Year of Living the Community: Week 48

TO GO DEEP GREEN IN THE MIDST OF THE STORM 

posting by Jana

 Me on my beloved Pensacola Beach in 1974 (I'm the little one and also the girl). There used to be sand dunes on the Eastern end of the island but they're gone now. Islands shift, but they get a lot of help from major storms and displacement by development. 

Me on my beloved Pensacola Beach in 1974 (I'm the little one and also the girl). There used to be sand dunes on the Eastern end of the island but they're gone now. Islands shift, but they get a lot of help from major storms and displacement by development. 

Having worked with the ideas in the online course from CCP Go Deep Green for a while now, the bigger+better+love stories generally hum away in the background as a source of coherence and consistent energy for me.

Sometimes, however, I have to bring the stories into the foreground and draw on them more intentionally. Today was one of those days.

I’m from Florida and hurricanes stir me up. It’s all the memories and the current worries and the future fears.

 Hurricanes Jose, Irma, Katia 9 Sep 2017

Hurricanes Jose, Irma, Katia 9 Sep 2017

I was six years old in 1974 when we moved to the Florida Panhandle. Two weeks later, we packed up bits and pieces of what we’d just unpacked and evacuated the beach house for higher ground. My first hurricane memories involve lots of wind and rain, playing cards with the new friends who’d taken us in, their dog named Blue, and too much food. It was kind of fun. And not much damage was done.

Then there was Frederic in 1979, a category 4. I was taken out of school and we headed further north this time, to Montgomery. This hurricane tasted like tuna fish sandwiches in the car on I-65 and smelled like a roadside motel. I wasn’t old enough to pick up the lingering racial divides in this city of bus boycotts and sit ins, and anyway I wasn’t allowed outside the motel room.

My great auntie – the one who’d been dean of women at Alabama in the desegregation years and through that association in the region put us onto Pensacola – she and Uncle Ed lost some gracious old oaks and pines at their place on the Magnolia River. They hadn’t evacuated, which caused my mother no end of stress, but they were fine: the trees missed the house and there was whisky to keep them company, especially Ed, an old stringer for the Washington Post who never seemed to be without one or without a slim brown cigarette either.

There were other storms when I was growing up, but nothing huge. There used to be years and even decades between the big ones.

 The University of Florida in Gainesville, gearing up to weather the storm(s) this week.

The University of Florida in Gainesville, gearing up to weather the storm(s) this week.

In 1985, I spent my first weekend living on campus in Gainesville locked in our dorm as a safety precaution because nobody knew where the erratic Hurricane Elena was going to go next. This little zig-zag number drove my parents and my grandpa first this way and then that trying to find some shelter. Meanwhile, I was enjoying my first college party, about 72 hours worth.

Fast-forward to Opal a decade later. Nothing came towards Orlando – the storm came up the Yucatan Peninsula – where I was two years into my first post grad school job. The storm surge put the high water mark on the inside of mom and dad’s beach cottage at about waist height. Dad managed to refurbish the big hi-fi cabinet he’d built in Minnesota that we brought with us in the move. It made it through Ivan, too.

Ivan. That’s the one. 2004. I was in London; my parents were in the dream home they’d built on the beach, capstone to their 30-year real estate careers.

For several days after this storm, as big as Katrina would be the following year, I couldn’t reach them. A internet message board from the local paper connected me to their neighbours, who let me know they were okay.  

 The narrow barrier island was breached by Ivan.

The narrow barrier island was breached by Ivan.

Ivan formed on the 2nd of September and dissipated on the 24th. I arrived in Pensacola during the second week of October. My parents, my partner and I all lived in motel on the mainland for three months before mom and dad could get back out to the beach to see about their own place (relatively okay) and the 80 properties they managed for others (most of which weren’t okay or weren’t even there any more).

We stayed a year to help out. It was the business, it was their home, it was my dad’s terminal illness. He’d been diagnosed a month before the hurricane arrived.

There were five storms worth worrying about during the season after Ivan. After one we ate MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) provided by the National Guard. Another time, everybody in the neighbourhood cleaned out their freezers and we had a big BBQ: the gas grills worked but the electricity didn’t for a week or so.

At the end of the season we sat glued to the Weather Channel watching #5, Katrina, until it finally did what some storms do and took a little hop to the West. It’s a funny thing celebrating a near miss when you know, having just been through it less than 12 months prior, what those people just over there are going to go through. We couldn’t have imagined the levees or the Superdome, and we sure as hell didn't wish all that on anybody. We just felt lucky. And guilty.

Everything is fragile forever after experiences like this. That’s how I’ve been feeling today.

So I’ve brought the love story to mind a lot – the one about how I fell in love with the Earth in the first place:

I put my toes in the white sands of Pensacola Beach, cool and squeaky quartz crystals that made their way south from the Appalachians to form this barrier island way back in geologic time.

I felt the moist breeze off the Gulf that makes the golden sea oats that hold together what’s left of the sand dunes after all these storms and all the development glisten.

I shuffled around in the shallow water grassbeds on the Sound side for scallops and hermit crabs, trying to snatch them up before they scooted away or shut themselves up tight.

Nothing gets fixed by returning to the love, but things that had started falling apart come back together again and offer something like strength within the vulnerability.

 Pensacola Beach. My Deep Green (and blue and white) home. 

Pensacola Beach. My Deep Green (and blue and white) home.