Tornadoes in Massachusetts. Those are words you don’t expect to hear together. Like earthquakes in Virginia, or blizzards in Atlanta. It’s almost instinctive to say, what’s wrong with the world? Because, you know, it couldn’t be us.
But according to the Tornado History Project, between August 1951 and July 2008 there were 152 tornadoes in the Bay State, killing 102 and injuring 1359. 152 in my lifetime, well my lifetime plus seven years. That’s two or three tornadoes a year, every year, in Massachusetts. Do they have tornado alarms in Massachusetts? We don’t have them here in Virginia. Between 1951 and 2010 there have been 596 tornadoes in Virginia—what the magic number that makes something a common event?
Similarly, a cursory search of Virginia’s earthquake history reveals that it is not an infrequent event here. Why don’t our building codes match those in LA?
Wikipedia says the earth is 4.54 billion years old. There are rocks in Western Australia that are 4.04 billion years old. Rocks! Common for the planet is not the same as common for me and you. The planet has a memory longer than our record. The planet sees us as transitory. Once in a lifetime takes on a different meaning. Once in my lifetime, 50-odd years, is mere moments to the planet. Milliseconds. My calculator won’t even figure out that percentage 53 is what percent of 4.54 billion. I get an error message on my calculator. How many zeroes are in a billion? Ok, so I have a wussy English teacher calculator, but that’s not the point. It’s like comparing a tortoise to a mayfly.
Common is relative. As a species, we’re very interested in having the world bend to our will, instead of saying it’s older, wiser, maybe we should listen… You know, not build cities below sea level, or on major fault lines. We build higher walls, create better codes, try to outsmart ancients. But the sirens don’t work; they have sirens in Joplin, in Japan.
While I was away last week I met a poet. We were talking about Doomsday (with a capital D) and she commented, “Everyday is the end of the world for someone.”
And it is. The world is smaller, news travels faster, the news media dramatizes it and we panic. But life goes on.
It’s June, and the rhythm of the winds is predictable. It’s hurricane season.