Monday, October 29, 2012

The Discovery of the Self in Hurricanes and Blizzards


Walker Percy wrote novels and essays about the disconnectedness of modern life.  One
cure for all this angst was a good old-fashioned natural disaster – like a hurricane.  He
contended that people actually cheer up in a hurricane, that we become more alive.
We live in a house on the water, at the end of the road.  The main room is perhaps 30 feet
long and 20 feet high, with the wall facing the water comprised of 12 huge windows. 
When one lives in a glass house, eschewing stones is not enough; one should also avoid
hurricanes.  But today there is a storm in the Gulf.
I have spent the day alone in my glass house moving everything movable to higher
ground.  My wife and our one child still at home are safely ensconced on the mainland.  I
am enjoying my solitude.  Today I am a chain-consumer of ice cream sandwiches, my
main source of nutrition.  I figure that they won’t survive when the electricity goes.  On
the radio a country band plays, “May the Wind Take Your Troubles Away”.  My wife’s
high school boyfriend, the one constant through our thirty years of marriage, calls to ask
how we are faring.  He is cheered by the news that she is safe, and that I am not.
The wetlands that abut our house are usually filled with large exotic birds –herons, ibises,egrets, spoonbills and skimmers – but today it is the pelicans that hold my attention.
Pelicans appear neither intelligent nor happy.  At best they are earnest.  My house
produces an updraft that the birds frequently use.  Up close, they seem very well fed
indeed, justifying every inch of their eight-foot wingspans.
But pelicans are so beautiful in the air.  They fly intelligently and cooperatively,
continually altering their styles to fit the wind conditions.  Every morning they fly west
past our house to their fishing grounds, returning each evening to their nests on deserted
islands east of here.  But today they are not happy flyers.  They began their journey home
much earlier, around noon – fighting 40 to 60 miles-per hour headwinds.  One slipup and
they get swept backward hundreds of feet.  I watch one huge, solitary, bedraggled
creature for 20 minutes – flying a few feet, landing in the water to rest, then taking off
again for another 10 feet.  He makes no progress, because the water current flows west.  I
hope the eye of the storm arrives soon, followed by west winds that will give him a free
ride home. But the west winds will bring further troubles for us humans, driving the gulf waters onto
the only evacuation highway.  The water is already well over the bulkheads, and lapping
up the lawn.  Another foot of tide and the ground floor will flood, and I will be forced to invite two large, wet, smelly, and not particularly bright dogs to share my living space.
But what a magnificent storm.  I drive the two miles to the main road, to leave my car on
high ground.  Walking back, a sudden gust blows me off the road.  I could hear the
pelicans snickering.
The next day my optimism is rewarded.  Flock after flock of pelicans return from the
west, after overnighting who knows where.  They are riding a stiff breeze, soaring for
long periods with nary a wing flap.There is enough lumber and driftwood in our yard to build another room.  The neighborsare remarkably cheerful midst the mess.  Me too.  That was the thing that really fascinated Walker Percy.  It takes something like a hurricane to cheer us up.
Me too (Blogger).

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