jun 2022

[ performed at the BOOM open mic night ]
[ part of the Weather Stories project ]

Richard was born in Slovakia in 1988, as the only son of a father and mother. His parents lived in a small community in the foothills of the Tatra mountain range. His parents ran the hotel of the village, which was not inside but about three kilometers removed from the village, and completely surrounded by forests. Holiday-goers loved being in the green. Nearby were also clear, fast-moving mountain creeks, in which Richard and his father went fly-fishing.

But besides small, the community was also very conservative. Faith in God was to be held high and there were these traditions... On Easter Monday for instance, all the village boys would go out and whip the village girls, and splash them with cold water, such that the girls would grow more beautiful in the coming year.

Richard’s parents were also restrictive. He was not allowed to read certain books or listen to certain music. Worst of all, every night that Richard and his parents sat together at the family dining table, it would be silent… And Richard would feel the weight of his parents’ judgment of his behaviors.

So what do you do when you hit puberty in that situation? Of course you start behaving worse. So Richard deliberately dressed in black, took an earring and started to hang out with a small underground community of the village. He and the other boys tried to escape the customs, often by escaping literally. Together they would walk and venture far into the surrounding forests. There they would build fires and listen to music. On these trips they would also encounter animals. After all, the Tatra mountain range was know for it’s bears, rare lynx, mountain goats, deer and eagles.

It was trans-formative to walk beneath the trees. Nowhere you could see that the spruce trees were planted by previous generations about a 100 years earlier. Because now, the trees were big and formed this majestic, mysterious forest, full of filtered light, and in which humans and animals could walk endlessly between the shrubs on the ground and the ceiling of leaves above. In it, Richard would feel free and sheltered.

But, on a Friday evening in November 2004, disaster stuck. A large cold air mass, originally from around the north pole, was moving into the European continent as part of a large low pressure system. The cold front of this system, separating the cold air in the north from the warm air in the south, was moving into the Tatra mountain range.

Now, it is known mountains can strengthen winds. The cold incoming air was first pushed upwards, traveled over the range, and fell down at the other end, precisely the slopes where Richard’s village lay. As the cold air was much heavier and denser than the surrounding warm air, its fall got accelerated by its weight.

This specific evening, on these specific slopes, this katabatic or Bora wind effect was stronger than ever. Wind speeds of more than 170 km/h were measured. For comparison, the Dutch storm Eunice last February in which 4 people died, saw wind speeds of only 130 km/h. The 40 km/h difference does not sound like much. But according to Newton’s quadratic laws it is enough to almost double the kinetic energy.

What happened was brutal. The next morning, when the village people came out, they saw that all trees in the forest were flat. The hotel, which was previously hidden behind three kilometers of trees, could now be seen directly by eye. Everywhere around there were thousands upon thousands of tree stumps, piles of shattered wood and slashed-off branches. Something snapped. The people could not believe their eyes. How could their majestic forest be swept from the earth in a single night?

There was not much to recover. Any remaining stands of trees were now exposed to even much milder wind storms. And the next season large piles of rotting wood and tree-bark formed the perfect feeding ground for a beetle plague, which devoured any remaining plants.

Like so many, Richard left, and his group of underground friends did not meet again.

Now, it is 2022, and Richard works as a diving instructor on a far-away tropical island. He’s also recording a nature documentary. Presumably to tell his own story, and perhaps the eternal story of mankind. Namely that there is less separation than you might think. Our existence is closely woven into nature. We were the ones that planted the trees that formed the majestic forest . The forest on its part formed a perfect haven for wildlife and unhappy teenagers. Just as easy it all can be reversed. And a wind storm can destroy an entire way of living in just a single night. Lives were ripped out and forced to land somewhere else on earth. Let’s hope that, like Richard, they landed somewhere meaningful.

[ the Weather Stories project investigates how our personal lives and the weather intertwine. We know that both can be turbulent, but often have a hard time accepting any lack of control. Can we use their narrative combination to better grasp uncertainty? ]
[ Based on a true story: windstorm, Richard ]