“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Friday, May 17, 2024

On the Unforgettable Sound of the Tornadoes in Houston Last Night

 Nothing prepares you for how a tornado comes in and out of hearing range as its sound is blocked by trees, buildings, slopes...Yeah it's like a "freight train" but it's a gated freight train, as if a gigantic monster had feet made of freight train that made that sound when they hit the ground. As it got closer the house started to shake and you knew that thing was going to be on top of you. Visceral horror, even though it didn't touch down on me and Simon (15): it's the suction and That Sound. I was dizzy for a couple of hours from the massive pressure changes, and I've felt that horror before as I've experienced three tornadoes. But I've never heard them, not like that, and never did I experience the sound of structural torsion and damage to attics and trees and roofs above me.

It is not a reverberant kaboom. Thunder's prolonged resonance is comforting compared with these gated monstrous footsteps. It's the silence in between the roars that is also scary.

One could hear it coming about five minutes before it hit--at first, just a creamy bass white noise, coming in and out. I had heard it all around Houston during hurricane Harvey (when there were about five or six in each direction). This was approaching from the west.

We were up on the top floor where Simon (15) had just started listening to the sound, much clearer up there, when our phones sounded the warning, meaning they had been seen. So we got down into to the pantry, a central room without windows under a supporting beam.

Simon randomly turned to this Psalm:

Psalm 57

For the choir director: A psalm of David, regarding the time he fled from Saul and went into the cave. To be sung to the tune “Do Not Destroy!” [read on it gets even better]

1 Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy!
I look to you for protection.
I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings
until the danger passes by.
2 I cry out to God Most High,
to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.
3 He will send help from heaven to rescue me,
disgracing those who hound me. Interlude
My God will send forth his unfailing love and faithfulness.
4 I am surrounded by fierce lions
who greedily devour human prey—
whose teeth pierce like spears and arrows,
and whose tongues cut like swords.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens!
May your glory shine over all the earth.
6 My enemies have set a trap for me.
I am weary from distress.
They have dug a deep pit in my path,
but they themselves have fallen into it. Interlude
7 My heart is confident in you, O God;
my heart is confident.
No wonder I can sing your praises!
8 Wake up, my heart!
Wake up, O lyre and harp!
I will wake the dawn with my song.
9 I will thank you, Lord, among all the people.
I will sing your praises among the nations.
10 For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens.
Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens.
May your glory shine over all the earth.

I was reading it (he asked me) right as it hit. It didn't touch the house but like I say, you could hear it. Visceral horror, no matter what I was thinking.

Ten minutes before it arrived, the street had become so dark that one couldn't see further than the porch light.

Thinking about it, last night was an F2 (I had assumed F0 or F1 on the “Fujita scale”—I got really obsessed and phobic when I first arrived in the USA and found out all about them). It’s a logarithmic curve where F5 is the highest: it’s measured by destruction so you can’t get higher than 5, because it’s 1-3 miles wide and everything becomes powder that isn’t underground… But skyscraper windows blown out and pylons down is F2 not F1…F3 is trains being thrown into supermarket metal doors…


elizabeth ellsworth said...

Thank you for this, and for all of your work.

Timothy Morton said...

Thank YOU Elizabeth. That is kind.