This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. The much-diminished winds from the remains of Harvey are throwing the branches of a redbud tree against the windows in my studio, and I can’t make them stop. Pretty much a metaphor for weather in general these days. Watching the coverage of the worst storm in human memory has been sobering. It’s all too real.
All too wind and water beaten, too muddy, too tragic, too deadly for far too many. When reality strikes, it’s not pretty. And we’re more used to watching it happen on Netflix to people who are pretending to be washed away or otherwise die in carefully crafted, computer animated horrible ways. So why isn’t Harvey more, you know, entertaining?
Is it not bloody enough? Can we not sit back in our chairs and see ourselves as that one heroic figure that saves the day, the champ? That heroic self that lies inside our imagination and feeds the stories we tell ourselves about who we are or who we would be in a time of crisis. They’re our stories, after all, and we can certainly be the hero in them if we like.
But Harvey and its continuing aftermath is just too real.
And the people coming out of those drowned neighborhoods tend to tell the honest truth of what they experienced and who they were in that time of crisis. Just like those angelic presences who call themselves the Cajun Navy and thousands like them who vigorously decline the label of hero and explain that they had boats and just came to help. Where else would they be, they say. And then they excuse themselves to go back to saving their neighbors in an impossibly vast neighborhood.
And nobody is talking about whether climate change is real - have you noticed? For they are witnessing how incredibly changed is the climate in which they’ve come to save their neighbors. Instead they are digesting the reality of 26 inches of rain in 24 hours. 52 inches in downtown. Reservoirs overflowing because they can’t be emptied fast enough. No one remembers the last time it happened because it’s never happened. And so many people so stunned by its happening that they just can’t respond rationally to the undeniable reality of it.
One man is asked why he left his home before it flooded says “It was just common sense.” But so many more responded in ways that indicated sense was not all that common in those circumstances. One woman said “I was just so sure it couldn’t be that bad. But by the time rescuers arrived, I was thinking I should be writing my social security number on my arm so my body could be identified.”
Another woman just stepping from a rescue vehicle carrying nothing shrugged and said “I watched it for four days on television. I didn’t put anything up. I didn’t collect the things I would have to take with me. I was just in such denial that when the water came in, I had just minutes, and I came away with nothing.”
This belated snap to attention seems to be happening on a larger scale as well. A governor who first thought 3,000 members of the national guard would be sufficient ended up hastily calling for all 14,000 at his disposal and begging for another 10,000 from other states. One wonders what is happening in those largely vacant offices of the Environmental Protection Agency when it is suddenly realized that the environment is in deadly danger and desperately needs protecting. Or how about the so-called militias who were going to make America safe with their rhetoric and armament. Are they coming to help? No one’s seen them, and will they be able to bear being rescued by people of the wrong hue or heritage?
One fellow who was offered a ride out from his flooded house where he was holed up in a second-floor bedroom with the water inches away, told the rescuers he didn’t need them. “I’ve got food and my guns,” he said. “I’ll be ok.” One wonders at the notion of battling water with a gun.
Here in the hills, we got a healthy dose of what most of those folks are going through when the flood of April 29 arrived here, and like them, we found our salvation in neighbor helping neighbor and strangers coming from everywhere to help, motivated not by some fantasy hero in their imaginations but by uncommon sense and courage, recognizing what needs doing when reality arrives at your door, and heeding that call.
Life is sometimes hard in these hills, and help is not always close by. So, when disaster large or small occurs, we know we are truly all in the same boat. The people of the Ozarks, by and large, know that reality isn’t always pretty, but we’d better get used to it. Today there is another storm forming in the Gulf, even as the outer bands of Harvey come up through Arkansas and touch the southeastern Ozarks. So, are we ready? Really?