Many lifetimes ago, I lived in Nashville, Tennessee. I was 21 when I arrived in the city, a recent graduate of Northwestern University, eager to start my first job at The Tennessean newspaper. These photographs portray the recent flooding of the city.
Nashville is not only a geographic location to me. It's a signifier of awakening, of a time when I was a freshly minted adult and my eyes opened to the world.
In Nashville, I received my first death threat as a reporter. In Nashville, I met and talked with my first murderer, used my first computer, visited my first psychic. In Nashville, I took up the piano and learned to play a blues riff, saw Elvis's Cadillac, bought my milk at the same 7-11 where John Prine bought his.
In Nashville, I interviewed celebrities, pursued complicated stories, rejected William Styron's advances, swam in ponds with water moccasins, witnessed a home birth Ina May Gaskin attended, got my heart broken, and did yoga for the first time. In Nashville, I helped my father as he suffered through a devastating illness.
These photographs came to me in an email as a forward from a woman I knew when I lived in Nashville. In the strange way very personal email sometimes travels from in box to in box, this email arrived. The writer surely wouldn't have expected it to reach a long ago acquaintance in faraway Vancouver, BC, but it did.
"Dear Friends," my old acquaintance wrote,
"I understand that some of you out there beyond the borders of our state don’t really know the extent of the devastation. It’s been overwhelming. A 1,000 Year Flood, people say. My home is fine except for minor damage. Keep the city in your prayers."
I don't pray. I believe in an impersonal, mysterious universe. On the subject of my place in the universe, I think back to my Grade Nine science teacher in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I grew up, two hours from Nashville. He said the sun was a star and that someday it would burn out. The fact of the sun's finite existence surprised and alarmed me. In a flash, I understood how small I was and I suspected that my class, my family, and the entire population of Chattanooga were much like the swarms of red ants I spent afternoons lazily studying in the yard outside our house: determined, hungry, easy to crush.
If I were the praying kind, however, I'd fall on my knees.
I'd pray for the sea life murdered by BP and for the people all along the coastline of the oily Gulf of Mexico, those frightened by the attempted terrorist attack in Times Square, the families who have lost people, the ordinary people who are scared by war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia.
On the tide ride memories and feelings and the cellular experience of my Nashville still lives.
To read about climate change and Tennessee, click here.