I did not expect a great blue heron to visit my neighborhood in northeast Atlanta. While on a walk, I rounded a corner, and she took off from the edge of a fallen tree, her huge wings gracefully lifting her rail-thin body. She may have been lost-or perhaps she had come with a message.
In the few months that I have lived in Atlanta, we have been ravaged by extremes. During the August week that I arrived, temperatures soared by mid-day up to 115 degrees. Walking, and even breathing, was ponderous outside in the suffocating heat. In other parts of the country, that heat wave claimed more than 800 lives.
October brought Hurricane Opal slamming into the city. Most of Atlanta woke the following morning surrounded by downed tree limbs and without electricity. Or worse-in some cases, whole trees had fallen into housetops. Business as usual ceased while the city went about the process of cleaning up.
Three months later the "Blizzard of '96" passed through. We got only two inches of snow, but it-and the ice that followed-were enough to shut down schools for a week and end Atlanta traffic gridlock for one brief moment in time.
Some people (especially children) headed for the parks to frolic in the white stuff. But many others lamented "I can't wait until summer," in the same tone of voice with which they had said "I can't wait until winter" when the temperature was over 100. Many complained of the grand inconvenience.
Three weeks after the blizzard, during another cold spell, I spoke with several homeless men in a parking lot. They were shrouded in blankets and huddled around a small radio, listening to the Super Bowl. In the weeks before, they had lost friends who had frozen to death on the streets. For them the storm had been more than inconvenience. Across the country it had claimed at least 100 lives.