Helpless, as Nature Intended.

Upon reading Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”, my mind kept returning to the theme of nature controlling the man’s circumstances. Through out the story, the man is plagued by the elements — be it the cold, the water beneath the iced over drifts, or the snow that dropped from the tree, not only extinguishing his fire, but extinguishing his life. There have been times where I have been forced to be at war with the elements, to fight with my surroundings. Having lived in many parts of the United States, I’ve faced the cold, the heat, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, dense fog, black ice, blizzards and forest fires. The most prevalent natural disaster in my life that will forever stand out is the series of tornadoes from April 27, 2011.

This is the tornado that came through Arab, AL. It came through the town in which I live, a mere mile and a half from my house.

I was blissfully unaware that something was amiss in Alabama. I was 992 miles from my home, at my university in the far reaches of northern Michigan. The heavy snow of winter had nearly completely melted, leaving slushy puddles and grimy sidewalks.  I was enjoying a break from my busy week of exams, when I received a phone call from my mother.

“Grace, honey, I’m calling you to tell you and your sister that everything is okay here, and Dad and I are going to be without power for a few days.”

I was shocked. I demanded to know what was going on that had created such an inconvenience. Had there been a bad storm, and the winds knocked the power line over? Had the town’s power been malfunctioning again? My mother informed me quickly that the deadliest outbreak of tornadoes in the entire United States history had happened (Our Amazing Planet), and that nearly the entire state of Alabama had been shaken to splinters.

A partial regional map of the tornado outbreak.

I rushed to my computer to research everything I could find. Youtube videos, pictures, Facebook and Twitter updates burned themselves into my mind, leaving me horrified and deeply dismayed. I sat at my desk, dumbfounded. Finally, I flicked on the television to see the news. As the reporters struggled to maintain their composure, I grew angrier and angrier. Why was I up here, in Michigan? Why couldn’t I be home to help my parents and my neighbors? Why wasn’t I home?! I was helpless, as nature seemed to have intended.

Like the character in Jack London’s story, I too was helpless in my situation. It seemed that I was destined to sit back and watch as my home was destroyed before my eyes. Whereas the man dealt with the snow, I tried to deal with my frustration, worry and fear of what had become of my friends, neighbors, and family. Of course, cell phone towers were down, power was out, and tempers were bound to snap. Three days later, I returned home to the National Guard in the town where I went to school, curfews set into place in every town, no power at my home, and vast amounts of physical damage all around me.

Thankfully, no one I knew had been hurt or killed. As I look back on that terrifying week, I am still shaken over what has become of the Southeast. From the famous “Tri-State Tornado” to the wiping of several towns completely off the map, nature clearly made her mark once again as she rendered many of us completely helpless in our own surroundings. I know that in America’s future, nature will again strike, and humanity will have to cope with the helplessness that comes with a natural disaster.