The Storm Before the Calm

This past Saturday an unusual and intense storm passed through Ontario, leaving a path of destruction, shattered trees, and downed power lines in its wake. My city was badly effected, and now, four days after the event, thousands of people are still without hydro. Luckily I only lost power for 31 hours, although my internet, TV, and phone are as yet not working. The particular wind storm we had is called a derecho, pronounced deh-RAY-cho, a Spanish word I had never heard before. Derechos are straight line wind storms that advance with a series of fast-moving, severe thunderstorms. They can sometimes extend for hundreds of miles, like an elongated, deadly wind tunnel. 

I had lunch with friends on the patio of a local restaurant on Saturday. We sat in the welcome shade of a spreading tree so none of us noticed the menacing sky until we got up to pay. The clouds were almost black, and the air pressure had dropped precipitously, igniting the primitive instinct all animals have to be wary when a storm is about to hit. We hastily said our goodbyes and hustled off to our respective cars. I had barely reached mine when the first heavy drops began to fall. Within seconds my car was enveloped in water, as though I had driven into a car wash, and I couldn’t decide if it was safer to drive the scant five minutes which would see me home, or to wait out the worst of the wind and rain where I was. At that very moment a large branch from the tree I had parked under came crashing down, landing mere inches from my front bumper, and made the decision for me. Obviously it wasn’t safe to remain where I was, so I put the car in gear and drove.

I thought I might just move into an open area, but as I got going it became clear that large objects weren’t just falling from above, they were also being blown sideways through the air. Just then, less than a minute into the storm, the power downtown went off with a flash and a bang, and all things considered I decided going home was my best option. What followed was a drive from hell in which I found myself dodging skittering debris with very little, and occasionally no, reaction time or visibility. I had to hold tight to the wheel to overcome the wind gusts which periodically threatened to push me off course while remaining mindful of the other drivers who were also blindly navigating the storm. It wasn’t a long trip, but it was extremely intense. I was beyond relieved when I pulled into my driveway, and just getting from my car into the house left me sufficiently wet that I needed to towel off and change my shirt. 

The worst of the wind only lasted for about 15 minutes, but the devastation it wrought is intense. Cars and sections of houses were crushed by fallen branches, entire trees were uprooted, hydro poles were snapped in half like toothpicks, and in some places whole lines of them fell like dominos. Hydro workers have been unstinting in their dedication to get things up and running in the days since the storm, but such massive damage takes time to repair and, I assume, must be done methodically. Downed lines which pose a health threat must be quickly dealt with, and getting medical facilities and grocery stores up and running has to be a priority. I’m sure they have plans in place for just such emergencies, and I am grateful for how quickly they have responded to this crisis.

The Chinese say that crisis is half danger and half opportunity – I have easily perceived the former in this situation, and while I have had to look a little deeper to find the latter, it is definitely there. Sunday morning I went out front and stood on the sidewalk in front of my house. I looked up and down the street to assess the wind damage and noticed little clutches of people everywhere. Humans naturally come together after, or even during, a shared crisis. The people on my street, many of whom normally have nothing to do with their neighbours, had organically coalesced to swap stories about the storm, and to speculate together about how soon things would return to normal. There is a deep, unspoken comfort in being with others who understand exactly the trauma you’ve been through, and to share the doubts, questions, and fears such events spawn in the human psyche. This storm facilitated people  meeting and possibly forming bonds of friendship with others who live close by, and that is a welcome opportunity I don’t think could have come about any other way. 

As an aside, I think the lose of our deeply human need to share our thoughts and misgivings about Covid face-to-face with groups of others made the last two years and the psychological hardships of the lockdowns much worse than they would otherwise have been. It was already extremely scary to think about the threat of a novel, sometimes deadly virus, not to mention very difficult and lonely not to meet up with family and friends, and I feel these problems were made exponentially worse by our inability to gather andtalk them through with people facing the same threat and worries.

The opportunity afforded by Saturday’s maelstrom manifested in my life in another way as well. I have three coloured, decorative metal orbs in my front garden, and the green one blew away in the storm. These spheres are probably about 30 cm in diameter, and I could only hope that this relatively large metal object didn’t do any damage as it was picked up and forcibly hurled by the wind. Yesterday morning I put the garbage and recycling by the curb as usual, and when I turned around to head back into the house I noticed that the green orb had been returned. I guess the person who saw it wherever it landed recognized it as being mine, or perhaps they didn’t know where it came from so they walked or drove around the neighbourhood until they saw the other spheres in my yard and assumed it belonged with its mates. Either way that simple act of consideration has restored my increasingly shaky faith in human beings, at least for now. There is so much discord, meanness, and violence in the world that it is nice to be reminded that most people are basically good and kind.

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