Shelter from the storm

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Wed, 2007-07-11 04:26

We had a wild and wonderful storm here in New Zealand yesterday. Dramatic as it was, and as violent as it was, the amount of destruction was relatively limited, allowing us to enjoy it rather than fear it.

It offered another reminder that (unlike other animals) human survival demands more than just adjustment of ourselves to nature -- we sometimes need to protect ourselves from nature. That's what we humans do -- our unique means of survival is to adapt nature to ourselves; to mollify nature's dragons and make them more humane, and therein more enjoyable.

I was reminded of a passage in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, describing Francisco D’Anconia looking out Hank Rearden’s lounge window on a stormy Pennsylvania night. Rearden is hosting an elegant gathering while a wild storm rages just the other side of the glass:

Francisco looked silently out at the darkness. The fire of [Rearden’s steel] mills was dying down. There was only a faint tinge of red left on the edge of the earth, just enough to outline the scraps of clouds ripped by the tortured battle of the storm in the sky. Dim shapes kept sweeping through space and vanishing, shapes which were branches, but looked as if they were the fury of the wind made visible.

“It’s a terrible night for an animal caught unprotected on that plain,” said Francisco D’Anconia. “This is when one should appreciate the meaning of being a man.”

One side of the glass is turbulent, the other pacific. Inside is the man, Rearden, whose hospitality makes the refuge from the storm possible. Outside and on the horizon are Rearden’s steel mills that make the house both physically and financially possible, and that on this particular evening provide the reason for the gathering and celebration. The house itself provides the shelter from the storm -- a refuge from it if you like -- and also the prospect over it, and with it the luxury of time and safety for contemplation about the storm, the mills, the landscape, the celebration, and the relationship the occupants have with all three (an opportunity that Rand in this passage has Francisco seize for us).

This is what it means to be fully human.

“It’s a terrible night for an animal caught unprotected on that plain,” says Francisco, underscoring that it’s not at all terrible for the people enjoying an elegant gathering on his side of the glass – it’s delightful. It’s delightful to be a human being and to do what human beings do, and to laugh at the dangers and the dragons outside.

To paraphrase PJ O’Rourke, only God can make a storm, but only man can stand inside and laugh at it.

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"Hippie of the Right"

mvardoulis's picture

That is what Mz Rand called us L(l)ibertarians after all Smiling But I've NEVER been 'right wing' and haven't had long hair since 1991... Don't have to be a hippie to appreciate the chorus "Come in she said I'll give ya, shelter from the storm...!" The 'she' from that lyric as it relates to your post being the wonder of man's accomplishments (and as such, appropriate use of female gender).


Peter Cresswell's picture

Thanks for the comments everyone. I can just imagine your son out there on Fisherman's Wharf, Claudia, with the storm raging around him. A great place to experience it.

"..the title of your post also reminded me of the Dylan song."

See, I knew there'd be a hippy who gets that. Smiling

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

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Lovely post Peter.

Olivia's picture

It was a wild storm alright. The strongest Auckland winds in forty years. Our villa shook and banged as chairs on our porch swept over on their side. Speaking of panes of glass, our bedroom windows happen to leak in an easterly - and we lost power for eight hours forcing us to gather in the firelight with candles in our lounge and eat takeaways. My son kept going on walks down to Fisherman's warf to "feel" the storm's essence with the waves crashing about him - the simple joy of being able to step into such fury with the comforting knowledge that one can simply step back inside, out of it's reach. Smiling

the title of your post also reminded me...

mvardoulis's picture

Of the Dylan song. But I suppose I betray the stereotypical Dylan fan by cranking up his music in my gas guzzling SUV not unlike Ross' 4x4 (albeit with the steering wheel in a different spot).

I suppose it takes an architect to draw out the full significance of that passage, and I'm quite thankful you did, Peter! Smiling

Nicely observed, Peter!

Jameson's picture

Our 100-year-old villa stood stalwart in the buffeting gale.... and I slept like a rock. And Right on's right Ross!... after reading your 4x4 metaphor, I recalled the warm feeling of safety I had as a kid, imagining myself riding along with the Space Family Robinson in that robust All Terrain Vehicle (and sleeping in their cosy metal space ship) against all manner of harsh environment the universe could throw at them!

Aaaah... I love being a homosapien! Smiling

Right on!

Ross Elliot's picture

I often think of that passage in AS when the weather is wild. Indeed, most of us probably take a great deal of comfort--smugness, perhaps--in standing near a window as the wind-driven rain lashes ineffectually at us.

Same thing with cars, especially 4x4s, in the mud, snow, river, up steep hills. Nothing better. Smiling

It rests on this: we know that we have shelter, somewhere. Even if we're lost, desperate, abandoned, pushed to extremes, we know there's a safe, warm, dry world waiting--a civilised world.

And then we have the Enviro-Nazis and their gothic gristmill. Gimme that gassy 4x4 any day.

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