Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.
I've always wanted to be a storm chaser. I still do. Some of my formative experiences as a kid were watching dramatic storm chasing videos. One in particular I remember was a family trying to out-drive a tornado that was only a few hundred yards from them. Realizing that their attempts at escape was hopeless, they took shelter under a freeway bridge overpass and held on for dear life as the tornado passed right over them. It was awesome, exciting, yet completely horrifying to watch at the same time. As much as I want to chase storms, I, like many others with the same fascination, are also completely terrified of storms as well. Anyone with me in a room when the lightning begins to flash will notice that I subtly or not-so-subtly shift myself as far away as possible from the nearest window. I could watch a ton of storm chaser videos when I was a kid, and in the next moment be cowering underneath my mom when the lighting and thunder rolled through for real.
Just a few days ago, as I was weeding away blissfully in my organic farm apprenticeship in the Garden of Seven Gates at the Small Farm Training Center in Wheeling, West Virginia, I began to admire, and a keep a close eye on, an incoming storm. I was prepared for its arrival, since I religiously ogle my WeatherBug app on my iPad throughout the day. I'm a radar junkie, and I wonder and scoff at people who don't know the exact parameters of the weather at any given moment. I loved the weather so much as a kid that I would get up in front of the TV during the evening news and pretend I was the weatherman. My mom wrote a letter to the Detroit NBC affiliate's weatherman, Chuck Gaidica, who did a regular about-the-town feature called Neighborhood Weather, and soon enough I was actually on the evening news doing the weather. I am a weather nerd who likes weather events. I was in New York for Hurricane Sandy and it was a weather nerd's dream, until I woke up the next day and realized what has happened to so many people.
As this storm approached me in the garden, I thought I had enough time to do my duty and get out before it got hairy. After all the thistle and amaranth weeds were out of control and I had to yank out as many as I could before they go to seed. All of a sudden I looked up and a wall of black and wind was coming at me quickly. I had seriously underestimated the speed of the storm. I grabbed myself and ran. For a moment, as the wind began to roar like a freight-train through the trees which surrounded me, I seriously thought a tornado was bearing down. I was thrilled. I was frightened out of my gourd. I was resigned and ready to go to God. Fortunately for me it was the just the initial burst of a somewhat intense thundershower, and I made it to shelter safely.
Sometimes we want to chase the storm. Sometime the storm shows who's in charge and chases us.
The power that Mama Nature has over us is a constant reminder of the dark and the light in our personal spiritual journey. Nature, our ecology, is constantly surrounding us with the potential and reality of life and death that is both flowing, inevitable, harmonious, yet chaotic. Camille Seaman's incredible experience of storm chasing reveals a truly spiritual depth to this often sensationalized and commodified act of courage and curiosity. When we are chasing the storm, or when the storm is chasing us, to understand our inter-connection, to understand we are part of the storm, that the storm is made up of much of the same substance that makes us, makes it a spiritual experience, a kind of yoga, which connects us to the Divine that has created all of us and everything.
Camille's pictures remind me of the radical awe and amazement that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel calls us to so that we may find the Divine in our natural world. He offers to us:
"Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ...get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed."
Storm chasing as Camille shared with us, within the tactile experience of "charged particles" and "lovely monsters," is part of the yoga of ecology, in which the power and beauty of nature reminds us and deeply connects us to the visceral nature of life, death, and the Divine behind it all. The storm that we chase, and which may chase us, helps to lift us out of the mundane and deeply root us in the ineffable otherness of what is beyond us but which is also certainly within us and part of us.[ disaster ] [ nature ]