Several years ago, on a thick, grey winter’s day, a chilling mist hung in the New Hampshire air. Having changed for ski practice, I was walking to the dining hall at my old school, and I passed a group of students also in ski gear as one fiercely hissed, “Well, it had better not be raining at the mountain.” I was genuinely surprised at the intensity of his unspoken threat, and turned around to say with a warm, slightly bewildered smile, “Or else what?”

The moment has stuck with me as a symbol of our cultural arrogance, as we raise our opposable thumbs to our noses at powers far greater than we.

I now live in Baltimore City (as distinguished from Baltimore County), uphill from sea-level and buffered by the bay. As Hurricane Irene threatened North Carolina, we batteried up and battened down, which involved taking down the awning, tying down stuff on the porch, and putting rocks in the garbage and recycling cans, clearing waterways, and a few other chores. I looked around the living room at my grandmother’s china, my mother’s artwork on the walls, and the books and guitars and All This Stuff thinking about people who’ve lost everything in natural disasters. “It’s all ashes and dust,” my Uncle Hunt would say. Happily, the storm weakened, and though limbs and trees and traffic lights are down all over, and hundreds of thousands around us are without power, we are very grateful for having suffered so little damage.

And now I hear, “What a hype!” or “What a bunch of whiners!” or someone recirculates the cynical, what-was-then-funny picture about our far-away-from-Mineral-VA, East Coast earthquake damage. No, no, My Dears. This was different.

It may well have been a healthy thing for The City of New York to shut down and wait. Watch. Listen.

by Mary Oliver

This morning
two mockingbirds
in the green field
were spinning and tossing

the white ribbons
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothing

better to do
than listen.
I mean this

In Greece,
a long time ago,
an old couple
opened their door

to two strangers
who were,
it soon appeared,
not men at all,

but gods.
It is my favorite story–
how the old couple
had almost nothing to give

but their willingness
to be attentive–
but for this alone
the gods loved them

and blessed them–
when they rose
out of their mortal bodies,
like a million particles of water

from a fountain,
the light
swept into all the corners
of the cottage,

and the old couple,
shaken with understanding,
bowed down–
but still they asked for nothing

but the difficult life
which they had already.
And the gods smiled, as they vanished,
clapping their great wings.

Wherever it was
I was supposed to be
this morning–
whatever it was I said

I would be doing–
I was standing
at the edge of the field–
I was hurrying

through my own soul,
opening its dark doors–
I was leaning out;
I was listening.

“Goodnight Irene” Huddie Ledbetter