Bella Fontana

A weekly column about life in Bellefonte, PA, reprinted from the Centre Daily Times

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A world of uncertainty has us looking for shelter from the storm

Five days after the "light" snow that was predicted for Oct. 25, snowmen still stood in front yards, and downed branches in full leaf were waiting for the chipper and the chain saw.

Not only did the unseasonable storm transform the landscape, it changed the order of people's lives. If Shakespeare were around, he would have written a play about it.

Storms in Shakespeare were not just an excuse to try out a new thunder machine; they symbolized upheavals in society. So King Lear, driven from his home and deprived of his title, rages against the elements. And in the "Scottish Play" (I share the superstition about using the actual title), three witches meet on the heath in thunder, lightning and rain to predict the murder of the rightful heir to the throne.

In "The Tempest," a shipwreck leads to a shakeup in the political order. In "Twelfth Night," another shipwreck throws characters into hilarious scenes of mistaken identity.

By looking at things from a different perspective, new insights emerge. By linking cosmic disorder and political chaos, Shakespeare shed light on themes of corruption and human error. Hurricane Katrina, in his playbook, would be the lens through which mistakes are magnified.

Before Hurricane Wilma hit, I checked in with two friends in southern Florida. Betty was putting up her storm shutters, and Barbara was polishing off the ice cream in her freezer. Both seemed like good examples of the principle of living with nature, not against it.

A humor column by Jack Gustafson in the Rochester Senior Times makes a similar point. In his list of characteristics of true Pennsylvanians, he says, "If you have worn shorts and a parka at the same time, you might live in Pennsylvania."

Looking ahead to this winter, The Old Farmer's Almanac has issued its forecast for the Appalachian region. Temperatures will be lower than normal and snowfall will be above normal with a heavy snowstorm in early April.

"We believe that nothing in the universe happens haphazardly," the editors say, "that there is a cause-and-effect pattern to all phenomena."

Yes, but those words may be cold comfort to folks trying to figure out how to pay their fuel bills this winter.

Shakespeare's plays always ended with a restoration of order -- lovers were reunited, villains disposed of, peace reigned. Audiences could go home with the satisfaction of having everything back in its proper place. The need for stability in an uncertain world was as much a part of Elizabethan times as ours.