You Know What’s Distracting? A Hurricane.

Sandy-strewn Leaves in a PuddleYou know what’s distracting? A hurricane.

With closures in the federal government, many private employers, and most metro systems in D.C. due to Hurricane Sandy, I worked from home yesterday and today.  The task? A monster grant proposal that’s kept me up at night for the last two weeks. It’s due Friday. I can honestly say I made good progress on it from home, but—damn—these have been a distracting couple of days.

By mid-morning yesterday, my eyes were called away from the computer screen every few minutes. Huge, rushing wind gusts called my attention—rising with foreboding crescendo, pushing and pulling at the limbs of trees behind my apartment building, and plastering bits of leaves to my window. I stared out the window for a long time, both from within my apartment and its lobby. Plenty of branches and tufts of leaves blew around and littered the streets. But by mid-afternoon I was more surprised by what remained on the limbs than by what flew off. At one point in my window-staring, I thought to myself, “I’m impressed by the leaves that hang on.”

Tree down

The windows weren’t the only source of distraction. With electricity and our internet connection surprisingly uninterrupted all day yesterday, news websites tempted me away from the Word documents on screen—every half hour, new updates about wind speeds, rainfall totals, power outages, and new photos of the hurricane’s path of destruction.

All told, the question that defined my distraction all day was more powerful than any stress I felt about the project. Know what’s more interesting than a deadline? The intrinsic human curiosity about nature.

What’s happening out there?

By evening, I had closed out the work documents on my computer and donned my Gore-tex parka. When I cracked open the front door of my building, a rush of icy, wet air slammed into my face.  I had no destination. I just wanted to be out there.

And I wasn’t alone. Walking around the block for fifteen minutes, I spotted three others out shuffling along the sidewalks and j-walking across empty streets. Like me, they walked slowly and took their time looking around. Like me, they scooted quickly away from the mature oaks, which shook in a big, terrifying way during the highest gusts. I picked my way through piles of leaves, cracking plenty of acorns under my feet, and once unintentionally dunked my entire left foot and ankle in an icy puddle near a leaf-clogged storm sewer. At one point, the wind rushed up the hill so fast, and hit me so directly, that it took the wind out of me for a moment. I thought of all the water and land that the wind of this storm had scoured, and would scour, and it felt like a small honor that it had just enlisted a bit from my lungs, too.

What does Hurricane Sandy think about politics?

I huddled in a bus shelter for a while before another big gust scared me, and the expression “meet your maker” crossed my mind for the first time in years. I sloshed and braced and scurried my way back to my apartment, shoulders hunkered under a tight hood, legs and feet braced wide in a classic hurricane-hunch shuffle. It’s a dance I’ve always admired among meteorologists who report on hurricanes while standing in them.

I slept well last night. When I woke, the winds had ceased their roaring. After twenty four hours of gusts, the absence of rushing sounds outside felt abnormal.

Rock Creek, flowing fatAs I resumed  work today on the grant proposal due Friday, I found myself less distracted by the physical force of Sandy and more distracted by the irony of her timing. What does Sandy think of my deadline?

Oh, don’t worry about her; she’s indifferent. That I know. But I also know, billions of dollars and millions of affected people later, that her intensity and path should be sending a message, loud and clear. She might have distracted me from my computer screen, but she only reinforced the core ideas behind the proposal due Friday.

It’s for a project that increases climate change resilience in urban areas.

2 thoughts on “You Know What’s Distracting? A Hurricane.

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