There’s Something About Irma

After Irma, life is returning to normal — or, perhaps, to the new normal. While the Florida Keys and the Caribbean have a long road ahead, the Fort Lauderdale area survived.

Fortunately, my house did not sustain any damage — other than a busted gate — and the garden was just broken branches and downed fronds. The only issue –and it really isn’t something about which to complain — was a loss of electricity and Internet.

Power was restored on Thursday and cable, Internet, and wifi resumed today (Sunday). So it seemed like a perfect time to share a post — reflections, observations, and opinions on Irma — that I wrote one night, by candlelight, while the power was out. The photos were taken the day after the storm.

There’s Something About Irma

I hate Irma.

For over a week, I’ve learned a lot the latest storm of the century: wind speed, forward motion, barometric pressure. About the only thing that couldn’t be known was Irma’s actual path.

That information would only be determined by a couple of air masses in the upper atmosphere and the jet stream. Irma, coy wench that she is, kept everyone guessing.

Still, I did have time to let my mind wander and to consider what I was witnessing. On this night without power, storm shutters pulled tight, it seems like the perfect time to put it all in writing.

Hurricane Irma didn’t knock over these pots. We did, and then we rolled them closer to the fence.

Someone mentioned to me that in terms of natural disasters, a hurricane is the “nicest one” because — unlike a tornado or an earthquake — people are given plenty of time to prepare.

I’m not sure that’s such a good thing. As many of you know, I work in a home improvement box store — and as the storm approached, I tried to imagine how best to describe the atmosphere in the store and on the roads to anyone who has not experienced a hurricane.

Let’s pretend there is a new holiday without an actual date — a floating holiday that’s a combination of Christmas and Thanksgiving. We’re going to call it Armathanksmasgeddon. Because this holiday to end all holidays doesn’t have a date, the government randomly picks a day and notifies people three days before it arrives, giving residents a small window to go on a buying frenzy for plywood, sand, water, batteries, cash, generators, and enough food for a weeklong feast for which there will not be any power to prepare a meal. Two days after the announcement, many of these items are no longer available. Happy Hunger Games!

Palm fronds, coconuts, and debris inevitably ended up in the pool.

In the case of Irma’s day, millions of people are told they must leave their homes to celebrate the holiday elsewhere — perhaps in a hotel, a friend’s house, in a truck stop, or on the shoulder of the highway (because the state has been nearly drained of fuel). Between evacuations and shopping for supplies, roads are treacherous.

The holiday greeting is: “Stay safe.”

That just about scratches the surface. 

We deliberately sunk our neighbor’s boat (at top of photo), with her permission, the day before the storm. Originally, it was suspended from davits — but by partially sinking it, we prevented it from swinging free and landing on our boat. It’s now out of the water and back in its proper place.

Weather forecasters must stop being alarmists. Their over-the-top words and shrill tones do not bring calm, which is something we need in a crisis. There is no reason to remind me that Irma is the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record. I heard you the first time you said it — a week ago.

And while we’re on the subject of forecasters and news people: there is no need for any of you to place yourselves in harm’s way. You cannot tell the public to stay out of the storm while you yourself are fighting to stand in hurricane-force winds and whipping rain. Stay inside. Your lives are not worth ratings.

This little squirrel made it through the storm, and found a comfortable resting place on the trunk of a downed banana tree.

Our neighbors are amazing. Somehow — perhaps because they are hurricane-seasoned veterans — they remained calm and humorous before, during, and after the storm. They understood that this was our first major Florida hurricane. Everyone helped one another and shared. One neighbor invited us to run an extension cord to their generator for our refrigerator and phone chargers. They also loaned us some rechargeable fans for sleeping at night.

Our neighbors massive sea grape came down in their yard and in the canal.

I know storm shutters are necessary, but it’s unnerving to not be able to look out. The only noise for 36 hours was wind and the rattling of the shutters. With each bang, we imagined the worst was happening outside. Although we have hurricane impact windows, we also shuttered them.

After the storm, a neighbor shared a video she took of the canal behind the house. The water rose six inches above the seawall, and there were swells and white caps on the water. Joe and I both agreed we were relieved we didn’t have to witness that.

Over the course of the night of the storm, I lost count of the number of tornado warnings we had. With each one, we’d gather up the Murphy the Dog and Muffola the Cat, put on motorcycle helmets, and huddle in the bathroom under patio furniture cushions. I’m glad another neighbor told us we should have a safe room.

This bromeliad flower spike survived the winds — and looked even more beautiful than before the storm.

While getting the garden prepped, I had a Zen moment. Weeks ago, a neighbor offered me some bromeliads that I had admired for some time. While tucking small pots under larger shrubs, I noticed one of them had bloomed and I was speechless. It was beautiful. (After the storm, the flower stalk was still standing!)

Surprisingly, I wasn’t really worried about the plants. I was worried about the palms and afraid they might come down on the house, but the shrubs and plants — I figured they would continue to grow after the storm. (By the way, our palms performed tremendously, swaying wildly in the assaultive wind.)

This frangipani was no match for Irma’s winds. A section broke off — but when life gives you a broken branch, root it. I’m drying it out now, and hope to get a second frangipani from it. We shall see.

I also found myself making deals with whomever or Whomever. More than anything, I just wanted the integrity of the house to remain. After watching footage from the Caribbean, I just wanted to live.

In the days since the storm, the neighbors rallied together and made a giant debris pile to make it easier for city workers to clean up. We figured for city workers, one stop might be quicker than stopping in front of each house. (A friend shared the following video. It’s from some Hurricane Harvey survivors who found a barricade in front of their house, sparking creativity, humor, support — and the beauty of the human spirit. It brought tears to my eyes.)

This weekend, I mowed the lawn with the electric mower and staked up plants and brought some, including the plastic ones, out of hiding. Now comes word that Hurricane Maria is moving westward on a path very similar to Irma — and the forecasters are already teasing viewers with the possibilities of landfall and wind speed, possible tracks and the cone of uncertainty.

That sort of stuff is already contributing to pre-storm anxiety. (Shame on the forecasters!) At the box store, customers are already asking about sand — and most places do not have a new supply of plywood. Gas stations are just getting back on their feet, and supermarkets are restocking, as well.

Several months ago, I planted these three small copperleaf shrubs that I had rooted from cuttings. Irma’s steady winds literally bent them in the same direction. They are now staked and on the mend.

We, too, are hesitant to pull everything out of hiding. It’s just too much work to prep again should another storm come our way.

I think one Armathanksmasgeddon is more than enough.

As of this writing, Hurricane Maria is barreling through the islands of the Caribbean, many of which were just pummeled by Irma. My thoughts are with the people there — and I’m thankful the storm track has it travelling well east of Florida.

That being said, I also want to send out a very big THANK YOU to all of you for your good wishes, prayers, positive vibes, and kind words.

Hurricane Irma Update


I wanted to get a quick post off to all of you. At the moment, I am sitting in my shuttered house in Fort Lauderdale. The first squall of Hurricane Irma has just arrived.

As you can see, Joe and I have secured the house as best we could. The yard and garden are packed up and stored away. We have our supplies and we’re ready for a long night.

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Just One Word: Plastics

There’s a famous scene from the classic Dustin Hoffman film The Graduate. It’s also one of the most quoted moments in the film, and often makes the list of most-quotable lines in all of film history.

Hoffman portrays Benjamin, a recent college graduate without any direction. At a party, a family friend with career advice approaches him.

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Field Trip: Bonnet House

I’ve been intrigued with Bonnet House ever since a water taxi guide pointed it out while we were on the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale during one of our first vacations to South Florida. From the water, the 35 acres look like a jungle, a section of property completely undeveloped and straddling the land between the Intracoastal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Somewhere in all that greenery, though, was a house — an historic house, a legendary house. The story, according to the water taxi guide — who tells tales of all the mansions along the Intracoastal — is the house was the home of two artists, Frederic and Evelyn Bartlett.

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