I seem to be in a cleaning frenzy. I’m in New York, which is kind of odd, because I feel less safe here; we will probably be harder hit than Rhode Island. But that house sits empty.
I’m thinking, if I’m housebound for three or four days, I may as well not be looking at a giant dust bunny. So I’m sucking it up, getting ready for Sandy. Cleaning always gives me the impression that I can put some order into my universe. I’ve scoured the tub with Clorox, rinsed it well, and filled it with cold water. The fridge is crammed with every vessel I can get my hands on, thermoses, vases, empty jars, full of water. I’ve stocked up on food supplies, but I may eat my way through them before we get a drop of rain. I cannot stop watching the radar, but it is also making me profoundly anxious. And it is bringing up some bad memories.
A week ago, as I was emptying closets here (this apartment is being sold by its owner, so I’m moving, everything up in the air, but that’s another story for another day) I came upon the backpack that I kept under my desk at House and Garden every single day after September 11, 2001. It is the Emergency Pack. It still contains sneakers, a mag light, batteries (certainly no longer fresh, but I’ll try them soon) a warm fleece, extra pants, socks. Pills to purify water. Wipes. Potassium iodide tablets in case of radiation emergency. A picture of Baba Ganesh (to remove all obstacles) and a good luck charm (extra protection.)
I remember those days after 9/11 vividly, remember the call from my son Theo, calling me at the office to ask if I was sure I had a parachute ready under my desk. I assured him I did though of course I had no such thing. But I had the Emergency Pack.
This evening, in between compulsive trips to the computer for radar updates, I pulled the pack out again. I added chocolate biscuits and a handkerchief. All of this is just activity to compensate for a growing sense of panic that something horrible is going to happen, somewhere close by. It just gives me something to do. Just like putting sandbags against a doorway, or a thin piece of plywood over a window, makes us feel as though we can protect ourselves from natural forces that, in the end, simply take the energy we pour into them and turn them around and around again.
We have come to think of ourselves as outside of nature. I think that’s why we love nature videos so much these days. We can turn them on, take delight, sit in awe, turn them off, walk away. Untouched, though possibly moved. I watched a mother and a young child in the park, several weeks ago, the toddler creeping up to a squirrel, thinking she might catch it. I watched, knowing she never would, and smiling at the memory of my sons doing the same thing. Then the mother grabbed the child’s arm, and said, “No, no! I told you! We don’t touch nature!”
Volumes there. We forget: we are nature. And we do touch nature. With an increasingly heavy hand, even though by now we should know better. President Obama recently told a reporter at MTV that he was “surprised” that the subject of climate change didn’t come up during the debates. I wasn’t surprised he didn’t bring it up, but I was sorely disappointed. Obama pointed out that the MTV generation will be hard hit. His own children are stepping right up to that. But Obama didn’t touch nature.
We are nature. And we do unto nature as nature does unto us. With utter disregard for the consequences. Nature is amoral. Are we?
Stay safe, my friends, and dry. We will have a lot of work to do, cleaning up a natural disaster. One named Sandy. One named Denial.
Photos: Dominique Browning