The hurricanes come before dawn, always before dawn. You wake up at five or six a.m., and the wind is blowing, the gray clouds are scudding low over the flatlands. The wind is tearing at the palm trees, and the palm fronds rip and chatter. It comes in surges, the wind does, and the palm fronds chatter like the trees are going to be pulled down. Only they aren't, they never come down, because they know, they know about the storms before they come, so they aren't pulled down.

I think about the double French doors downstairs, French doors with a thin weather-stripping of copper, between the door and the frame. And when the wind starts to come in strong, the copper strip between the door and the jamb begins to wail, as if there were storm ghosts, wind-ghosts downstairs, wailing. The wind makes the strips vibrate, starting low and then, when the wind gets stronger, getting higher and higher. There are three French doors, and there are three wailing ghosts, wailing in harmony, up and down the scale.

The water from the river in front, the gray-brown St. Johns River, begins to slop over the bulkhead, onto the lawn. The waves slam up against the bulkhead, then the wind catches the spray, and drives it towards the house. And the water hyacinths are driven up, over the bulkhead and lie scraggly all over the lawn, with their fat round green bulbous leaves, and purple flowers. There are hyacinths scattered on the lawn, and wood and bits of trees, and Spanish moss, and sometimes dead birds.

If you want, you can go up to the attic. The attic always smells like ham hocks, the ham hocks they hung there during the war when they thought we might go hungry sometime; but then the rats got into the hocks, and soon there was nothing but the fat tallow smell, dripped on the floor, staining the attic floor, the grease mixed with the rat droppings.

Anyway, during the storm, you can go up into the attic, and the wind is blowing, like bejesus, and you can hear the shingles rattling on the roof, the sharp roof just above your head; shingles rattling like they are going to fly off. And sometimes, you are up there, and the wind is batting against the house, and you can hear the trees agonizing outside, and one of the attic windows will bust open, banging, against the walls. The window pops open, and the wind comes in, stirring up the baconfat smell, and the rat-droppings; spitting rain and riverwater all over the floor. And soon, everything begins to move and rustle, like it was alive.

The old clothes stir, the stored Christmas decorations begin to tingle and bang, and the picture albums, up there, way up on the shelf, the albums begin to rustle and jitter --- like the old family, stuck in them forever, are wanting to get out. They're tired of being forgotten, the old family, and they want to jump out of their skins, get out of their torn leather albums, where they've been flattened so long; they want us to know that they are not dead and forgotten, these forgotten relatives --- that they're alive in the storm. They are coming to life, with the ozone in the air --- and they want to run out of the albums, marked ALBUM --- to be told that they are not forgotten.

It spooks you a little bit, the storm coming, like that, in the early morning, while you are still asleep, the moaning from downstairs, and the windows start rattling, and the doors fly open. The old man, you can hear him outside, hammering something closed, him in his slicker that the wind whips around him, like he was a ghost. And then comes in, his face all red, and the rain dripping down his face like tears, and his hair towseled by the wind and rain, and he says "Jesus!"

And he dries his hair on one of the dishtowels, and bangs around the kitchen for awhile, trying to make some coffee on the Sterno stove, because the power went out, went out a long time ago, when the power lines snapped in the wind, and great balls of blue-white fire fell down into the wet streets, filled with branches, the power fell down into the streets and now everything is dark ...

... except the blue flame under the Sterno, on the rusty stove kept in the closet until the hurricane comes and starts to blow against the house, and agonize the trees; to rattle the windows and snuffle down the chimney, stirring last winter's ashes in the fireplace. And the three banshees, down there in the living room, begin to moan in the dark, and then the morning comes. The sky turns light, from gray-black to gray-gray, and the clouds scud over the house, like they were being chased, and rain plasters against the panes on the French doors.

And then a branch starts to split from the camphor tree, out in front, on the edge of the river: we watch the branch beginning, to go, you can see the white where the bark has parted, and the wood shows through, then the branch is turning slow-motion through the air, then landing on the ground, in all the water and Spanish moss and hyacinth plants --- and it's still turning and moving, towards you, like it was going to come all the way up the porch, and scratch against the window, wanting to get let in; but it doesn't: it stops rolling, lopsided, in the water, and the leaves are still rattling on the broken limb, hanging on for dear life against the wind, as if the branch were going to go on living, as if the leaves were going to survive to see the sunshine, those glossy camphor leaves that you like to crunch in your mouth, and the flavor of camphor comes. sharp and acrid in your mouth...

...only they are going to die, those leaves, on that broken branch. They are going to die, the leaves on that branch pulled from the tree by the river. And there you are, with your nose pressed to the pane, with the doors moaning, all around you, and the moisture of your breath grows and retreats on the cold surface of the pane. You saw the branch rip off, in the wind, and come rolling, towards you, and you thought "Poor branch. Poor leaves."

And your old man is banging around in the kitchen, with the hammer in his hand, and then you can hear him go out the back door, to hammer some more things closed, against the wind; and when he opens the back door, the wind snatches it from his hand, and you can hear him say "Jeee-sus!" And you think "Poor branch. Poor leaves."

--- From Rock Gardening in the Ukraine
Ignacio Schwartz
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