"George R. Stewart," photographer, date unknown. Larger.
"Storm," book jacket, 2003. Larger.
Technological innovation has made our lives immeasurably safer and, perhaps, more predictable. But as living becomes more routine, what exactly are we giving up?
California writer George R. Stewart
wondered about this very question in his 1941 novel Storm
, wherein readers are asked to consider the quality of their lives if predicting the weather becomes as accurate as predicting the tides.
Only man's quarrelsomeness seems likely to prevent this consummation. To master and apply the laws of the air without a world-wide co-operation is like trying to predict tides with an imperfect knowledge of the motions of sun and moon.
If the final success is attained, what will be the effect upon man? Will he at last have to stop talking and speculating about the weather? Will the foreknowledge that he must prepare against a tornado upon a given day be more strain than a grasshopper-like ignorance and sudden disaster? Will the removal of the daily mystery only serve perhaps to make life at once safer and more boring?
George R. Stewart's Storm
traces the effect of a colossal Pacific weather system as it spreads across California. It later inspired an episode of ABC's Disneyland
"Storm," book jacket, 1941. Larger.
Thanks partly to early real estate boosters, we often think of California as a land of perpetual sunshine. But when a big Pacific storm approaches the Golden State, we do well to remember that even here, Nature can pack an enormous wallop.
In his 1941 novel Storm
, George R. Stewart
created one of California literatures' most memorable characters, Maria, a giant Pacific storm that threatens all of California. In the following passage, Maria comes to the great expanse of the Central Valley, focusing forces powerful enough to drench at once the whole of even that vast plain:
Overall the Valley rain was falling. . . .
It poured upon the mile-wide fields of new wheat and barley. It turned the alfalfa a brighter green. It glistened upon the gray leaves of the olive-trees, and made darker the dark green of the orange-trees. It wet the up-turned, delicate branches of the leafless peaches and plums and almonds, and the stiff rods of the cherries and the pears; it wet the myriad stubby branches of the figs—rigid, like gnarled fingers. It wet alike the wide-spreading walnut-trees and close-pruned grape-vines.
Against all the cities of the plain the storm was beating—Oroville of the olives, Marysville of the peaches, and Colusa of the rice and barley; river-girt, high-domed Sacramento; Stockton, where the ocean-steamers dock far within the wide-reaching plain; Lodi of the grapes; Corcoran of the wheat; Fresno of the figs and raisins; Porterville of the oranges; Tulare of the cotton. Over them all was rain.
George Stewart's Storm
remains a powerful influence on our culture, having popularized, some say, the habit of giving human names to storms.