Natural Disasters

I wrote this last week, in pieces here and there, in between trying to go to work (often unsuccessful due to the havoc Hurricane Irene wrought upon poor little Ellenville’s municipal water system) and walking the dogs.  I did a lot of walking the dogs.

It is Sunday, Hurricane Irene morning.  I’ve been up since 3 a.m., when the wind and rain kicked into high gear and something (we now realize that it must have been our bat house) banged rhythmically against the wall.  Thump.  Thump-thump-thump.  Silence.  Wind gust.  THUMP.  Thump-thump-thump.  Something very large fell somewhere nearby, causing the whole house to shudder.  Then the power went out.

The hurricane is an apropos backdrop to my personal drama.  My daughter leaves home in five days.  Seventeen years of full-time residential parenting comes to an abrupt end.  The hurricane is a gift, forcing me to concentrate my awareness elsewhere while the time runs out on our last few days together, living out the end of this particular arrangement of mothering and daughtering.  The temptation is to wax maudlin and nostalgic, to wring my hands and beat my chest, crying out my motherhood’s desolation.  But I am in too deep: I can’t feel any of that.  Numb and slightly disbelieving, I focus on the hurricane and watch it as if it were a screen on which my psyche is playing.

No electricity, no phones, no internet, and no ability to leave, the house is an island, safe but isolated.  I wonder how my neighbors are faring, and how bad things are elsewhere.  I spend so much of my time connected to others, this is an interesting counterpose.  I have no connection to the outside world at all.

Where we live is bounded by two bridges.  Both were underwater when Irene departed.  The asphalt roadway approaching the western bridge is buckled, torn up and removed.  Gaping sink holes and gullies mark where the pond overflowed and became a river.  The power of water to undo rock is awesome, humbling, stunning and frightening.  The century old millhouse and its decrepit water wheel are gone, the entire building washed away.


The candlelight is enough to write by, but not really enough for reading.  I am stuck in my own head, worrying and nursing my own internal natural disasters.  I walk the dogs and the deep clefts and scattered sheets of peeled-up asphalt speak the truth of how I am feeling: torn up.  Rearranged.  The storm has passed but everything is different.  Nothing is normal.  I have been abandoned by normal.

I chose to practice yoga today.  I left the house early, aiming for a yoga class, having no idea that the world beyond my two bridges was in much worse shape than between the two ponds.  The roads were barely passable, the village without power and class obviously canceled.  I came home and walked and ran with the dogs.  We did a lazy four miles – while I was out I discovered that the County had closed all offices and a state of emergency existed.  Without work to constrain my time, I strolled, sprinted, jogged and walked with my three dogs, taking our time.  I came home and needed to practice.  Not a workout, not more exercise, but to practice.  I needed to meet my body and my mind and my soul on the mat and for a few minutes link all three with breath.  I practiced outside in the sun, my shadow offering feedback about the postures.

The rest of the day was a wash: no ability to do the things I wanted to do and no energy to do what lay in front of me.  I brushed the dogs for an hour or so, sitting in the sun, loving their love of my attention.


It is now Thursday evening.  I am still writing by candlelight, the borrowed generator just not up to the task.  Today was D-Day: drop off at JFK has been achieved.  Brave until the final hugs at the security check point, I broke down and cried, hugging her and feeling so proud of her strength in the face of my weakness.

I am officially an empty nester.  There is no concern over how I’ll fill my gobs of empty time.  In fact, I am hoping that I might see a little empty time in which I can store some memories and emotions.  But I know my proclivities: I’ll keep moving, keep doing, keep lining up new projects and knocking them down.

The hurricane and my daughter’s departure both add up to the same thing: things will never go back to normal.  Normal is forever altered.  I will mourn and remember, rebuild and adjust.  I’ll find something new to call normal, until that gets torn up and tossed aside.  And so it goes.

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