Severe weather events imprint upon us, not so unlike the way they affect the rings of a tree trunk. Tree rings tell the story of a tree’s life, and the story of a tree’s life is also the story of its environment. Here where the rings are thick, we know the tree received abundant rain and sunlight. Here where the rings are thin, we know the growing conditions were not so favorable. Maybe there was a drought, maybe unusually cold, cloudy conditions. The tree was surviving, not growing.
Our lives are shaped by severe weather too. The trials of blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, and so forth become landmarks in the stories of our lives. For people who survived Hurricane Katrina, for instance, I imagine that everything else becomes categorized as pre-Katrina and post-Katrina.
Of course, as devastating as severe weather events can be, weather’s awesomeness can mark us in more favorable ways too. The wind before an impending storm can wake us up, makes us feel more alive. I used to run marathons and so ran for hours at a time on a fairly routine basis. Most of those runs have blurred into each other; they were unremarkable. But I recall well, and fondly, the runs marked by unusual and challenging weather—the times I ran against heavy wind preceding a monsoon, the time I was pelted by small hailstones, the time I ran 21 miles in pouring rain and frigid temperatures.
Likewise, some of my earliest memories involve the spectacularity of hurricanes and heavy thunderstorms. I remember my dad anchoring the trees in our yard with rope so the wind wouldn’t tip them like empty paper cups. I remember the wind tipping the trees despite his efforts. I remember my grandfather rowing a small boat to the store to buy diapers for my baby brother because the streets and lawns had disappeared beneath all that rain.
While the subjects of the five stories in this issue of Atticus Review are remarkably different in other ways, they all share in common a reverence for the sublime nature of severe weather and for weather’s power to lend shape and meaning to our lives.
In Erika Seay’s story “At Your Own Risk,” a woman spends a weekend at the beach with her lover, having told her husband, who is camping with their boys, that she’s vacationing with a girlfriend. Seay writes, “I turn around once to look at the beach, and it’s as though everyone is pretending a storm isn’t coming. Umbrellas tremble in the wind, and it’s storm-dark, but the swimmers still swim in the ocean. The sunbathers lie still. I ask Graham if he thinks it will start lightning. Lightning on a beach is dangerous, don’t people know that? And baby sharks—they do come from somewhere, do they not? The stories of ripped arms and legs, and people dying. When I tell Graham this as we turn through the rotating doors of the Sheraton, he laughs and says, ‘What—do you want someone to get eaten by a shark?’”
In Alison Lanier’s essay “We’ve Seen the Worst of It: Disaster Movies and Disaster Coverage,” a trailer for a natural disaster movie, based on real events, interrupts television news coverage of a natural disaster still unfolding, prompting her to contemplate the divide between the two. Lanier writes, “It was one of those surreal flipping back and forth moments, the television tangling real flood footage with CGI waves crushing boats to pieces off the Atlantic coast. The disaster-movie element of the morning nagged at me. Colliding with one another, entirely incidentally, the digital and the actual crushing weather battered against the other side of the screen.”
In Sherrie Flick’s story “Conduit,” a man grieves his wife’s death as he travels alone without her as he’d promised her he would, because they’d planned to travel the world together and never got the chance. Flick writes, “Later a thunderstorm rose up over the canyon, clouds forming in a frenetic choreography letting down quick rain in a bit spit ball. He wanted lightning as he leaned back to see the show, everyone else scampering to the tour bus for cover. Pow. Like magic it would conduit through his body connecting the not-world of Sally back to him. He held out his wrists, ready.”
In Sofia Fernández Nuñez’s story “A Myth of Maize,” a woman covers mirrors during a lightning storm, the way the women in her family have long done, a ritual that comes to represent the vast distance between her and her husband. Nuñez writes, “He’s told her many times in his funny Spanish that she isn’t there anymore, that she doesn’t have to hold on to that silliness, and she wants to explain that these things aren’t done out of fear or guilt or custom—that a part of her belongs to Chaac and his storms, just as her soul belongs to God. But her English lacks, the same way he lacks the knowledge, empathetic or genetic, to understand.”
In Sharon A Pruchnik’s story “Anything with Wings,” a woman moves with her daughter to Florida to try to escape their troubles, but their new home isn’t what they imagined it to be, and they soon learn that their neighbors have fled troubles of their own. Pruchnik writes, “But the scream gets carried away by a wind to beat all winds. It blows along the strip of land between 61 and 62 like there’s something huge behind it, banging the open door, whipping at the tree, stirring up papers and dirt and sticks. The garbage cans rattle their chains and even the picnic tables shift. Everybody squints and hangs on; the boy uses his long fingers to cover the baby’s eyes.”
Photo by Mark Beery