We came across this column while perusing content for Lee's forthcoming book. We thought it was a timely addition to the blog given all of the hurricane trouble the Carolinas are now experiencing. This text was originally published twenty-five years ago in the Record on September 21st, 1993... Enjoy.
For the first time ever, I was looking forward to the hurricane season this year. Not, I hasten to add, because I was hoping to experience one but because I thought a hurricane might do us some good, as it seems to have done in fact.
Only gradually are we beginning to recognize how intimately the elements of our earthly existence are tied together, how a small event here can cause a major event somewhere else, how the warmth of a part of the Pacific Ocean can effect the weather over much of North America. Scientists call it 'sensitive dependence upon initial conditions' and the study of it has generated a whole new realm of science, sometimes called 'non-linear physics,' or, more frankly, 'chaos studies.'
Chaos turns out to have a lot more to do with our world than we might want to think (most of us, if pressed, can identify a lot of chaos pretty close to home), but, as we look more and more closely at chaotic systems like the turbulence of a swift-flowing stream as it flows around a rock in the stream-bed or the behaviour of the stock market or the weather from day to day, we are struck by the way in which, finally, the whole of the physical world is influenced, in ways we can never hope to define, by every other element of the physical world.
And so, a butterfly flitting from one bush to the next in Australia can set in motion perturbations in the atmosphere which may culminate in huge storms in North America. Who knows what damage the slamming of a door might do? In a world that longs for peace what is the effect of a single word spoken in anger?
This summer it seemed as if one could almost grasp the connectedness of things as day after day passed and the ground grew drier and the grass stopped growing and began to take on a metallic sheen and if clouds gathered overhead they hung there almost without motion and then vanished like figures in a dream. It seemed that heaven and earth had suffered a divorce. As the earth grew drier it lost its attractiveness to the sky and all communication between them was cut off, and it was hard to imagine what might serve to renew the bond.
It is strange, the idea of drought in a part of the country that seems to be filled with water - streams and rivers and lakes and bays and even the Bay of Fundy with its huge volumes of water sloshing back and forth with the pull of the moon. How can we possibly lack for an element that surrounds us in such abundance? And yet, strange but true, although the water continued to flow in the majestic Saint John River and the tides continued to draw in huge quantities of water from the ocean into the Bay of Fundy and then to spew them out again, the little brook that runs through this property drew away from its normal banks and in some places disappeared entirely while our pond which has held its level through every dry spell we have had up to this year shrank lower and lower until it looked as though it might vanish away entirely.
There was still water overhead, or so it seemed, as cloudy day succeeded cloudy day in the last part of July. Our part of the world seemed to be holding its breath, hoping for rain, but the clouds granted no rain. And still the world held its breath. The barometer which usually, around here, bounces up and down with great abandon, hardly moved for days at a time, and when it did move it was only a fraction of an inch. The wind, too, which always seems to be moving on this hillside, lowered to a whisper and sometimes died entirely. The sun came out and seemed set to stay.
What could end the spell we seemed to be under? What butterfly somewhere in the world was going to shimmer just the right way to set up a tiny breeze which would grow into a mighty wind that could sweep away air that had become cobwebby and stagnant and give us a breath of life?
In a chaotic system it is impossible to trace effect back to cause, to point out the very butterfly, but the mighty wind was easy enough to spot as the hurricane roared up toward the coast of North Carolina, bounced off Cape Hatteras, and angled up the Atlantic seacoast without coming ashore.
It seems to have been the broom we needed to sweep away the cobwebs. The barometer is moving again and wind and rain have returned. Has the spell at last been broken? Time alone will tell.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.