A small building project is underway here. I am constructing custom built-in bookcases, not for books, but for compact discs. Still, I might do better to set the project aside for a time and begin building an ark, since it has been raining here almost non-stop for three days, and shows no signs of stopping. Tropical Storm Debby is to blame. She dropped seven inches of rain on Sunday, and another three-and-a-half yesterday. Today’s has been a gentler rain, but a rain nevertheless that has prevented me from making any progress on my shelf construction, since I have no garage and must work out in the open yard. If it is still raining tomorrow, I’ll make a trip to the lumber yard to pick up several hundred cubits of gopher wood.
Two years ago tonight I experienced one of the worst storms I can remember. It was a Friday, and I had spent the day going about my business, getting ready for my graduation the next morning. April storms are unusual, and the one that struck that night was extraordinary. It wasn’t just the rain (although it did rain 2.53 inches that night, a record for the date that still stands), but the wind was astonishing. When I attempted to open the back door that night, a gust blew it out of my hands. Fallen branches were everywhere, and at the end of the street, and elsewhere around the neighborhood, houses were crushed by entire trees. On 6th Street, a massive oak fell across the road, pulverizing the sidewalk and flattening a fence. When my family came to town the next day, the neighborhood looked like a war zone.
Two years on and the scars from that night’s storm are still visible. Two blocks north of me, a house that was heavily damaged that night now stands vacant. A tree had fallen across the roof and driveway, damaging the house next door in the process. The next door house got fixed, but a few months after the storm, and the tarpaulins that had been placed temporarily over the damaged roof had broken down or blown away, leaving massive holes open to the elements. Only a couple months ago did a new, more secure looking tarp appear over that house. Elsewhere, the half-ground stump of the giant tree that crushed the sidewalk along 6th Street is still visible in the now otherwise bare yard of the old farmhouse at 31st Avenue. The city replaced the sidewalk shortly after the storm, and the street has been repaved, too. The white house at the corner, the back half of which had been almost flattened, has been completely repaired. If you look closely you can see that the bricks on the east side have been replaced, and the spot where the enormous oak tree stood is bare.
We were lucky that night: our house, and the houses of our neighbors were unharmed. They say it may have been a tornado that plowed through. I can’t say, but I was glad to get by unscathed. Still, two years on that storm is fresh in my memory.
I am working diligently to complete my non-thesis project, so writing for pleasure has had to take a back seat to writing for displeasure. But a few things merit mention.
First,spring is here officially, and so is Daylight Saving Time, which I love. I’ve been going in to work at half past five in the morning this week, and yesterday I was in class until after six o’clock at night. Still, though I had dinner out last night, I still made it home before dark. That makes me happy. The azaleas are just fading, but the jasmine is getting ready.
What also makes me happy is that we had the warmest winter I can ever remember. It was genuinely cold only a handful of days this year, and we barely ran the heater at home. Our electric bills were lower than ever.
We are in a Golden Age of University of Florida baseball. Last night was their first loss in something like nineteen games, and UF is the number one team in the country right now. But, sadly, it won’t last. Many of the team’s best players are seniors, or juniors who will be tempted to go pro. Next year’s team will look a lot different. Meanwhile, I have been doing my best to get to the ballpark for every game, but school work has made me miss a couple now.
I am looking forward to putting this writing project behind me so I can get back to the things I really care about.
All of my friends in northern climes will forgive the boast, but at this moment—eleven o’clock in the evening on 25 January—the current Gainesville temperature is sixty-seven degrees. This afternoon it reached eighty degrees, and yesterday it was eighty-three. On my bike rides I have been sweating something fierce, and today I noticed that the swimming pool next to my old apartment building had quite a crowd. This entire winter, in fact, has been surprisingly warm. I welcome it. Two years ago at this time we were having the worst January of my life, with a solid two-weeks of freezing cold nights, and days that didn’t reach fifty degrees, and one that didn’t reach forty degrees. Now, oddly, this month we had a day with a twenty degree low, just as we did in 2009, but this year, on our day with the twenty degree low, the high was thirty-six degrees warmer, whereas in 2009, the high on the twenty degree day was only seventeen degrees warmer. Overall, we have had very few cold days so far this year, and I am happy about it.
I should say, of course, Happy New Year. I am sorry to 1.) make my first post in the new year occur more than three weeks into 2012, and, 2.) that my first post is about something as mundane as the weather, but when uses a bicycle for transportation as I do, the weather plays a much more prominent role than it might if one drove. That is to say, riding a bike in the cold sucks.
In other recreational news, I did something I never wanted to do: I joined a gym. Every time I go I think of this:
I am finding myself surprisingly motivated. I have gone three nights in a row this week, and even if I don’t go for hours at a time, I still go. I do a little treadmill, and an assortment of weight machines that are cleverly designed so that the bar cannot fall and crush your trachea. The last time I did any weight training was my freshman year of high school, and I recall that after four months of it I was significantly stronger. I am not trying to make myself look like the guy from the Old Spice commercials, but I would like to not make a loud grunting noise every time I bend down to tie my shoes.
Also, future me will be interested to know that the gym costs only $10 per month (which is much lower than other gyms, perhaps because it doesn’t have a pool), and I didn’t have to sign a year-long contract. Also, future me will be ashamed if he can’t run for more than ten minutes straight.
In the next couple days I will write about one more of the following topics: school, work, collecting classical music compact discs, a fancy new kitty that comes around my house, songs that sound stupid but actually convey a powerfully universal truth, and more. Also, probably how absurdly excited I am getting for baseball. But also how I spent my New Year’s, and how I ate homemade cinnamon ice cream and suck at Scrabble.
I have never seen a tornado in person. But I confess to having a bizarre curiosity. It isn’t that I am drawn to danger. On the contrary, I am not one inclined to try BASE jumping, SWAT teaming, Ice Road Trucking, or any other perilous occupation. Tornadoes fascinate me, however. I have watched storm chasers on the Weather Channel and thought, “that would be such a neat occupation”. But the reason I will never be a professional storm chaser—aside from the fact that it may not be a real job—is the same reason that I am intrigued by tornadoes: they are so powerful, but so inexplicable.
Scientists know what conditions birth tornadoes, and can use radar and other means to identify and track tornadoes. But even if tornado predictions were one hundred percent accurate, and even if meteorologists could give ample warning to people in the path of danger, they could still not explain the bizarre and almost unbelievable destruction wrought by tornadoes.
On NBC Nightly News this week, Brian Williams was standing atop debris in Joplin, Missouri. Behind him, a devastated landscape, with great heaps of splintered wood and twisted metal suggested the ruins of a home or business, and a mangled mass of automobiles lay piled one upon another. Williams turned to a small tree, standing erect, with some branches broken at the ends, and pointed out that it had no bark. It was, he said, as if someone had come by and sanded it smooth. Around him, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other trees bore the same unbelievable mark of tornadic contact. Then BriWi held up a black plastic garbage can – the kind used by countless municipalities across America. It had been speared by a long, dull piece of wood, which remained partly lodged within the container.
I couldn’t understand this sort of destruction. I still cannot.
I have lived through hurricanes. I have seen homes shorn of roofing shingles. I have seen trees toppled and homes crushed. I have seen waters rise and flood low-lying areas. But I cannot comprehend a force of nature that leaves a tree standing naked with no bark. How fast must the wind blow to strip a tree bare? If I had a steel adze I doubt I could slice the bark off my live oak tree, and even if I could, it wouldn’t look so clean. Saw mills use enormous machines to accomplish the same feat. A wind that blows hard enough to do that ought to rip the tree from the earth itself.
Likewise, what force would be required to drive a board through a tough plastic trash can? We have all seen video of two-by-fours being fired through sheets of plywood. But in those tests the plywood is firmly fixed in some stationary position. The same machine that launches lumber at high speed would surely cause a plastic trash can to go flying before it could pierce its walls, right?
Any force of nature that can rip the asphalt clean off a road ought to be feared as well as fascinate.