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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Mother Nature

“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

I’ll admit being old enough to remember that margarine commercial.

I hate to admit, though, that I’m old enough to have lost enough memory to have forgotten the brand of that product.

But, I’ll not soon forget Hurricane Ernesto – the unwanted and uninvited Labor Day Weekend Guest, who came anyway on September 1, 2006.

Ernesto had been downgraded to a “tropical depression” by the time he hit the Eastern Shore and Delamarva area. If this was a “tropical depression” I can’t even begin to imagine what it might be like to live thorough a hurricane like Katrina – except from what we’ve seen on television.

Although, come to think of it, my memory isn’t all that bad. I do remember my first hurricane.

I vaguely remember Hurricane Diane. I was six years old and what I remember most was that my mother went into labor and came home with my baby sister. She was supposed to have been a boy, and my parents didn’t have a name picked out for a girl. So, at my suggestion, she was named after the hurricane. That was much more exciting for me than a hurricane.

The hurricane I really remember came a few years later. As I recall, I was nine years old and we were living in Westport, MA. Hurricane Carole was howling outside my bedroom window, which overlooked our next door neighbor’s yard.

Evie and Lou Rego were great neighbors. Their three children, Joan, Ron and Lori were always in our home and we in there’s. They had a wonderful Weeping Willow tree in their side yard, just outside their kitchen window, which faced our dining room window.

I don’t know a kid in our neighborhood, myself included, who didn’t love playing under “Mz. Willow.” We would hide under her branches in the heat of the summer to drink lemonade and escape the summer heat. If we wrapped her silky branches around our bodies we would become beautiful mermaids. Someone else would use her branches to transform her face to the long, flowing beard of Neptune, the King of the Sea. An exciting drama would suddenly enfold, breaking the boredom of a particularly long Sunday afternoon.

Now, lying on my bed, I could hear the winds of Hurricane Carole outside. I had turned away from my window, having seen the storm whip Mz. Willow’s branches into a frenzy, making her look like the hideous head of Media, an ugly tangle of snakes.

At the hurricane’s height, I remember a particularly dreadful sound which filled the air – something monstrous and ominous sounding. If I close my eyes, I can hear it still, and my body still shivers in response.

I remember racing to the window only to watch in horror as the wind took one last swipe at our beloved Mz. Willow. She slowly surrendered her shallow root system and fell, gracefully, even in death, on her side, kindly and generously missing the Rego home.

I remember crying out and weeping inconsolably for our beautiful Mz. Willow.

It was my first experience of the power of nature and I distinctly remember, in the midst of my grief and mourning at the loss of Mz. Willow, that my initial fear and horror became my first encounter with a deep sense of humility and awe.

Senor Ernesto hit this area with a terrifying strength. The howling winds whipped the normally calm waters of the Bay into a frenzy. By the time high tide arrived in the late afternoon, the water was rising above our pier, the winds pushing the water closer and closer to our home.

We were evacuated around 4:30 PM, thinking that we’d spend a few hours waiting out the high tide and be able to return by bedtime. It was not to be so. The wind pushed the high water even higher, which flooded the streets and made them impassible.

We spent the night in the "SeaEsta Motel" in Long Neck (got the last of three remaining rooms) which only charged us $79 and allowed us to keep our puppies with us. (Lenny and CoCo were greatly relieved – as were we. I couldn’t imagine leaving them behind.)

No one really slept. All through the night, Ernesto’s howling winds rattled the windows and doors like the Big Bad Wolf, huffing and puffing, threatening to blow our room down.

We awoke in the morning to hear our neighbors talking about the latest news: one death reported, lots of power lines and trees down, but the flooding had receded and we could return home. We gulped down some dreadful hotel room coffee, brushed our teeth, and wasted no time getting ourselves back to our beloved Llangollen.

There is much for which to be grateful. There is no structural damage to the house. The water came up on our deck and into our enclosed porch. The carpet is wet right up to the sliding glass door that separates our living room from the porch, but it went no further.

We've lost two shutters and two gutters and the yard is a mess of sea grass.

There is a piece of cinder block in the foundation which was pushed out and the water pushed against some of the windows which will need to be re-calked, but that seems to be the extent of the damage. All in all, not bad. Not bad at all. I'm amazed.

Our neighbor's boat capsized, another had the canvass canopy blow off. Our next door neighbor had a roof shingle fly through his living room window, sending shattered glass everywhere - inside and out - and allowing the rain to soak through his living room.

The amazing thing is that two sides of our house were absolutely COVERED in grasshoppers. They live in the marsh (they're what the fish jump for) which was still flooded when we returned. Some of the marsh critters - birds that look prehistoric that I've only seen from a distance - were also temporarily homeless, wandering around in our yard, looking a bit dazed and forlorn. They were able to return once the waters subsided in low tide.

The wonderful part has been being part of a community helping each other clean up and fix up.

Grant, a parishioner from Chatham who is also neighbor here in Long Neck, helped to nail back the one gutter on our house that didn't get blown away. He also went into our shed and got out some old aluminum siding and patched some of the open places of the other gutter, so if it rains again, no further damage will be done.

I've been working theological overtime as bad theology abounds. How is it that almost seven years into the Third Millennium and people still think Hurricanes are "an act of God"?

I’m still amazed that Ernesto was considered a “tropical depression.” I mentioned this to my friend, Joseph, who gave me this explanation which I found most helpful:

“As I understand it from reading stuff . . .while in New Orleans, it's not only about designation -- tropical depression, tropical storm, hurricane category 3, 4, 5, etc. It's also about size and duration.”

“So Katrina, a category 3, did much more damage than Camille, which was a category 5 because Katrina was larger and lasted longer than Camille, which was more intense but also more compact.”

”Of course, with Katrina, it was also about flooding, which followed the hurricane, and which resulted from years and years of unfortunate, short-sighted, pork-barrel decisions, primarily on the part of the Corps of Engineers. But don't get me going.”

It’s also about global warming, of course, which we’ve ignored, as well as disturbing the ecological balance in the marsh lands around New Orleans – as a prime example – but in many, many other areas around the globe, like the Delvarva Peninsula and the Eastern Shore.

But don’t get me going.

“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

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