Saturday, August 27, 2011

Come on, Irene!

I have this weird affection for extreme weather. Strike that: I LOVE extreme weather. Give me a blizzard, torrential thunder storms, or anything that demolishes decorative shrubbery and sends average people speeding (and by that, I mean driving like entitled psychopaths) to Wal-Mart to stock up on bottled water and canned soup. I'm not the type to panic (probably because I have no decorative shrubbery, and keep a well-stocked pantry at all times regardless of weather), so I mostly just love bunkering down and watching nature bitch-slap our built environment. On some primal level, it feels like justice. As the eastern seaboard prepares for the onslaught of Hurricane Irene this weekend, I am bracing myself with childlike fascination for the show to come.

I've always loved seriously messed up weather, and a lot of that adoration can probably be blamed on school cancellations (for obvious reasons), but also on a baby squirrel. When I was too young for summer camp and definitely too unruly to bring to work, my parents hired a teenager or early twenty-something to come to the house and basically babysit me all day, every day. My memories of this girl are fuzzy: I know she had a kind of crappy car (which I only identified as "kind of crappy" because it was clearly older than either of my parents' cars, and I think my Mom made some disparaging comment about it once), I'm almost positive she was in college (but she mostly just registered as "older" since I was only six at the time), and she had some kind of weird birthmark on her leg by which I was absolutely captivated (because it made her different in some unique way, and therefore in my eyes far superior to basically every other person I knew). Let's call her Stephanie, because I was fairly certain that every super cool, college-aged girl in 1991 was named Stephanie.

Stephanie typically came to the house before my parents left for work, then left at the end of their work day. We would play games, occasionally run parent-sanctioned errands or visit parks, and even more rarely (but excitingly) visit her parents' lake house, where she had an orca whale pool float, which kicked ass. I had fun with Stephanie, to be sure, but her greatest virtue as a caregiver (from my perspective) was her willingness to humor me. She good-naturedly played along with my often day-long imagined scenarios, making her assigned My Little Pony (original ponies, none of these crazy new ones) trot and verbally engage with the story as my prompting dictated, and seemed almost as enthusiastic as I was to engage in an act of humanitarian aid when Hurricane Bob struck.

My parents had left for work, knowing that they were leaving me with essentially another kid alone at the house during a hurricane. We knew the weather would be bad, but my only partially-developed mind was in no way prepared for the madness that ensued. There is a picture window in the front room of the house I grew up in, as well as a massive window looking out into the backyard, so we had ample viewing options through which to observe the carnage. Branches were flying everywhere, rain was coursing down at every possible angle, trash cans and yard equipment that hadn't been properly secured were flung haphazardly around the neighborhood, and even the most stable trees looked ready to fling themselves suicidally onto waiting power lines. Stephanie and I filled pitchers and pots with extra water, made sure everything nonessential was unplugged, and spent the day moving from the windows at the front and back of the house, drinking hot chocolate despite it being August.

Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, chaos still rampant outside, I saw something tiny and gray drop from the maple tree in the front yard. I was (and still am) one of those kids who absolutely flipped out over animals. I could spend days at a zoo, and the dozen small animals at the tiny science museum across town provided sufficient amusement for my parents to probably want to hug them all, so when I ascertained that the tiny falling thing had been a baby squirrel, Stephanie was faced with a choice. Did she explain to me that sometimes nature is cruel, and not every adorable creature is meant to survive, or did she run out into the front yard, dodge catapulting branches and dirt clods, and scoop up a baby animal with a slim-to-nil chance of survival?

Stephanie kicked ass. She was outside in a heartbeat, kitchen towel at the ready, and before she had even dried off, that baby squirrel was nestled in a shoe box nibbling condensed milk off her fingertip. She called a local animal rescue group who told her how to make sure the squirrel (who at this point we had named "Lucky") stayed warm and safe. We planned to drop him off at the shelter as soon as the storm calmed down, because Stephanie did at least have the good sense to explain that however cute and helpless he may be, Lucky would make a crappy pet because of being wild and possibly carrying nonspecific disease. (Also, given that my parents had a hard time consenting to getting goldfish, a wild orphaned rodent seemed like a tough sell.) The next day, Stephanie and I drove Lucky to a local childrens' museum/animal rescue organization, and while I was somewhat heartbroken to give up my new little friend, I had learned a vital lesson: hurricanes can yield adorable little animal friends, or at least exciting adventures.

Granted, I have always lived in geographic regions are that more or less disaster-free. In Connecticut, where I grew up, one is more likely to be snubbed by a rude waiter than stranded on a rooftop during a hurricane-induced flood. The dangers are minimal, even humorous compared to elsewhere. Where we are in Maine is at least considered coastal, and is therefore occasionally subject to storm surges and vaguely nasty storms, the greatest natural threats come in the forms of large wildlife, which really only give you trouble if you mess with them first (say, with a car). Even in Upstate New York (home to fewer hazards more serious than a sub-par bed and breakfast), there were no earthquakes, no hurricanes, no floods (except that one really weird thaw-related mess in 2005, but that was a fluke), and barring some nasty blizzards, no major weather-related hazards.

I keep hearing murmurings from elsewhere along the coast of grocery stores literally emptied of all but shelves, and New York City is more or less shutting down (which is really weird), but up here, the biggest worry seems to be having enough cookies and/or alcohol to stay entertained in the unlikely event that power actually goes out for more time than it takes to charge a laptop. Still, even a greatly diminished hurricane is pretty major excitement around these parts, so out your Dad and I tromp to buy toilet paper, yogurt (a storm essential), and the juice I've been craving. It may not be a luxury premium plus survival kit, but I'm pretty sure we're going to make it. It's your first natural disaster, Batman! Here's hoping we have enough snacks for me to make it through without getting too cranky.

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