The first thing about storms is that when they're over it's as if they'd never been. The second thing is that all storms are the storm in King Lear. And if you don't know King Lear, know King Lear. It'll give you words you that no one should die without hearing.
Men were working on the road below my house, clearing vegetation from around the power lines. Four men with all the safety gear and outdoor gear and motorised equipment with which to tame the world. Four fully grown and active men. Three of them had beards. Their power tools screamed all morning.
But over the hills to the south, building over Banks Peninsula were clouds with heft, clouds that swelled and rolled and mounted, clouds the colour of prunes.
When I offered the men cups of tea the first sprinkle of rain had already arrived and the wind was stirring the carpet of leaves and twigs. By the time I'd made the tea the storm had come. When I stepped out to take the tray down the drive I was beaten back in seconds. The rain smacked my skull, bombed the tea, swamped the tray. The world had turned hostile.
Poor naked wretches wheresoe'er you are
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides
Your looped and windowed raggedness defend you
From seasons such as these?
The men were neither poor nor naked. Their sides were far from unfed. Their work gear wasn't looped and windowed. They had boots and high-visibility jackets, and hard hats with ear muffs and waterproof leggings but none of it counted for much. Out there in that storm they were Shakespearean peasants, houseless wretches, impotent against "the great gods that keep this dreadful pother o'er our heads". You'd have needed a granite heart not to feel for them.
The wind made the trees thrash like washed hair. The rain hit the windows in sheets of wash. The noise was a universal churn. Holding an umbrella ahead of me like a shield - a shield that writhed with independent life - and leaning in behind it I battled to the top of the drive and called to the men but I could hardly hear the words myself. I went down the drive till they saw me, beckoned the men back up.
"Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel," I didn't say, as I led them to my garage.
My garage is rudimentary. It is the spacious basement of my house, floor of concrete, walls of concrete block, home to two cars, occasional fantails, limitless spiders, rats in winter, swallows in summer and all the stuff that I no longer have in the house but have yet to take to the dump. But "the art of our necessities is strange, and doth make vile things precious".
To step into the garage out of the storm was to know the most primitive sense of relief. Still air. Dry air. Comparative quiet. Like stepping out of a battle into a church. Here was the third part of the holy trinity of food and drink and shelter. And to stare out through the open garage door at the great grey sheets of rain, at the trees battling their moorings, at the dark, uninhabitable world, was to sense something fundamental about our place between earth and sky, our limitless vulnerability. "Is man no more than this? Consider him well… unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal."
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The men shed helmets, boots and outer garments, sat on torn arm-chairs, cupped hands around tea and found there was nothing to do, nothing whatsoever, but to do what men have done since they first learned to live in caves, which was to sit it out. To let the storm rage until it spent its force, and to tell stories. I left them to it. But from my study I could hear them talking, growing louder, happier.
And then this morning the inhabitable world was back. The roots had held. The earth had not washed away. The air had slowed and become still. The world felt stripped and fresh and liveable and it was hard to remember how it had been.
And down by the wharf the gulls heeled on the air and keened as they do every morning. What did they do in the storm? Where did they ride it out? How?