Friday was a beautiful day of cloudless blue skies along Florida’s east coast, another of those post card images boasting of a holiday paradise. Unlike other southern regions to the north, Florida has been spared the destruction and loss of life resulting from tornadoes across much of the south this past week. For that we can be thankful, but some of us living here begin to feel a creeping sense of anxiety over the imminent hurricane season running from June through November. It can be especially worrisome if your home is separated from the Atlantic by nothing more than a hundred feet of sand, and less than that during stormy conditions.
The hurricane season of 2004 hit my spot of postcard paradise with devastating fury, leaving me with repairs necessary from the ground up. In the middle of August Hurricane Charlie swung around the bottom of Florida and then doubled back across the state packing a furious wallop, but one which we on the east coast managed to squeak through. A week later I returned to Japan feeling lucky. Only two weeks passed before Hurricane Frances hit the east coast 149 miles south of Daytona and left my home flooded, encased in mold and uninhabitable. Had I been here to jump immediately into action I still couldn’t have saved much. Lucky for me a friend jumped in and rescued the book collection before damp and mold took hold. Those are the times you are are thankful for both friends and insurance. It is also a time when you gain a new respect for the furies of an angry Mother Nature on steroids. It took several months but the condo was rebuilt and refurnished with a new look better than ever.
Having sat out Hurricane Charlie inside these walls wondering if the end would come from evisceration by broken wind-driven glass or from drowning in my bedroom, I developed a finer appreciation for the furies that define a hurricane. Shortly after my experience I came upon a book called The Voyage (1999) by Philip Caputo—one of the greatest coming of age novels ever—which included a particularly fine passage about a hurricane in the Caribbean passing between the tip of Florida and Cuba. Here is Mr Caputo’s vision:
‘The storm was barreling toward them, and the most rational meteorologist, had he seen it as the boys did, from the deck of a forty-six-foot schooner, would have forgotten everything he’d learned from books about heavy weather and felt himself one with the Carib Indians, the first men who had quaked before that wrath and given it a name—huru-can, the demon wind.
Double Eagle tore southwestward under morning stars winking out one by one, her deck slanted thirty degrees…She rolled and banged in the crowded eight-foot seas.
“At this rate, we’ll be in the harbor in less than half an hour,” said Will, standing, as they all were, at a thirty degree angle.
Only minutes later, the storm forced Will to go back on his promises. Though it seemed to the boys’ minds to do so with evil purpose, though it seemed a conscious being, it had no more concern for the promises, the plans, the paltry hopes and dreams of those four adolescents than its ancestor storms had had for the grand schemes of empire and the lust for riches dwelling in the minds and hearts of Spaniards homeward bound from the New World in galleons ballasted with bars of looted silver, their sea chests filled with emeralds and gold plundered from mines where Aztec and Inca labored under the Spanish whip, and all—ships, chests, coins, jewels—driven onto the reefs, smashed, and sunk, the Sevillean and Valencian lords and ladies crying out futile Aves as the waters closed around them and the great wind tore the prayers from their lips and shredded the words before they reached the ear of heaven; no more concern than one of this storm’s big sisters had shown for the souls of Galveston only the summer before, September 8, 1900, when it roared into that city and in a few hours left it looking as if it had undergone a monthlong naval bombardment, the corpses of six thousand of its citizens bloating amid the ruins of their civic pride. Six thousand lives or four, Spanish galleon or Yankee schooner, conquistador or ordinary American boy—it was all the same to huru-can, a true egalitarian in its administration of destruction.’