“NASHVILLE — By March 22, the day Mayor John Cooper issued a safer-at-home order here to slow the transmission of the coronavirus, the city had already been in crisis mode for nearly three weeks. Monster tornadoes had ripped through this region, killing 25 people and demolishing hundreds of buildings, including nearly 400 homes in Nashville alone. And it’s pretty hard to shelter in place when your shelter has just taken a ride through the sky.
The storms that hit last week were milder by comparison, but Tennesseans still began to mutter darkly about divine retribution. “Tornadoes, Covid, no power,” tweeted the musician Kendell Marvel, taking a shot at big-hat country radio, “it’s almost like Nashville is being punished for all the years of mediocre music.”
Part of the dismay stems from the unusual weather itself. A rare system called a derecho sent hurricane-force straight-line winds blowing across Middle Tennessee, toppling ancient trees and power poles and leaving 131,000 people without electricity. Heroic Nashville Electric Service crews — which, because of concerns about the coronavirus, were working through the night without the usual assistance from teams in nearby states — got that number down to about 80,000 on Monday. That was before a weather system called a wake low, also rare, triggered yet another round of powerful storms and brought the number of people without power back up, to 120,000.
Coming on the heels of a deadly virus that has never been seen in humans before, the unusual storms introduced a reasonable question: Why does the natural world keep finding new ways to kill us?
On the bright side, no sign of murder hornets here yet.”
“. . . I figured a week of spit baths would be a good trade for nights around the kitchen table, all of us reading together by candlelight. Not everyone in my family feels this way, but for me those nights were a pure pleasure made perfect by the book at hand: “This Is Happiness” by the Irish novelist Niall Williams, about the coming of electricity to a remote village, a book so beautiful and so funny and so true that it will make you love the whole human race and forgive it all its trespasses.
Plus, this has been the loveliest spring imaginable, cool and damp and green, the old-timey kind of Middle Tennessee springtime that we used to get every year and now get almost never, a gentle, rainy springtime that keeps the flowers blooming for days and days and fills the trees with birdsong. Opening the windows to a spring like this one, at a time when the neighborhood machinery has fallen silent and the crickets and the screech owls are the only sounds in the air, is nothing less than a gift.
To take a walk at night in a city that has settled into silence and a darkness that has become far too rare is to return to something precious, something lost for so long you’ve forgotten to miss it. When it comes back to you unbidden, when that big pie plate of a moon and that star-drenched sky bless yu as you walk down the middle of your street, right down the middle of the street, with your head thrown back and your mouth fallen open, that’s something more than a gift. It’s a walk through the past, a walk in the present and possibly — if we can’t change our lives in time to head off the coming environmental collapse — a walk into the future. All at once.”