This isn’t the post I had planned to write. That original post has to wait for another day because of Hurricane Dorian — and before I get into the meat of this post, please, understand that I am in no way making light of the situation in the Bahamas. That is tragic. That is devastating — and I’m not even sure those words are strong enough to fully capture what the people there have experienced and are continuing to face each day.
It’s just that as I was working on that original post, everything here came to a stop as we too prepared for Dorian. The Bahamas are about 180 miles from where I live in South Florida — and there, but for the grace of God and/or a random ballet of upper atmospheric conditions, go I.
Prior to the start of the season, Joe and I had the palm trees trimmed so older fronds and coconuts wouldn’t pose a hazard during a storm. We also stocked up on essential supplies — like bottled water, canned goods, and batteries — and made sure the generator was in top shape. We also hoped it would be a hurricane-free season.
It’s a strange thing, though, when your home is placed inside the cone of uncertainty. The category number of the storm pretty much determines how to respond. Cat 1, for example, barely requires anything — some lightweight outdoor items are brought inside. The ante is upped with each mile per hour of wind speed.
In the case of Dorian, a category 5 storm that had been unpredictable from the start, our being in the cone of uncertainty also placed us squarely in the cone of anxiety. A wiggle and a wobble could result in us becoming Puerto Rico after Maria, the Florida Panhandle after Michael, the Florida Keys after Irma, and so many other places after so many other named storms.
I packed up the garden. Small potted plants and rootings were tucked under shrubs against the foundation of the house. Heavier pots were knocked on their sides or brought to sheltered areas closer to the house. The potting bench was emptied and placed on its back. The sheds and garage were each tightly packed with stuff. Outdoor furniture was brought inside. Storm shutters were closed and locked. We did the same at Joe’s parents’ house.
About the only thing I couldn’t do was remove the orchids that I had tied to trees. They would have to weather the storm on their own.
It took Joe and me three days to complete everything. In addition to sore thumbs, aching arms, cramping back muscles, and complete physical exhaustion, there’s a mental strain. It’s difficult to not let images from those previous storms intrude and distract, to not be overwhelmed by the feeling of powerlessness. Keeping the anxiety at bay can be a 24-hour job.
Sometimes, it wins.
As I was doing my best to secure the garden, I started to question everything. Why do I even want to live in Florida? Why do I have so many plants? Why do I keep rooting things? Why am I still caring for plants that friends and neighbors expressed an interest in years ago? Why do I have so many things on the potting bench?
Don’t even get me started on the number of black pots I’ve hoarded after each nursery purchase. I’ve held on to many of these since my NY gardening days — and I know this because they still have the stickers with the plant names and prices for specimens that don’t grow in South Florida. Since moving to the tropics, I’ve added to the collection. Why do I have more black pots than a nursery?
At some point, I start making a mental checklist of what I need to do to downsize the garden, to make my gardening life — and, therefore, my hurricane-prep life — simpler. It’s at this point the pit of my stomach convinces me to sell everything, to let someone else buy the house and the yard and to let this hurricane preparation be his or her job. I want to live in a high-rise building where the only thing I have to do is move the furniture off of the terrace, close a few shutters, and get to an airport and fly out of harm’s way.
I mutter this out loud. Joe hears me and then responds, “It’s the storm talking. You really don’t mean that.”
“I do, “ I say. “I really mean it. This is too much. I’m tired of packing and unpacking and of always feeling that just as we’re settled, we have to start over.”
“I know,” he said. “But you love gardening and flowers. You’re happy when you’re growing things.”
“I’ll be happy doing other things,” I counter. “I’ll put a single potted plant on a terrace and do something else.”
“That wouldn’t make you happy,” he said, and then added, “But you do have too many black pots.”
Everyone needs to have a Joe in his or her life.
Ultimately, the high pressure dome that prevented Dorian from moving shifted eastward, and the storm was able to lift north. South Florida simply had a few gusts. Ironically, as strange as it is to be in the cone of uncertainty, it’s just as strange to have been spared. It’s amazing how quickly and easily we forget about the anxiety that consumed all of us just a few days ago.
The images coming from the Bahamas have forced me to stick to the mental checklist I made before the storm. First, I tossed the plants that I had kept for others for too long. Second, I drastically reduced the number of black nursery pots in my collection. I admit, that felt liberating.
And Joe was right. Gardening makes me happy. New greenery emerging from the stem of this alocasia after the storm makes me happy.
A bromeliad flower spike that bloomed in the middle of the chaos makes me happy.
Watching the salmon-colored flower show on this aloe plant makes me happy.
Even the process of emptying out the shed, bringing potted plants out from under the shrubs, redecorating the potting bench, and returning larger pots to their upright position makes me happy.
That happiness, though, is tempered by a very tense sense of relief. In the back of my mind, in the back of all of our minds here, is the thought that this just wasn’t our time. There will be other hurricanes. There will be other cones of uncertainty, and there will be anxiety. At some point, we know that it will be our turn to be the Bahamas after Dorian.