Monday, August 31, 2009

The Powerful Miserable Gift

* Written a while ago when Hurricane Charley hit us by surprise, but seems appropriate tonight when lightning is poking skinny fingers down at the treetops, and thunder is rattling the windowpanes!

I think of Victorian women in the tropics. Like here in Florida. They would be appropriately trussed up in corsets and petticoats, strolling demurely in the park, hankies in hand to sop up the “glow” on their foreheads, upper lips. Rice powder puts up a brave facade as perspiration drips like Chinese water torture between the shoulder blades, down the spine. Charming little floral parasols provide slim relief from the summer sun…A moist sigh and a case of the “vapors” doesn’t seem so weak or contrived under the circumstances.

Had I lived then, I’d have been spoken of in whispers behind oriental fans. "Oh that poor, poor thing. She's truly lost her mind.” There is no social convention on earth that would compel me to suffer as they did.

The heat drives me mad.


I’d have been the local Isadora wearing my hair loose and wild. I would scandalously allow the tropical winds to caress my sweating body (yes, sweating) by wearing the least amount of fabric that I could! The nearest fountain, with lion heads spurting cool, cool water into a pool, would be my muse and compulsion. My gauzy shift would float cloud-like around me, a floating Ophelia, as I wiggle my bare pink toes in the water… Ahhhh!

You may have surmised by now that I am under duress. The preceding daydream is inspired by this: I am currently sitting in a pool of malarial yellow heat. The first 2004 hurricane, Charley, plunged us into the 19th century for seven days and the second one, Frances, threatens to do the same for a total of two weeks. Air conditioning, a 20th century wonder, obviously bestowed upon us by compassionate aliens from an advanced civilization, is not an option at the moment. Some nice power fellow imported from North Carolina will come and untangle the Gordian knot that is our power line. So until then, the challenge is to find the perfectly low tech ways to stay cool and calm…and not go insane as I slap mosquitoes.


They explode like small blood-filled piƱatas.

Cold beer, ice cubes, cold showers followed by body splashes and sweet smelling powder all fail to give long term relief…But some unexpected gifts have done quite nicely. After arranging chain-sawed debris into to designated pile areas to the point of heat exhaustion, I find myself standing, face turned upward without flinching in the rain. It is warm and soft and rinses the sticky sweat from my skin. It cleanses the many bug bites and scratches that speckle my legs and arms in itching constellations.

Fence is down.  Easy to find the dog though. Simple fix. Necessity and this mother is inventive. Can hear her all over the neighborhood with the frying pan tied to  her leash!

Standing on the dock, I can see the wind coming to me as it steps lively, sashaying in ripples across the lake. It starts on the far shore and brushes the surface approaching in Fosse-like moves until it blows my hair and shirt back in a cool embrace.  I am mesmerized by the frogs on the pond as they sing for the rain.

At dusk, when the steaming primeval day is nearly over, I have turned the chaise lounge away from the television toward the wide open French doors to bask in left over wind gusts. They are full of scented hints of the churning sea and Saharan dust, the genesis places for these soggy bullies, these one-eyed spiral storms.

Again I am immersed in the night, a stranger that I had so deftly banished with tightly closed windows and the white noise din of violent media and cleaning machines. A creak of a branch where a possum walks, the owl hooting…All as new as hearing them for the first time.


Flurries of wind ruffle the trees causing them to flex their branches proudly.  Live oaks. They defied the hurricanes’ attempts to rip off their limbs and fling them onto our roof, through our windows. They gloat and lean protectively over my house whispering promises of shade and protection. They have done their time in the wind tunnel and continue like Tolkien’s Ents to shroud our world with magic.

This is a time devoid of creature comforts. It is a misery. It is a gift.

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