Nature’s Many Faces

Yesterday my daughter discovered what her new rubber boots were for.  While walking Betsy at the creek, she tromped through a puddle and found that her feet were still dry and that a delightful splashing sound accompanied each step.  Her face read like a book, first recognition, then understanding, then realization of the fun that could be had. That small, murky puddle may as well have been the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to Amelia as she proceeded to gleefully splash around in it for the next twenty minutes.  And I stood in a gentle rain watching my daughter begin her lifelong relationship with her new friend, Nature.

It embodied everything that childhood is about and was a joy to behold. It also did much to lighten the load of the previous days’ events.  You see, that innocuous little puddle was a remnant of the driving rain flung across the city by Superstorm Sandy, the massive storm that pummeled the Eastern Seaboard, and reached all the way inland to our city on Lake Ontario. Much like Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast, the awesome devastation of the storm lay not just in its attack, but in its aftermath as well, and as I write, the death toll climbs, people survive without electricity, streets and homes are underwater and many roads and trains are useless. The pictures range from horrifying – like the views of the Breezy Point neighborhood in Rockaway flattened by flood and fire that consumed over 90 homes –  to jaw-dropping – with shots of water pouring into the NYC subway and tunnel systems, to the sublimely beautiful satellite photographs of the entire storm covering our corner of the blue planet.  It was and continues to be a bitter lesson both on the evolving science of climate change and meteorology and on the sheer force of Nature’s dispassionate power.

Hurricane Sandy Viewed in the Dark of Night. Image acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite around 2:42 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time  on October 28, 2012. 

And amid an event marked by one disaster after another, those of us of the maritime profession (present and past), add also the keen pain of the loss the HMS Bounty, her Captain and one crew member.  Though my two years away often feels like much more, I join many of my colleagues in expressing conflicting feelings of despair, anger and profound sadness for the souls lost, their family and friends, and their ship now lying at the bottom of the Atlantic.

This melancholy tune has been with me since this all began.

In 2001, three days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, we began our sailing programs again on Clearwater, up the Hudson River from Ground Zero.  The fourth graders who sailed with us expressed the same enthusiasm at hoisting a sail, the same giddiness at their interaction with the fish they caught and the same thrill in helping steer the ship as those that came before them.  Their excitement was palpable and for the adults on board, all part of a grieving New York community, it was a much needed antidote to that grief.

As she grows I will teach my daughter to respect the beauty, complexity and power of nature, but this week she was the teacher.  Frolicking in that puddle, unaware of it’s origin, she has filled the role of antidote this time. Her joyful discovery snapped my jaw up off the floor into a wide smile and showed me that though Nature can be terribly awesome, she can be wonderfully so as well.

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