Storm Antoni planned my wedding – and it was beautiful | Sophie Pavelle

In August, I married the boy I’ve loved since we were 17. We met in Dartmoor National Park, training for the Ten Tors event with our respective schools. How there had been any attraction when we all looked worse, I’ll never understand. But I suppose that’s the beauty of the moors.

He grew up on a farm in Devon and, in many ways, that’s where we grew up together. I never wanted an extravagant wedding and avoided the attention that meant. But as the months passed, the world grew hotter, people grew sicker, and life seemed limited and immediate. I quickly realized that to deny the people I loved most in the world the distraction not only of unity – but the very possibility of it – was to deny joy and reject hope.

And so I chose to accept it. The farm had been transformed into a hive in the previous weeks. Wooden pallets were painted and made into signs to place around the village. Seasonal flowers were harvested from the farm and placed in jars, milk churns and feeders, or tied with string for retention. Meals were eaten together and at random, in that special feeling of being exhausted by small problems solved and overcome – as a collective. We’ve asked our oldest friends and closest family to please not give gifts and wear something you already own. Instead, the gifts emerged in the form of violin solos, choral compositions, pastries, and time. We sent them home with wildflower seed bombs to scatter.

“We sent them home with wildflower seed bombs to scatter.” Photography: Abi Neda Riley/Abi Riley Photography

Tensions only arose when the weather forecast was published two weeks earlier. August 2023 was the end of the hottest consecutive months on record on the planet, the energy of which was accumulated and returned to us during summer storms. Nature has rightly fought back. Storm Antoni was the uninvited guest, following our American family as it crossed the Atlantic in a furious hurricane twist. She crashed in the middle of the night before the wedding. She ran across the roof, shook the windows and shook my nerves. I remember many nights spent on the Howling Hills of Dartmoor, just a few miles away. It seemed familiar.

On the day of the wedding, Storm Antoni’s plan was to be everywhere. Its 70 mph destroyed the church tower where the bells were ringing. She ran down the aisle as I held my father’s arm in the dress my mother was wearing that day and she whistled into our voices as we sang. We sang louder. My grandmother’s ring became hers. My father became mine. Storm Antoni slammed doors, unbuttoned blazers, broke umbrellas. Its winds flew through my hair. She grouped us into a tighter group. She made toddlers and 85 year olds laugh. She raised petals to the sky.

The storm shouldn’t have been there. But, in a strange sense, I respected his boldness and hoped his fierceness would endure, like the rings around our fingers. Like the rest of the natural world, Storm Antoni gave us everything she had.

Sophie Pavelle's wedding
“I walked barefoot and wore jewelry around the farm.” Photography: Keith Riley/Abi Riley Photography

Occasionally, I would remove myself from the hustle and bustle and observe from the sidelines. I walked barefoot and bejeweled around the farm, but I wasn’t looking for anything. It was all there. I saw strangers conspire like old friends and fought back tears as others reunited after decades of separation. I watched a rainbow of humans at their best, bearing scars of love, loss, and hope, as we danced into the night. I looked at him like he was going to disappear. Or like I could have blinked and it would all have been in my head. This group will never collide again, I thought.

We have created a world that asks us to confirm our humanity by “picking all the places with traffic lights.” But watching people spin in the minds of stories and new beginnings was confirmation enough. As social mammals, we are hardwired to thrive, adapt and survive – as a community. We do our species and so many others a disservice when we dishonor our innate tendency to to assemble. It seems we prefer revenge. But love is our only instrument of resilience. Handle and yield.

Among the most remarkable conservation successes are those driven by raw understanding and the exercise of ecological caretaking, reciprocity, and compassion. Love doesn’t strut on political tangents. Love does not drive recklessly. Love doesn’t give up. And yet, the birds are silent. The salmon is not coming back. Hurricanes fly.

I snuck into the farmhouse to watch from an upstairs window. In the evening, storm Antoni had receded and the sun tore through the sooty sky and fell in cascades over the orchard. I heard the first notes of the violin. The ceilidh was starting. Joy and joining hands is activism after all. Want to dance ?

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