6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
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20050911

In A Hurricane Eye

Today marks the four-year anniversary of 9/11, the day the World Trade Center towers collapsed after two jet planes--commandeered by al-Qaeda terrorists--crashed into them. Like that morning, it’s a perfect sunny day, low seventies, with few clouds. With the news that’s been non-stop coverage of our recent catastrophe suffered from Hurricane Katrina, I decide it’s not a good thing to be watching TV all day. With the leaves on a few of the trees starting to show a few splotches of red and orange, summer is finally beginning to lose its grip to fall.

I fill a bottle with water, grab my daypack, and head out the door. A hike up Blue Hill makes a much healthier distraction than sitting inside all day with the TV blaring away. Upon reaching the summit, I am disappointed to see that the fire tower has finally been dismantled and removed. It’s still a good view, though, but from inside the fire tower sixty feet up, you had a 360-degree view of the entire area from Blue Hill to Mount Desert, from Mount Desert to Eggemoggin Reach, from Eggemoggin Reach to the Camden Hills and Belfast. Without the tower, the only view afforded now is that of Blue Hill Bay, but still well worth the hike.

The verdant expanse of green trees punctuated by the blue of ocean and ponds, the village of Blue Hill with its white clapboard houses, and the boats in the harbor is beauty incomparable to freeways, malls, and high-rise structures. The breeze is stiff and cool. I button up my shirt and take a sit on a rock. It is good to be here on a day like today, away from the confusion and uncertainty brought on by unexpected events that seem to create a collective anxiety that we participate in by relentlessly watching the news. But there are only so many times you can watch towers burn and collapse, levees break, people rescued, towns and cities swept away by the surge, before you begin to feel insignificant and helpless, too. Motivated by our compassion and sense of duty, we donate our time and money to organizations, the Red Cross, the United Way and many others; we volunteer to open our homes to take in the people that have been displaced, something, anything, to help in any way we can.

The breeze begins to pick up. Something there is about the smell of lichens, bilberry, and moss that covers and grows on and among the granite rocks. The fragrance lingers in the air and puts my mind at ease. My daily life seems so uncertain, so insubstantial. The job I have today may not be the job I have tomorrow. Where I live today may not be where I’m living a year from now. Inevitably just when we think things are good, the proverbial refrigerator falls from the fifth story window. When it lands on top of us, our lives our changed immeasurably with a sickening thud that leaves us uncertain and confused as to what we need to do next. Our spouse files for divorce. We get laid off from our work. Or as in the event of Katrina, we wake up to find ourselves surrounded by water. We return to our homes only to find that our houses have been swept away. Regardless of our lot in life, whether we’re happy or not, we are leery of change, and are especially frightened when change comes so suddenly like a pernicious thief in the night. However, the only real constant in our lives is change. Change is how we become, how we create the lives we live, how we pick back up and create anew when everything we know or have has been literally whisked out from under us.

After coming down from the summit, I walk back to my car and head out to the Country View Drive-in. Ordering a clam-basket, I sit down at one of the outside tables overlooking the pasture of a nearby dairy farm. While eating, I fine myself amused by the antics of a red squirrel that’s busily digging down in the trashcan looking for tidbits to eat. It finally emerges with a styrofoam container clenched between its teeth. Dropping it to the cement pad, it jumps to the rim of the garbage can, and then leaps to the table next to the can. The squirrel notices me and freezes.

Deciding I’m not an immediate threat, it hops down to the cement pad to retrieve its prize. It takes a few minutes of gnawing, nose poking, and prying with its paws before finally popping the cover. Inside is a couple of bites left from a hamburger and a few fries. The squirrel then clutches the container between its teeth and runs off with it, dropping it and then picking it up again before it finally disappears into the woods. When it comes to survival, like animals I suppose, we do what we must in order to live. But more than that, we also live our lives just beyond the horizon; for it is there that we find our raison d’etre, our reason for picking back up, of starting over and rebuilding our lives nail by nail, brick by brick—houses, businesses, and community—until we coalesce again as a town or city.

I leave a couple of clams and fries in the container, and place it by the trashcan. The sun is just beginning to set behind the trees. It’s a good hour’s drive back to Belfast. I turn the radio on and catch the ending of a song by Paul Simon:

So here's how the story goes
There was an old woman
Who lived in a shoe
She was baking a cinnamon pie
She fell asleep in a washing machine
Woke up in a hurricane eye.

Turning the radio off, I say a silent prayer for those who have lost their lives to Katrina’s wrath, and for the people whose lives will be immeasurably changed because of it. As with 9/11, Katrina will serve as a continual reminder of how precious—but very tenuous—our lives really are.

By S. L. Cunningham