Whit’s End: The majesty and power of nature
It can be challenging to take the threat of a natural disaster seriously when it’s skipped over you a dozen times before.
Maybe I shouldn’t make such broad generalizations. Perhaps people in the West are wiser about this. After all, I haven’t heard anyone dismiss the possibility of avalanches, wild fire or bears. These are real threats, and people around me have been careful to guide me with regard to these new-to-me risks.
But over the course of nearly 30 years in Florida, my family has found little reason to flee hurricanes. That is, until last October.
We moved to Jacksonville in 1988, four years before Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami. I vaguely recall that horror (I was in elementary school), but it seemed far removed. Hurricanes don’t hit Jacksonville, we were told. Perhaps because of ocean currents, the storms tend to land in the Carolinas instead. They threaten, and I remember occasional warnings throughout my school years. But the most ominous of those stands out as a free day off from ninth grade. We didn’t even lose power.
Hurricane Matthew, though, looked to be something else. My brother-in-law is in the Army National Guard, and my sister describes him as the most cautious man in the world. Before Matthew touched the Florida coast, Mark expected to be activated. My sister, their three children, my parents and my brother loaded into two vehicles and evacuated to Alabama. They would have been safe miles before they reached me, but the family drove on to visit Birmingham.
Those are days I now find myself nostalgic for, strange though that may seem. I recall a slight drop in the South’s October heat, and we spent much of our time together outside. My nephews rejoiced in rolling a cooler through my aunt and uncle’s lawn and chasing my college roommate’s 3-year-old daughter. We watched football and visited a nearby playground. It was a low-key weekend of family togetherness.
When they returned home, a few tree limbs had fallen but damage was otherwise minor. Running from the storm was a good time, but was it necessary?
This year prompted that question again as Hurricane Irma ripped through the Caribbean and on to the Sunshine State. My mom, sister and her children again drove for the Alabama state line. But as the storm shifted west, it appeared Fort Rucker would catch as much trouble as St. Augustine. They returned home before the hurricane made landfall.
But a friend’s experience drove home the importance of respecting these forces of nature. Her parents live in St. John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. They were unable to communicate for days following the storm’s landfall. Even when her mother was able to call, they could speak for only one minute. The satellite phone she used was the only one for dozens, if not hundreds, of people.
My friend posted regular Facebook updates and we exchanged several texts as she awaited communication. When someone posted a community check-in poster with her parents’ name on it, my friend responded, “That’s my mom’s handwriting!” My eyes filled with tears as I imagined her relief. What a privilege to join in her fear and her joy, even from across the country.
Colorado’s Western Slope offers many chances to rejoice in nature’s majesty. This weekend’s “Nature in Translation” performance will integrate dance, art and music in just such a celebration. But we’re also wise to remember this power can also become dangerous.
I’m grateful that, to date, my family hasn’t experienced that firsthand.
Carla Jean Whitley is paranoid about bears getting into her garbage — even though it doesn’t leave her house until trash pickup day. Share your survival tips with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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