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A squall alert came on my cell phone. I was told i should cancel any plans for traveling in the next hour. I sat there with my wife and daughter and our grandson, and the dog Lenny. We were very quiet.It was about four o’clock and hazy out. All the color of fall had drained away into a black and white negativre. Then the air grew dark and ominous. I stared out the windows as if I had cataracts. I felt nearly blind and dreaded what this squall might portend. I had never experienced a squall before. You read about them in novels of sea life, and it always sounded dangerous, like the ship would founder in some deep crevasse of the waves. But we were on dry land, sort of. The light was feeble, at best. Lke one of those low-wattage bulbs you bought by mistake and screwed into a hall lamp hoping to save a few bucks on the electric bill. Everything was dissolving into melted shadows; the dark sprawled out across the floor. It was eerie and quiet. When i looked up the next moment, snow was coming down in a vast waterfall of glittering snow flakes. The crows were gone; the sun was lost in space, wandering around along the peripheries of the solar system as if it had no home. We were  marooned in the soapy wavelets of the Sargasso Sea. The thick grey kelp slapped against the imaginary hull of my day dream. 

I had never heard an alert on my little, old-fashioned flip phone. But my daughter’s Smart Phone sent out the alert to the nearest receiver and let out seven short blasts of its tinny horn. We sat there in our safe living room, with the dog asleep in front of the fire, and my grandson ticking away on his Ipad, playing some sort of computer game. No traffic outside. Not even the occasional roar of a farm truck hauling a few bales of field grass to someone’s dairy barn. Just the solemn, mournful absence of human activity and the velvety infinity of nature idling in eternity. It was reading weather, if I weren’t so vigilant with this strange paradox of the landscape disappearing under crumbling reality. 

How do deer react to such surrealistic wonders? Or field mice? Or the otter who had stolen away from the little pond down the road? Chickens were in their roost and the turkeys, usually noisy at this hour, retreated to a corner of their pen as if it were the eve of Thanksgiving. Even if I were slightly alarmed by the weather, I felt the undertow of sleep tugging me away from consciousness. The arm chair I sat in folded its arms around me, as if it were the dull murmurs of war outside our house. But we were safe and snug and I was thinking about the wine I might open and breathe before supper. 

A squall is the flexion of nature’s muscles. It’s actually a soft seething  cloud of particles moving slowly down the fields and out to the purple glow of the mountains to our east. I was witness to a show of strength, a source of power far beyond my understanding. But it was the shape of this apparition that held my attention. As if a creature were merged among the glittering atoms that shifted and flowed like the shadows on a silk robe. It was alive, breathing, gazing out of mysteriously invisible eyes at the houses it passed. It was prehistoric, as old as the earth itself. It moved gracefully, a silvery cosmic waterfall as animated as a ghost in a haunted house. It told me I was not at all home in this place, but a naive visitor, a tourist with limited awareness of the infinite power of the real world. And there it was, not twenty feet from me, floating on incandescent feet and trailing its liquid robe behind it. It was going into the frozen mountain slopes, a slow-moving, lumbering comet that had no interest in the sky above, but liked roaming around in the more familiar contours of the material world. 

That was yesterday. Today, a vast snow storm that had got snagged on the pine trees in New Jersey finally got a lift from a strong seaboard wind heading north. I have no idea if there was some intelligence guiding the snow, but it was now unmoored from the black limbs of the Pine Barrens and pawed about over the waste lands of various state parks and over the tangles of the toll roads and bridges. It was dropping all this confetti on its path, like a huge circus float dispensing plastic  necklaces, as if it were in the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, or in Rio. 

The word squall is from seafaring folk of the Middle Ages, a Swedish word, sqval, no doubt coined by mariners in their oral culture. But it wasn’t long before it began to acquire connotations of human emotions, the eruptive rages of outraged men or women who had had enough of a hard scrabble life in the snow-locked hills and valleys. So there it was, a swirl of white breath expelled by a raging energy as it moved along, heaving fiery breath and curses as it made its higgledy-piggledy way toward nowhere. I’ve had the misfortune of knowing people  given to such tantrums and rants – my first wife, for one, who raged against marriage and finally blew her domesiticity out of the window. Talk about a squall! And a few poets who couldn’t avoid fist fights over some deeply held grudge. They’re frightening people, and of the ones I knew, most died of colon cancer – a sign that their poisonous bile ate through the linings of their guts and finished them off in a hospital bed.They were all bright people, with a keen sense of righteousness. How sad to think that such a person was once in our White  House throwing his cheeseburger against the wall, ketchup and all. 

So down the road in front of my house went an angry spit fire of a ghost, snarling and raising the snow dust in its path. But it was more than the effigy of a human being. It was part of the grand mystery of the forces beyond our ability to define or categorize. It is why we fear them and make myths out of their anger. And why we are alienated and fearful of those wild spirits lingering in prisons around the world – men who can’t control their murderous outrage at the world, or who were abused and tortured by parents and bullies until they put up their fists and tried to conquer what offended them. Nature also has its imps and malcontents, tornadoes, volcanoes, tremors, tsunamis, avalanches, and we are the frail souls living among them. Perhaps when one of these menaces confronts us, it awakens some fundamental mythology buried deep in our souls – a Thor flinging his thunder bolts across heaven, a Hera giving her son a shirt that burst into flames when he put it on. A mind out of balance, a snarling beast on the prowl for victims to slaughter. It is like the outbreak of war among once peaceful nations. The curdled hatreld that could not be held down but spewed its lava onto its neighbors or, in a new case, the Red Sea. And now Gaza being leveled under the constant bombardment of an enraged nation full of our own armament. What a strange world of anger and revenge. Beware, says my inner voice, take nothing for granted. Be kind, modest, give a little, and the squall will stick to the road and spare you from its rage. 


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