We may have been to the moon—if not personally, collectively—but we still don’t control the weather down here. It’s probably not news that the eastern part of the country has been getting a lot of rain lately. One of the factors that led me to write Weathering the Psalms was the overwhelming tendency for humans to attribute weather to the divine. It used to be that we couldn’t reach the sky, so placing deities there seemed a safe bet. Now that we’ve shot through the thin membrane of atmosphere that swaddles our planet, we’ve discovered beyond a cold, dark space liberally sprinkled with stars and planets but mostly full of dark matter. The deity we thought lived beyond the sky somehow wasn’t anywhere our probes flew and recorded.
Still, down here on the surface, we live with the realities of weather and still think of it in terms of punishment and pleasure. When we don’t get enough rain, God is destroying us with drought. Too much rain, and the Almighty is washing us away with flood. The true variable in all of this is, obviously, human perception. Sure, animals experience the weather too, and they sometimes look to be as disgusted as humans when it snows too early or too late, or when the rain just won’t stop. I have to wonder if somewhere in their animals brains there’s the seed of an idea that the bird, or squirrel, or woodchuck in the sky is angry at them for some unspecified faunal sin.
While heading to the store yesterday, after weather reports assured us the rain was finally over for the day, the skies told a different story. The vistas around here are never what they were in the midwest—or what they are in Big Sky country—but the approaching storm was pretty obvious. An opaque drapery of precipitation was coming our way and although a rainbow would cheekily show up afterward, knowing that we’d been caught away from home with our windows open felt like punishment for something. Perhaps the hubris of buying a house when all I really require is a corner in which to write. Somewhere in my reptilian brain I translated a natural event into a supernatural one. When we got home to discover the storm had gone north of us, it felt like redemption. I spied the birds sheltering in shadows from the sun’s heat. Were they thinking it was some kind of divine avian displeasure, and hoping for some rain to cool things off for a bit? If so, was our religion correct, or was theirs?
Posted in Animals, Consciousness, Environment, Just for Fun, Posts, Religious Origins, Weather
Tagged animal intelligence, outer space, rain, Weather, Weathering the Psalms
Liquids are the enemy. Don’t let the cuteness of this little guy fool you—there’s collusion here. For as well as creating life, and being necessary to sustain it, water destroys. Creator, annihilator. We moved during a time when neither of us had vacation and we told the over-tired movers that it was okay to put our boxes in the garage. We planned to move them soon, but, you know, work. Then the rains came. Not just sprinkles, but downpours. The garage isn’t water-tight. Boxes were soaked. Many books were damaged. This wasn’t a flood that can be claimed on insurance, it was simply rain pooling where people usually park their (normally waterproof) cars. In their place sat our books.
We both worked the day after the rains. When we discovered the damage the next evening, it looked manageable. I had to work the next day, of course, and a few breaks sufficed to get the many, many boxes of damaged books out into the sun. It was carnage. We don’t have much in the way of material goods; we spend a bit of money on books, however. Now they’ve become the victims laid out on this altar of home ownership which, at the time, seemed like a good idea. We needed a house for our books. We needed time to move them from the garage to the house. Yes, old friend Morpheus, “Time is always against us.”
Job sat upon his ash-heap and pondered why he’d paid the movers so much only to have his moved goods destroyed. And in a manner in which insurance assessors are trained to point to the fine print. Those who store their goods in the garage reap the wrath of liquid. You see, when water reaches cardboard, or paper, the wood pulp sucks it up. Carefully dried, the paper remembers the compelling nature of water. Too little, and you die. Too much, and you die. No wonder the ancients thought that water was a deity. It claims all—tries to get in through your roof. Lays insouciantly on your basement floor. And the garage—yes, who thought of the garage when the immediate concern was to shut the windows to keep Leviathan out of the house? I spent weeks carefully packing those books against shipping damage. Used up my vacation days doing so. Chaos has claimed them. I would weep, but that would be collusion with the enemy, even if nobody sees.
Posted in Books, Current Events, Memoirs, Natural Disasters, Posts, Weather
Tagged Book of Job, Books, Chaos, moving, water, Weather
While in a used bookstore recently, I was going over the science titles. I like to read accessible science since I often find it approaches religious ideas in secular terms. Once in a while even the terms of these disparate disciplines coalesce. I spied a volume on the top shelf titled The Mercy of the Sky. The spine showed a purplish cloud-bank, and the very concept set me wondering. We’d just been through a bomb cyclone the day before with wind bellowing through our apartment. Many trees were down and power was out for several people I’d overheard talking that day. I stared at the spine, thinking perhaps this would be a good follow-up to Weathering the Psalms, but as I already had books in my hands, and since I’m not the tallest guy around, it seemed beyond my reach. Of course, after I left I thought more about it.
The previous day’s nor’easter had revived that sense of a storm as divine anger. Strong winds, my wife commented, are generally disturbing. They make it difficult to sleep. It’s hard to feel secure when the heavens are anything but merciful. Although the wind is easily forgotten, it’s among the most easily anthropomorphized of natural phenomena. And it’s ubiquitous. Everything on the surface of the earth is subject to it. Indeed, the atmosphere is larger than the planet itself. Is it any wonder that God has always been conceptualized as in the sky? The quality of the mercy of the sky, we might say, is strained.
Danger comes from the earth below us, the world around us, and the realm above. Like our ancient ancestors staring wonderingly into the sky, it is the last of these that’s most to be feared. The wind can’t been seen, but it can be felt. It cuts us with icy chills, drenches us with dismal rain, even flings us violently about when its anger compresses it into a tight whirl. We can’t control it. Unlike other predators it requires neither sleep to refresh nor light to see. Its rage is blind and it takes no human goodness or evil into account. After a great windstorm, the calm indeed feels like a mercy. Elijah on Mount Sinai stood before a mighty wind, tearing the land apart. It was the still, small voice, however, that captures his imagination. There’s a calm before the storm, but it is the stillness in its wake that most feels like the mercy of the sky.
Posted in Books, Current Events, Environment, Natural Disasters, Posts, Religious Origins, Science, Weather
Tagged Elijah, Nor'easter, science and religion, The Mercy of the Sky, used books, Weather, Weathering the Psalms
As the northeast coast digs out from yesterday’s nor’easter at least we can thank God that no business days were lost. At least none based on the status of New York City schools. Some NYC businesses base their decision on whether an adult snow day is in effect or not on the decision of whether or not to close the public schools. If kids are expected to make it to school, well, pull your socks up, thrash through the snow, and get some work done. I was fortunate enough to be able to work from home during the event that began like a snoreaster. By the time I would’ve usually been on the bus it wasn’t snowing. Roads were wet, but it seemed like a normal day. So it continued until about 10:00 a.m. Then it really did snow.
I’ve commuted long enough to know that, as grueling as getting up early and trying to get to the city may be, the evening commute is always worse. It may seem hard to believe that there are traffic jams before 7:00 a.m. most days, but around 5:00 p.m. all bets are off. The news vendors were lamenting the fate of those who had to find their way home in a foot of snow, even as it was still coming down swiftly. Nature doesn’t abide by our work schedules. Many companies don’t care if you can’t get out—you chose to work in the city. If it takes you three hours to get home, that’s not a work problem. It’s a personal thing. On personal time. Choose wisely.
All of this makes me reflect on the way we think of work these days. Commuting into the city shouldn’t be a dangerous job like being on an Alaskan fishing boat is. Chances are the actual daily work consists of sitting in a cubicle staring at a screen. Eye strain, carpal-tunnel syndrome, and boredom are the only real dangers here. Unless you’re taking the George Washington Bridge, carpool tunnel is a far more sinister threat. If you make it home in time to come back in tomorrow, then it’s all good. We do this so that we can earn money to spend, mostly online. We haven’t quite got to the point yet where we can wire our physical bodies to the internet so that we can stay at home and work 24/7. But it’s coming, just like the next nor’easter. In the meantime, I have a bus to catch.
Posted in Consciousness, Current Events, Just for Fun, Posts, Travel, Weather
Tagged commuting, New York City Public Schools, Nor'easter, snow day, technology, Weather