Must Be the Season of the Witch
Although I live in Southeast Louisiana, I have many friends and colleagues in the Northeast. They frequently extol the delights of the changing “seasons” and how it would not even be Christmas without snow. Indeed, the spectacular colours seen in the autumn leaves is a sight to behold; but on December 26th, 2002, when I went out in my pajamas and bare feet to get the newspaper and saw there on the front page that a Nor’easter (which has nothing to do with Easter) had dropped over twenty inches of snow on my friends the day before, I laughed and laughed and laughed. Although it isn’t white, and we have to set the A/C all the way down so we can enjoy a fire and hot spiced cider, we do have Christmas. (Not to mention, despite the purloining of a Pagan holiday, baby Jesus most assuredly was not born in winter.)
My friends up North can keep their autumn, winter, spring, and summer. In South Louisiana, we have our own seasons: football, Mardi Gras, crawfish, and hurricane. Of course, whereas I cannot bear the idea of being buried by two feet of snow, my Northern friends do not understand how I can live under the threat of hurricanes year after year (although now we know even New York City is not immune); but I grew up here and learned the ABCs with Audrey, Betsy, and Camille. Each year on June 1st we begin the routine of restocking the hurricane kit with processed foods and batteries and making sure we have plenty of sandbags, ice, and propane. My husband becomes an amateur meteorologist, fixating on each Invest that forms in the Atlantic and cyber-stalking Dr. Jeff Masters. And then we wait. On guard for an invasion, which most likely will not occur. Whereas winter can be counted on to deliver snow to the Northeast every year, just because we have a hurricane season does not mean we will have a hurricane – and usually we do not.
And when we do? Almost everyone has seen the devastation wrought from the wind and rain of a hurricane, but few people know the other side, that which Baudelaire called a vice “uglier and fouler than the rest.” Boredom. Hurricanes can be destructive or dull. Or destructive and dull. A tornado hits without warning, and a blizzard might give you a day or two head start. A hurricane inches across the weather map with excruciating slowness whilst meteorologists consult tea leaves or entrails to divine its path. Storms move toward the coastline at 5 to 6 miles per hour. Even I can walk faster than that!
Our personification of a storm only begins with giving it a name. “I wish Isaac would hurry up and decide what he’s going to do!” as if he is sitting out in the Gulf pondering which direction to go. (“Hmmm…I’ve always wanted to go to Tampa, but I hear New Orleans has completely rebuilt from Katrina. Perhaps I should go check out their new levees.”) We beg him to speed up not only because the slower he moves, the more dangerous he becomes, but also because the waiting in ignorance is excruciating. Should a family picnic be postponed? Will they move the football game? (A definite argument for not allowing our seasons to overlap!) They are so frustratingly unpredictable! Isaac kept delaying his arrival again and again, like that one unreliable relative.
That’s why we drink. We have hurricane parties not to welcome our unwanted guest or because we do not take the situation seriously but to quell the anxiety and anticipation of not knowing. (Note to self: Add Bloody Mary mix to hurricane kit)
The night before Isaac’s arrival, the feeder bands dropped the temperature and sent a delicious warm wind rustling through the trees, which made for an unseasonably pleasant evening for Louisiana in August. We sat outside drinking wine for hours, enjoying the rhapsody of the leaves – like waves against the shore – as our dogs scampered around like puppies, the low pressure making them frisky. The calm before the storm. We reminisced about hurricanes past…
Twenty-years ago, Andrew shut down our power for almost two weeks, leaving me with three young children out of school, at home with no television or air conditioning, miserable and complaining. (The kids were miserable and complaining too.) My neighbor and I managed to find a daiquiri shop with electricity (although we couldn’t get to the “good” daiquiri shop because a tree lay across that street), so we loaded her kids and mine into the minivan and enjoyed the A/C during the drive. Then we plopped the kids into a wading pool while we watched them and cooled off with our daiquiris. More than the damage we suffered from that storm, I remember the unbearable heat in the aftermath. I would have kept driving us around in the air conditioned car as far as the debris on the roads would allow, but gasoline was not to be found, and we had to preserve it for future trips to the daiquiri shop.
Then, at last, landfall! What will happen next? How bad will it be? Will Isaac take the fence that had to be replaced after Katrina and then Gustav? How long will the power be out? The rain and wind begin, and the politicians call for a state of emergency and a curfew. Isaac whistles and howls outside, pelting the rain against the windows like pebbles, but we are fortunate to have power. My daughter calls. “I’m bored.” A hurricane veteran herself, she remembers Andrew (92), Georges (98), Katrina (05), Rita (05), and Gustav (08). “There’s nothing to do!”
“Did you lose power?” I ask. No. “Is the cable or Internet out?” No. “Then why are you bored?”
“Because we can’t go anywhere.”
“Where would you go if you could?”
“I would be at work if it weren’t for Isaac.”
“Do you always go someplace when you don’t have work? You only want to go out because you know you can’t. Watch TV or a DVD. Read. Play cards.”
“Is this as bad as it’s going to get?”
I do not want to imply that my daughter or my dear friend, who called me with the same malady (and received the same advice), or any of us – in the vein of Baudelaire’s “dreams of hangings” – wants a hurricane that lives up to the Weather Channel hype. We were fortunate with Isaac that we only took some water in our gameroom (an odd expression, as if it were offered and we accepted). Yet the tedium of waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop could drive Carrie Nation to drink.
Now September closes, and although the season doesn’t officially end until Halloween, Louisiana has only seen three October hurricanes in the last sixty years. My daughter will come over, and we’ll divvy up any food in the hurricane kit that will expire before August (except the Fritos and bean dip – she and I will take care of that immediately, polishing off a can of dip each), grateful and relieved we had another “boring” hurricane season. Now it’s time to take out my football kit and use the Superdome for the season it is intended.Colette is the author of Pulse and Prejudice and All My Tomorrows.
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