you thought who was in charge?
last night, in the dark, we couldn’t see. after the winds died, after the rain slowed to a lull, we swung beams of the flashlights, raked flickering bulbs through the limbs of the trees, searching for ones who’d not made it.
the sky the color of bruises, when the bump on your shin turns that god-awful purply-green, i ventured out to the street that had turned to a river. saw whole halves of trees sprawled in their dying, smack against asphalt, what had been the lanes but now was the slow-stirring current.
i couldn’t stay long, though, because the rain, like a faucet, turned on again. and the lightning wasn’t far either.
and besides, inside was as dark as the outside. maybe darker. looked, by now, like little house on the prairie. most likely, a long night ahead, making like ma pioneer and her kinfolk.
candles were burning. i’d stolen an armful from the fridge, before it lost all its cool. i would make do: near-frozen sausage, cold squares of pasta, brussel sprouts i managed to steam.
it doesn’t take long to stand in amazement at the power of the electrical grid. you bump along into realizing, one after the other, just how much of your life cannot be, when the lights dim, then flicker, then die.
all the hum of the house stopped. there wasn’t a sound but the pounding of rain, and the little one’s gasp.
we’d all been in the basement. watching the news on tv. watching the red splotches right over our town on the map that showed where the storm was, that spelled out the wrath of the late summer’s fury.
we went to the basement when the trees went horizontal. when all that was green turned to silvery-gray. because nothing was up anymore. everything turned on its side. even the rain came in sideways.
it had taken three hours for the one new to high school to get home from the school just five miles away. with a late summer tornado in the offing, they’d locked down the campus. stuffed some 1,000 kids into the cafeteria. then, when they got the all-clear, when they let them onto the buses, it took a good hour to course home through the downed power lines and the trees that were blocking the streets.
he came in with a soaking-wet smile. it had been a five-star adventure.
we thought the worst of it was over. but that’s when the lights dimmed and died. a gasp, then a shudder, then darkness.
we three in the basement, the deeply black basement, we shuffled and groped for each other. we climbed up the stairs, dug out the candles, the matches, the flashlights.
we got a call from the village. do not leave your houses, they warned. there were trees down all over town. roads blocked. power lines dangling. live ones, they made sure to mention.
i figured we were in for a few days of darkness. gulped hard, realized once the last drop of light was wrung from the fading night sky, this game would get old. i’d not want to play pioneer. i’d long for the microwave popcorn.
the little one, the one who takes flashlights to bed, he thought this was pure heaven. put himself in charge of dessert, scoured the pantry looking for sweet things you could eat that didn’t need light or heat. believe me, he was stocked within minutes.
but just as we sat down to our candle-lit dinner, the dinner prepared by the gas of the stove, the lights, brighter than i’d remembered, it seemed, snapped right back on. the whole house, the whole street, dotted with lights that any other night i’d take wholly for granted.
the tv, once again on, told us the winds had whipped up to 80 miles an hour. some 1200 trees were down in the city. light poles too. cars and houses were crushed.
then the call from the school came. high school, which had been in session for all of one day and a half, was cancelled. the back-to-school buzz was put on hiatus. and, believe it or not, that was not news met with a grateful reception. it was rather deflating to a boy who’d just gathered the steam to start climbing that steep high-school hill.
and so, not much later, i rolled into a bed with an alarm clock blinking beside me. and all through the night i tossed and i turned to the far-off wail of the sirens.
when light came, i tiptoed out where before i’d not been able to see. i looked into trees, heard the sigh from all that survived.
i tried to tend to the wounded. dragged broken limbs off of bushes, hauled logs from the garden.
on a morning of eerie strange calm, in the dawn of an unsettled day, it’s not hard to get goosebumps.
it’s not hard, not at all, to remember that not for a minute do we know what each hour will bring. on a dime, winds change. the sky turns to odd ugly colors. all that was, might not be.
don’t bother to think that you are in charge of what’s scribbled there on the calendar, or even what hangs in the trees.
someone else blows the wind.
the wrath of a late summer’s fury leaves the world weak at the knees. most of all, is everyone safe? when you surveyed the scene in the morning did you hear a few cracks in your heart? is it not humbling to learn once again that we are but markers on the game board that is our small planet? all across the country, the sweep of weather’s great wrath is tweaked and twisted. my ugly day might be your beautiful morning. not a bad back-to-school lesson: count on little, but do count your mercies. some mornings, they’re big as the trees that still scrape the sky.