A year ago in British Columbia, there was a massive flood — a disaster to the tune of $13 billion in damage. It was caused by an “atmospheric river,” a type of rainstorm that flows up from the tropics into Western Canada and Alaska carrying so much precipitation that it’s sometimes called a Hawaiian Fire Hose. In this case, the river in the sky caused rivers on the ground to rise to unprecedented levels, and it changed the way that some people affected by the flooding talk about nature:

The idea of nature as something that can give warning, that can be angered, that can be — as Aldous Huxley wrote — “occasionally diabolic,” stands outside the Western tradition of science. Yet people up and down the Nicola spoke of the flooding river in that older way.

They saw the river of November 15 as a different being, with a different character. “That was the demon river from Hell,” said Michael Coutts. Charleen Johnson said the river was angry; she said, “We’ve pissed off the entities or the gods somewhere.”

Kim Cardinal said flatly, “The river has taken its land back.”

Whatever the scientific merit of these kinds of thoughts, they have had their uses. In the mountains of Europe, the mysterious movement of large boulders across long distances or high into the branches of trees, or scenes of unimaginable destruction, were long assigned to giants and dragons.

Such stories served to warn residents against building their homes in geologically dangerous places, long after the deadly events had been forgotten.

An Icelandic writer, Andri Snær Magnason, recently wondered aloud whether we, as a global society, might not have done better at protecting the planet over the past few centuries if, alongside our science, we had never given up the idea that nature could be holy or sacred or — I might add — could reach out and smite us if it was mistreated.