Negotiating with Nature

You don’t negotiate with nature, newscasters, you bow before it.

Hurricane Harvey from the International Space Station

The hubris of humanity is in their belief they are in control of the natural world. Our technology has given us the impression we are the equal of nature and our capacity to shape the world makes us the undisputed masters of it.

This has led to the belief we are in control and that nature now must bargain with us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Nature is in complete control of this equation. We are the result of the function machine that IS Nature.

We are no more in control of our planet than birds are in control of the air they use to fly. We are subject to Nature’s whims. We are victims to nature’s fury. We are blessed by natural beneficence. At no point in this equation do we control anything.

Natural disasters are the time when we remember the true results of the function of the natural laws of this planet.

Earthquakes, invisible, they strike without warning. They destroy indiscriminately, and then they end. And we forget them. Until the next time. Maybe we do something to make buildings stronger, or realize we shouldn’t live in an area and avoid it in the future.

Or maybe we delude ourselves and build even taller buildings on a site where the Earth moves… Yes, I am talking to you, city of San Francisco.

The hurricane is a different story. They are the natural disaster you can predict. You can watch them form. Talk about them when they are just children, calling them “tropical depressions” and how much rain they might deliver “if” they come toward land.

Then they get stronger. Hit the “teen years” and become a category one hurricane. You pay attention to them. You try to convince yourself “it’s just a phase,” and “It’s probably going to stay at sea.” The you go off to coffee and forget the news for twelve hours. At 11:00 when you are still up watching the news, you hear: “The hurricane is heading inland and will arrive in 24 to 36 hours. It will drop an estimated 20 inches of rain at its present course and speed.” No notes of evacuation are mentioned, because after all, it’s just a category one, right?

In a few hours, it gets re-rated and becomes a Category 2. The teen years are over and a real hurricane is coming. Evacuation orders are considered. People start raiding the stores under the guise of “stocking up.” Store owners cancel future orders and start trying to see what they can sell and salvage before they close up their storefronts. Greedy stores keep the doors open and surreptitiously raise their prices, a totally illegal act known as price-gouging.

Human nature is gathering energy just like the Hurricane is. We are reacting to this storm in a symbiotic manner, doing what we can to survive. And once upon a time we might have done this and been justified, when hurricanes were routinely much smaller, and carried much less energy than storms do now.

Old people tell you, this storm feels worse. I think we should leave. Young people think: it’s just a hurricane, we hear about them all the time. Now it’s a category three. Government decides it should give an order to evacuate, to those people who aren’t already prescient, suspicious, or paranoid and haven’t left town twelve hours ago.

Now stores become the primary destination for anyone with feet. Get what you can. Prepare for the worse. Grab extra water. Stock your freezer with ice. Prepare your emergency kits. Check them twice. Board up your windows. Get sand bags. Make sure you have your baby pictures and important papers.

Category three is when we start taking the idea of a hurricane seriously. Which, incidentally, is ridiculous because small hurricanes can be just as dangerous as big ones, depending entirely on how they move, how long they visit and how much water they pick up along the way…

People who don’t follow hurricane warnings, watch television, listen to radio, notice their neighbors running like lemmings, didn’t go to the store, or were otherwise involved in the minutia of life, go on as usual, sensing a change in the weather as the fringe of the storm reaches the shore.

This will be the last night your world will look like this. Tomorrow, your arrangement with Nature, such as it is, will end.

Your belief in mastery of the ground by paving it, ends.

Your belief in Nature being relegated to creeks, streams and rivers will end.

Your belief in your dominance of the land because of your ability to cross vast distances in minutes, ends.

Your ability to almost engage in telepathic communications across the world with complete strangers, ends.

You will be limited to the range of your eyes. The depth of your hearing. The strength of your voice. You have become subject to Nature again.

The rain will come. The winds, too. Both slowly at first, and then they will increase. Creeks, streams overflow their banks in hours. And the heart of the storm hasn’t even struck home yet.

Your hurricane is a category four. Your world will never look the same. You will never trust the sky again. You will never feel secure again. You will never underestimate the power of nature. At least until your self-delusion kicks in ten years from now.

“Hurricane Harvey made landfall Friday night between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, Texas, as a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

Harvey is the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Charley in 2004.

The storm is pounding the Texas coast and its millions of residents with hurricane-force winds knocking down trees, power poles and signs, and with torrential rain deluging streets.”

Say the newscasters everywhere but where you live. Because at 130 miles per hour, telephone and television services are likely sporadic, undependable or simply gone.

There are no more creeks. No more streams. No more rivers. There is just water. You watched it fill your streets, first at the curb. It went down the drains and you thought it would be okay. Then the drains stopped working. Then it filled your street. Then it started moving. And soon it was higher than your curb. It became a thing alive unto itself as the winds pushed the waters, shook the houses, tore off the roofs, roared not to unlike a beast of the field.

The weather became a beast of nature. Ripping through streets, tearing the cars off what were once roads, filling cars with water, stranding people on top of them, if they weren’t swift or bold enough to run toward what might not be a house in a few hours.

The words “high ground” become hallowed ones, uttered between every curse you make as the waters keep rising.

The storm will destroy ten thousand homes, maybe many more. People will tell of the walls of their homes breathing with the pulse of the wind. People will tell of their roof tearing off the top of their house, some will say it was like watching someone unzip a coat a slow, steady process unnerving because of the sheer gravity of it all. In an hour, you won’t have any protection from the storm.

Other’s experience this in seconds. One moment there was a roof. The next, there was not. The storm is now with you. Trapped as the walls tumble. And the water rushes in. And the night consumes all that you know.

This is Nature at her most terrifying.

There is always the dawn. At night, you cannot see it. You can only imagine what’s left of your world.

The dawn, she creeps up, still behind the remnants of the worst part of the storm, for you, right now. The rain still falls, but nothing like last night. The wind still howls, housecat yowls, not the roar of the tiger last night.

Your street is gone, now replaced with a river of debris, of toxins, of human wastes flushed from sewers and homes and farms. And you are waist deep in it. Or you would be if you weren’t living on your roof in a tent you set up in the storm while your house flooded, one floor at a time.

Now you hear the stillness. No cars. No television. Maybe a tiny AM radio if you were lucky enough to grab one. For hours. Your fatigue is tired. You have nothing left to give, but your kids can’t see that. You project control. If you can. They still need to eat. You need to get off this roof.

And the secret fear you have in the darkest, most hidden area in your heart, the fear you dare not give name to, lest it choke off any action left within you: What if this isn’t the end? What if there is more storm to come?

You listen for the sound of boats. Or of people braver than you, who realize they need to move, while they can. But right now. On this first day of a natural disaster with a category four hurricane, you don’t hear a thing.

You don’t hear the politicians who say climate change isn’t real. You don’t hear the oil company leaders saying we don’t have to worry about climate change because it’s not possible for mankind to alter the weather. You don’t hear about the media pundits soaking up all of the airtime they can get pushing their views of the Hurricane to anyone left lucky enough to hear them.

You don’t hear a thing. Nothing but the wind and the cries of others, who, in the deepest of their heart of hearts lie in the distance, renegotiating with Nature.

How does hurricane Harvey compare to hurricane Katrina

How to donate to those subjected to the hurricane and how to avoid scams:

Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning essayist, author and journalist for various online publications, anthologies and websites which fancy themselves having discriminating tastes in speculative fiction, non-fiction journalism and critical thinking.

Today he is still missing his cat. And grieving for those souls struggling with the aftermath of hurricane Harvey.

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