Watching the weather like everyone else on the East coast makes me think about storms and wet globalism. The storm that’s churning toward Short Beach right now is following the inescapable path of the North Atlantic Gyre, the clockwise rotating system of winds and currents that has been structuring transatlantic travel at least since Columbus rode it south and west from Spain. (The Vikings rode a slightly different gyre, farther north.)
Like all Atlantic hurricanes, Irene started to form in the warm water off the west coast of Africa, slowly rode the North Equatorial current westward toward the Caribbean, and then built in size and power over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. It’s following that raging river in the sea right now, but seems unlikely to turn east after Cape Hatteras. That immense wind and current system moves storms the same way it moved conquistadors, rum runners, navies, and slave ships.
I recently read a good book on the history of human understandings of the Gyre, Stan Ulanski’s The Gulf Stream, about which I’ll blog a bit later.
But waiting today for the winds and rain, I’m thinking about the long human history of the Africa-Caribbean-North American coastline triangle. It keeps on coming, directly at us. History isn’t dead. It’s flowing.