purchase of the obligatory tee-shirt that says, “I Survived Hurricane [Fill-In-The-Blank].” The shirts always are made from cheap fabric, and the printing’s off-kilter — they have to be produced fast, after all — but there are a lot of people who buy them, even if their recovery hasn’t yet been fully assured when they do.

      I no longer have to prep a boat for a storm, which I can’t say I miss. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of anxiety. On the other hand, it’s a perfect example of the kind of excited edge that comes with a storm’s arrival. It can take a full day or more, depending on how large the boat is and how well-established the routine, and it may be one of the few times in a year when everyone is in the marina at the same time. One poorly secured boat can take out a dozen or more, so it’s important for everyone to get with the program. (I think there’s an analogy in there, somewhere.)

      I’ll say this: if it’s only a tropical storm that’s expected, and I’m not getting out of town, I love working on the water ahead of the storm, or at least being on the coast. There’s a time to shelter, but until that time? It’s quite an experience, like foul weather at sea. No one seeks it out, but if it’s going to show up anyway, you might as well make the most of it.

      1. Batten down the hatches, as they say. Did you used to scurry around in Liberia before one of their big storms hit? We’d be grabbing clothes off the clothes line, making sure all of our shutters were closed, and then holding out breath when the winds arrived. Loved it.

        It’s hot outside now and dark clouds are gathering! I’m expecting a thunderstorm. A doe is standing outside my window looking in. Don’t know what she expects. –Curt

        1. What I remember most clearly is the sound of the rain coming toward us through the bush. You could hear it for a good while before it arrived — reasonable, given the amount of rain that could drop in season.

          As for the doe — I know what she expects. The only question is whether she’s going to get it.

  41. Your thoughtful post reminds me of the irony of my existence. I am a highly-trained data analyst who thinks data mining is soulless (which may be I am changing careers at 50). All data analysis should be conducted in an attempt to answer an important question, not to balkanize us into anonymous subgroups without theoretical grounding. Thank you for sharing.

    1. First, thanks so much for stopping by, and for your comment. Your reference to Balkanization hit home. I’m convinced that the purposeful fragmenting of society is one of the worst problems we face, and I’ve come across more than a few studies that are little more than a conclusion in search of supporting data.

      I’m pleased to have found your blog, too. I’ve read a couple of entries that stirred some thoughts, particularly about epidemiology, but in other areas as well. As soon as I can get myself caught up from the holiday week, I’ll be by to read more closely.

      Thanks again for stopping by. You’re always welcome here.

      1. Thank you for this highly gracious reply and for reading some of my pieces. Civility lives! I am honored that you found my epidemiology posts thought-provoking, and I welcome further insights.

  42. We in the Northeast have much to be thankful for when it comes to devastating weather. There is an occasional tornado and the remnants of hurricanes do sometimes meander up here to spend their last energies drenching us and uprooting trees. But for the most part, we do not have to make a stay or go decision. I do not envy you and your neighbors having to make such determinations. Each to their own, I suppose, and each, as well, makes each decision based on current need and sensibilities.

    Regarding numbers, 45 years on, I can still recall my 7-digit college ID number.

    1. You know what’s strange? I can’t remember whether we had ID numbers in college. I suspect not. What I remember from college are the curfews: 10 p.m. on weekdays, midnight on weekends. When I listen to the complaints of some of today’s young women, I just shake my head. They have no idea what women of my generation have been through, or the cost of our decisions. It was a different time, to be sure.

      It’s interesting that “stay or go” is a relatively new conundrum when it comes to hurricanes. Before the advent of more sophisticated forecasting and tracking tools, storms arrived with very little or no advance warning. Just in Texas, we have Indianola and Galveston as reminders of what happened when people didn’t have a choice. Beyond that, there’s an interesting “storms gonna do what storms gonna do” mindset that affects people’s attitudes toward the things. I still remember my amazement many years ago as I listened to people who went through Carla (1961) reflect on their experience. There was an easy stoicism underlying their tales that would be unrecognizable today, encouraged as we are to become unhinged over every little thing.

  43. This is a beautiful meditation on the fulcrum of love and fear. As I read it I thought of Irma, bearing down on Florida where a number of my friends live. At the same time, my beloved Pacific Northwest is going up in flames and I don’t really think it is like a prairie, which is refreshed by fire. Economic realities keep me here, in the midwest, and I always debate~should I go anyway? Should I stay? Love, fear….indecision.

  44. There are ways in which a forest benefits from fire. For example, some of the cones and other plants require fire in order to germinate. But it’s true that recovery takes longer than on a prairie — much longer — and it’s also true that forest fires can be much more difficult to contain, simply because of the terrain. As I’ve learned, sometimes there’s nothing to do but wait for the first snowfall.

    Every time a storm comes along, I revisit the decision-making process myself. I can cope with hurricanes now, but when I’m 80 or 90? That’s quite a different problem. So, in the best tradition of Scarlett O’Hara, I decide to worry about that “tomorrow.” So far, so good, but the window for decision making is shortening every day.

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