“Some are saying it could be the worst hurricane since 1987,” my friend said to me, yesterday, in response to my blasé attitude. That’s when I sat up and took notice. Until that point, I confess, weather warnings and news reports had somehow failed to drive the point home.
I remember October 1987. I was in Cambridge. I remember seeing a bicycle swept by the wind a foot off the ground. The sound of glass milk bottles flying through the air and smashing against brick walls. The wind howling like a banshee through the skylight of my attic bedroom. The large tree that fell against a wall at Emmanuel College, its branches shattering the windows of an undergraduate’s room. A couple of days later, I remember the uprooted elm trees lying in the mud of an overflowing Cam, in Grantchester Meadows.
When I woke up this morning, the radio had more weather warnings to convey. And they had given the hurricane a name – Saint Jude’s Storm. Saint Jude, which falls on 28th October. Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. I looked out of the window at my oak tree, its branches now almost bare, swaying in the wind. He is the Merlin of trees. An old storyteller. This tree also knows my tale.
People are advised, wherever possible, to stay at home, tomorrow morning. Winds are expected to reach 80 mph. Some train services have been cancelled. A meeting I was supposed to attend, has been postponed.
Throughout the day, the winds grew more blustery. I checked my supply of candles. I bought some extra food. Comfort food. Potatoes, for baking in their jackets. Garlic, for roasting with olive oil. A loaf of walnut bread, to slice and spread with orange blossom honey. A bar of white chocolate and a bottle of ginger – in case the storm keeps me awake tonight.
This time last year, my friend L. sat in his flat in New York, waiting for Hurricane Sandy to sweep by. He e-mailed me today, and urged me to keep away from my window, if nothing else. Before I go to bed, I will move my work table, and my laptop, which stand right by my sash windows, further away. But not yet. For now, my curtains are still open, and I am monitoring the street. Earlier on, today’s strong winds suddenly dropped. Everything was still. Not a sound, but for the odd car whizzing down the street. I wondered if it was the proverbial calm before the storm. Then it started to rain. A slow pitter-patter on the pavement. The few leaves on my tree began to glow in the amber street lights. Now, the rainfall is heavier, drumming in the my window panes, and the leaves on the tree are swaying, stirred by an invisible breath.
Before closing my curtains, I look at Merlin, my oak tree, the old storyteller. I know I can trust him with my tales. I know he will keep them safe.
I have so many more stories for him.
So I ask him to stand sturdy tonight.