Living with Hurricanes
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ROGER ROSENBLATT: Hurricane season. It’s supposed to be more violent than ever this year, when the hurricanes, with their domesticated names, come tearing up the coasts of Mexico, Florida, and North Carolina and occasionally come her to the northeast. Some names stick out. Hazel in 1954; Donna in 1960; Andrew in 1992, Floyd in ’99.
In these parts of Long Island, and in New England, too, they still talk of the hurricane of 1938, September 21, 1938, when boats were hoisted from the moorings by 18-foot waves and dumped on the front lawns and the streets became creeks and the houses, houseboats; 494 people were killed in that hurricane; over 100 missing; nearly 2,000 injured. It’s something to see, a hurricane.
Technically, it is a tropical cyclone over the Atlantic with wind speeds greater than 75 miles an hour. Technically, it progresses from a cyclone, to a tropical depression, to a storm, to the full furious thing. Technically, it lasts for 30 days at sea, releases as much energy as the detonation of 400 20-megaton hydrogen bombs. The upward surge of air mixes with condensation, creates high winds and a rage of rains. But in terms of the emotions it generates, a hurricane knocks you about in several ways. It’s scary, all that turbulence. It becomes the storms you feel as well as the storms in the atmosphere.
ACTOR: Two hundred miles an hour that wind blew, a tidal wave 12 feet high went right across the keys, whole towns were wiped out.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Like the hurricane in “Key Largo,” whose sturm and drang imitated that of the lives of Edward G. Robinson and Bogart and Bacall and the killers at the inn. Nature has a way of cooperating with one’s mind from time to time, though the literary idea of the pathetic fallacy was supposed to debunk that notion. In the “Red Badge of Courage,” the full blazing sun cared nothing about the turmoil of the deserter. No sympathy there.
But sometimes we do become the weather and the weather, us. September will never be the same after 9/11. We have been told to expect a hurricane ever since; alerts go from yellow to orange to red. Any loud noise spins the head ’round. Throw the Northeast into a blackout, and one of the first thoughts is sabotage– fear of the whirlwind. It’s just the way it is. We live with hurricanes. I loved to watch hurricanes here, when I was a kid — the trees bending like hunting bows, the churning of the bay, the wild winds taking your breath away – excitement — danger. I’m not sure that I’d be so thrilled at my age now.
Live long enough and you endure a lot of hurricanes, both real and metaphorical. Not much fun. One thing you do learn: That inside and out it is always hurricane season, even here and now when it is dry and bright and clear.
I’m Roger Rosenblatt.