I once asked my ex-father-in-law, who chaired the Department of Meteorological Science at the University of Missouri, what happened when a hurricane ran into a 4,000-foot-tall mountain.
“Nobody knows,” he said.
Well, now we know–or at least, we have one example.
I was prepared to use a number of different adjectives for my first experience with a hurricane, but I’d never anticipated the one that most seemed to fit, in retrospect: dreary. But after frantically boarding up windows, clearing potential projectiles from the garage, packing up breakables and trying to corral cats, the two or three hours of high winds that whipped the treetops but barely seemed to touch our house, followed by a long night of rain, rain, rain, seemed a bit anticlimactic, and I’m not at all unhappy about that. One rumor running about was that for every 1000 feet in altitude, we could expect winds to rise by 10 miles an hour. That proved simply not to be true.
“But I was expecting something to tell my grand-kids about!” my son joked at breakfast.
“You’re complaining that a hurricane wasn’t worse?” I asked him.
But if the night was dreary, the next morning was exhilarating, because of what happened in this community. Power was still out, and with it, the Internet. Cell phone towers weren’t working. Land lines were down. Even the village’s two pay phones were both inoperative. Our only means of learning what had happened was each other. So we met.
When I biked at 8 p.m. into Volcano Store, the only open business at that point, the store was already crowded with people, breakfasting on hot dogs and coffee, exchanging news, asking how each other and mutual acquaintances had fared. People smiled, talked, even hugged–some of whom who had lived in the same village for years without talking to each other. As I pedaled on through Mauna Loa Estates to check on my lady friend Kersten, groups of people were gathered on street corners, talking. A growing group of kids on bikes were pedaling around, apparently headed to the homes of their friends to check on them. Everywhere there was a sense that this was really a community, where people cared about each other. Some people were out with their chainsaws, helping their neighbors with downed trees. While I was at Kersten’s another friend stopped by and volunteered a generator to run her refrigerator, so that the insulin she needed for her diabetic cat wouldn’t spoil.
So if the lesson of the night was that a Category One hurricane was less of an irresistible force than that a mountain was an immovable object, the lesson of the morning was about community. Fortunately this wasn’t the disaster that some had anticipated, so most of the people who met this morning could smile. But we knew we were a community, and had acted like one. I hope that some people will remember this morning, and maybe not wait until the next near-disaster to experience the pleasure of talking to their friends.