When I first moved to Virginia, I remember passing hurricane evacuation signs on the highways, directing citizens what roads to take in the event of an evacuation. Those signs were clear indicators I had moved to a coastal town, but I found them amusing in the same way I find signs at state parks that warn about bears amusing – they’re foreign, a danger I’ve never even considered before, and so my first response is to laugh.
I grew up around Atlanta, where the biggest worry we had was the occasional tornado. My mom worried over thunderstorms and lightning strikes, but the weather was never an event for me.
But once I relocated to Virginia, I began to understand the elements in a new way. I remember my first big storm, a Nor’easter during my final year of MFA school. I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in Ghent, one block behind the Naro Cinema. I lived alone, and all I knew of my neighbors was that someone across the courtyard played violin, the family next to me had a very rambunctious son, and someone above me cried often. We were all strangers, and I was alone.
Once I lost power during the Nor’easter, I got bored quickly. I couldn’t work on my manuscript because I would quickly drain the power from my computer. I couldn’t watch TV, and since the storm was so intense, the apartment was dark, and I couldn’t turn on the lights. So I laid in bed a lot, watching the storm out my window. I called people, updating my mom every few hours, draining my phone’s battery.
At one point during the final night of the storm, when it was at its most intense, I saw green flashes. It was like something from War of the Worlds, the sky flickering an eerie green the color of Nickelodeon slime. I had never seen green lightning before. I had never experienced a storm so strong.
When I finally left town the next day, my power still out, it took me an hour just to get out of the city – major intersections were filled with water. Cars had floated out into the middle of major roadways.
That Nor’easter, and subsequent hurricanes the past two years, filled me with a healthy respect for weather. The natural world is mightily indifferent to humans, to possessions, to property values or power lines. Living in Norfolk gave me a healthy fear of and respect for water – water that rises and recedes daily, that floods during big storms. Norfolk is a city that we hear is sinking, and I can believe it. Continue reading »