"Don't worry, we're all battened down here."
That's my grandmother, assuring me that she and my grandfather are prepared for Hurricane Irene. They're survivors, and weathered worse than this, and with far less warning.
Up the coast, New York is preparing frantically, in part because it's extremely unusual for a hurricane to head straight for it, the way Irene has. But North Carolina is first in its path and in the farm country where I grew up, bracing for storms is old habit.
I grew up accordingly: the northeastern corner of the state sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean like a nose ready for a punch. Hurricanes rolling across the long, flat horizon were a matter of when, not if.
Personally, my family never got the worst of it: our homes stayed intact and we never suffered any injuries, but they made an impression. On the cusp of 17, I waded through flood waters for hours to reach a friend's house. Years earlier, we huddled in the living room while trees fell and the metal roof of a neighboring farm shed flapped like paper.
When hurricanes approached, darting over the weather maps like angry specters, regular life ground to a halt and everyone fell back into old rituals: the thousand steps honed over generations to save lives and calm nerves. We had no monopoly on this: compare how West Coast denizens react to earthquakes. It's human nature.
In less terrifying form, storms were even entertainment. My parents would patiently explain the science behind lightning — both as edification and warning — while we watched distant bolts from our porch, thankful for the temporary gusts of cool air. My sister and I played in fallen trees.
I'm not there now, and on an odd level, it creates a sense of visceral discomfort, because a lot of people I still love are, in South Mills, Elizabeth City, Currituck and Norfolk. Before everything else, I hope they weather this safe and sound. I hope the same thing for everyone in the storm's path.
Storms are also a reminder: for all we plot and plan, there are things beyond our practical control capable of great devastation. Chaotic eras like ours are even more rife with them. From time to time, it's good to take a cue from facing natural disaster.
Keep perspective. Prepare. Stay calm. If hit, get back up. Even storms end.