Nature deals enough violence and aggression to go around

There was a beautiful summer day about ten years ago in a field in Boothbay, Maine, I will never forget as long as I live. It was a big, outdoor party near the ocean, a wedding celebration, and I was a member of the hired entertainment.

It was an outdoor gig, and there was a large flatbed stage for us to play on, and a big party tent, and tables set up for picnicking. The sky was blue and the breeze was warm and we were assembled to play atop the flatbed. Two of the band members were members of the local community, so it was an especially friendly crowd and all were happy. I remember as we all took to our instruments, there were clouds on the horizon, but they were not near, by my estimate. And they were to the east, which is not typically the direction weather comes from. We played our first song, and the sound was perfect. Everybody danced, and it felt like it was going to be one of those blissful, balmy afternoons of summertime music and fun.

At the end of the song I noticed the clouds had advanced in our direction, and two things stood out. First, the degree of advancement placed these clouds now much closer than I had initially estimated, and second, these clouds were not normal looking clouds. They had become ominous. The closer they got, the darker they became, and somewhat purplish green, if you can imagine such a hue. The front edge of these clouds was a straight edge across the sky, no billowing, just a sharp contrast between blue sky and purple-green doom. After we finished our first number, I overheard someone say in a tone of voice that exuded confidence, “Clouds that look like that mean one thing. Wind.”

As we launched into our second number, a Rolling Stones song—Under My Thumb (or maybe Get Off My Cloud?)—I could feel a slight breeze come over us, and it felt good. It rumbled a little in our microphones, and made my cymbals sway as it picked up in intensity. By the third verse, the clouds of doom were approaching, and the ratio of blue sky to purple-green was lessening. We ended the song early and embarked on a hustle to get all the gear under a small tent next to the flatbed in the event we were going to be imminently rained on. Rained on we were, and like no other rain I have experienced in my life.

Just as the last amplifier and cymbal stand were hauled to safety, the first massive drops descended like little bombs on the tent’s roof, and the wind doubled, then tripled in intensity. Then it tripled in intensity again, along with the rain. In a matter of seconds, there were eight of us desperately holding on to the tent poles and flaps, our legs immediately drenched, in an attempt to at least keep the gear in the center of the tent dry. Amplifiers and guitar cases near the edge got drenched. Out in the field, the wind whipped plates and food off the tables, knocked over chairs, people ran for their cars, and we might as well have been atop Mt. Washington in a hurricane. It was difficult to stand up, let alone move. The big party tent capsized (nobody was hurt). It took the eight of us all we had to keep our gear tent from launching into the heavens. Then it ended.

Our almost-two-song gig sits in my memory as a reminder of the power of violence and aggression in nature. The most blissful, sunny celebration had been put to a decided end in a matter of minutes. Upon exit, we encountered a 20 foot wide swath of trees that had been completely flattened to the ground and across the road in front of us. It looked like a giant steamroller had just crushed the forest. On one side of the road, the swath led up a hill, and on the other, clear to the ocean. I’ve never seen such clean, flat devastation of trees, shrubs and grasses.

The rumor around town that evening was that a tornado had come through; a few locals claimed to have witnessed the funnel as it twisted across the road and into people’s yards.

Nature is awesome, for sure, and its power can create devastation that impacts lives forever. Thankfully, nobody at the party was hurt and I did not hear of any injuries or severe damage that afternoon. In the news, it was a “microburst.”

We often hear of similar events that do claim lives, homes, businesses and livelihoods. If it impacts one person’s life once, it humbles the mind to say the least. If nature brings a tragedy to a person’s life more than once, well, one might begin to feel bitterness toward the world. Those that are able to pick up the pieces and carry on inspire us, but many only do so with a dark cloud of resentment or vengeance.

I think of this when I read about people who make decisions that result in tragedies. Why would someone do such a thing? What happened to that person that left him or her thinking committing that crime was a good idea? Tragedies and unexpected adversity can be the root of eventual mental illness and violent, aggressive behavior.

Sometimes those horrible life disruptions are not brought about by natural events, but are a result of intentional aggression. Violence and aggression are frequently relied upon to try to put an end to a problem, but in doing so either inflame the unfavorable conditions they aimed to quell, or leave a new set of unfavorable conditions to replace the old ones. Such is the case, generally speaking, with shouting matches, fights and acts of war.

Sometimes our actions do not present as violence or aggression, but have the same impact. They are quiet acts of aggression: a backhanded comment, a behind-the-back dig, or an intentional deception. They hurt, and cause more damage than good.

We see this behavior in world events, in our own government, and in the professional world. Intentional acts of aggression are committed to “send home a message” to a foe or foes or to “let them know who is in charge,” or to “light a fire” under someone. These practices ultimately disrupt the peace, but also leave a wake of damage and debris. They can put an abrupt end to our bliss. Sometimes we come away relatively unscathed, having weathered the storm, but other times we get hurt, and the long-term consequences of that are not worth the risk.

James Tatum Gale

About James Tatum Gale

I have been a teacher in Maine schools for twelve years, and a writer and musician since childhood. I acquired a Master's degree in Teaching from USM, and a Certificate in Math Leadership from UMF. My undergraduate degree is in Philosophy with a concentration in Comparative Religion from the University of Maine (1994). I live with my wife, Erin, and my dog, Sally, in Bowdoinham.