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  • Randy Kritkausky

A Gathering of Storms

“A Gathering of Storms”

It was the first storm of the year, and all of those who wished to be big names in the coming hurricane season were gathered for the 33rd Annual Global Hurricane Planning Conference in Bermuda.

This year’s event began with an unusual sense of foreboding. Clouds, both physical and metaphorical, hung over the gathering even before the opening ceremony started. Actually, the atmosphere should be described as one of dread. Storms were brewing and frustration roiling to a degree never witnessed before, and to the great dismay of all involved.

“So, here we go again”, sighed Albert who was one of the more eccentric elders at the gathering. Known for his highly vocal disavowal of alcohol and caffeine, he cradled his signature coffee mug bearing the message ‘Warm Water, I Love It’. “Maybe we should just cancel the season and take a rest, or self-isolate and use COVID as our excuse”, he continued in a breathy whine.

Bernadette protested gustily, “And miss MY chance to be seen and heard? No way! This is my year!” “I am weary,” sighed Claude. “We plan. We plan. We send out warning messages and no one seems to pay attention until the threat is imminent. Making our message louder, our impact bigger, and our threats ever greater is ignored, year after year. What’s the point?”

Indeed, it was the case that year after year humans rebuilt hurricane-flattened homes and entire towns placed in low coastal areas or along rivers prone to flooding. People did seem incapable of getting the message about hubris and the need to recognize limits on human capacity to control flooding.

“Maybe we could arrange a blizzard in July and see if that communicates our message about climate change. It would be amusing to sit back and watch people trying to buy snow shovels at the hardware store along with their Fourth of July barbecue supplies”, Eugene howled as he propelled various light objects about the room in a fit of anger.

Filomena attempted to restore calm. “Maybe we should just try to see eye-to-eye, instead of using up our energy struggling with one another,” she thundered. “We do have something important to say, and maybe we just need to accept that it will have to be said over and over before the public gets it.”

Quietly dissenting, George observed, “No matter where we take our message and no matter how much we make it louder, it’s still ignored. Sandy tried to deliver the message to New York City and really cranked up the volume. The city’s transport system was shut down and the lights went out, hinting at what is to come. But the two legged didn’t get it.” Diane muttered something in agreement, shaking her head which hung low in despair. Then there was a long silence, the proverbial calm before the storm, the long awaited keynote speech. The speaker was introduced:

“This year we are honored to have an Indigenous representative from Central America. It is appropriate to hear an Indigenous voice, as this is the first year of the United Nations Decade of Indigenous Peoples and such voices and names are too rarely heard in our world. It is with great honor that I introduce U Kʼux Kaj. She has studied hurricanes for a long time and brings a much needed perspective to our work.”

The room went silent as a colorfully dressed tall woman walked onto the stage. She wore a traditional feather cloak and displayed hair hanging in dreadlocks into which were woven various small shells and large seeds. Her majesty was spellbinding. After the visual shock, the appreciative and spellbound audience burst into deafening applause.

“Thank you for inviting me to your gathering. It is an honor. Let me begin by explaining how I became part of this world so obsessed with big storms. It is probably due to the name that my tribal elders gave me at my coming of age ceremony. My parents tell me I was an unusually active child, occasionally disruptive, running about the village turning things upside down in my path. That is why our elders gave me the name U Kʼux Kaj.

“U Kʼux Kaj is the Mayan god of wind, storm, and fire. She is also one of the deities who participated in the creation of mankind.

“That paradox, a disruptor who is also a creator, is the theme of my presentation today. My perspective is undoubtedly partly due to a cultural expectation that I live up to my name. It certainly encouraged me to re-examine cultural and scientific assumptions about hurricanes. Let me begin by elaborating on what many of you may already know, but which you have barely mentioned, or not explained consistently in your messaging.”

The thirty minute power point presentation that followed was indeed partly familiar to most of those attending, the exception being journalists whose jaws dropped. U Kʼux Kaj used photos, charts and scientific data to document that hurricanes provide what is now referred to as “ecosystem services”. She explained in detail how tropical storms restore coastal wetlands and barrier islands, using data on silt deposits to make this clear. Beautiful videos of colorful flora and fauna which returned to once barren white sandy tourist beaches were quite convincing.

Then U Kʼux Kaj showed slides of fallen trees. “This is the public face of hurricanes, yes?” she asked. “Who dares to have a news broadcast or weather forecast about a hurricane without showing a tree fallen on a house or car?” Nervous chuckles of confirmation rippled across the audience.

“Let me explain why this is not just destruction. Without occasionally removing the dense forest canopy, lower growing plants cannot compete. Critical habitat is lost. So not only does tree downing open the forest, the fallen limbs and logs provide much needed breeding and nesting locations for the following.” U Kʼux Kaj then quickly flashed through beautiful slides of birds, small mammals, and reptiles ending with fish. “Yes,” she commented. “Even fish benefit. Limbs fallen in streams provide protection for young fish and attract insects needed for food.

“If this be familiar territory for some of you, please bear with me now, as I beg you to allow me to guide you into the unfamiliar. For Indigenous people, when we talk about tropical storms and hurricanes, we are not just discussing natural forces and objects, we’re talking about our other-than-human kin. We see no discontinuity between the two-legged, or humans, and other creatures. We are equals. That is part of our animate view of the universe.

“But landscapes and forces of nature are also alive and conscious. Hurricanes are our brothers and sisters. They deserve respect. The two-legged must share the world with them. They must learn to live with storms and help them do their important work.

“Building sea walls and giant flood gates may seem to be necessary in areas where the two-legged have invaded and colonized nature. But such measures should not be viewed as the best path forward. Humans need to learn humility and recognize that we are no match for Mother Earth. The two-legged may just need to decolonize some coastal areas and return the land to the continual renewal that natural forces bring.”

The assembly jumped up, applauded, cheered, and howled. “Thank you for your support,” U Kʼux Kaj bowed and smiled.

“Our sister, Fire, also provides these services. But that’s another story.

“If there is a message I want to deliver to you, it is this. It is time to stop being apologetic for the work we do. It is time to work with our kin, Fire, and once again attempt to get the two-legged to see the wisdom of working with us and stop trying to contain us or wishing we would just go away.”

There was not a dry eye in the room as a five minute standing ovation roared like thunder. “I have never been so proud to be a hurricane,” was shouted repeatedly. “Let’s celebrate!”

The chant began as Rain and Wind were welcomed to the gathering and the first glorious storm of the year began.

Randy Kritkausky September 20, 2021


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