By Gordon Cherr,
I am, as always, glued to the Weather Channel, clock watching. You know, ten minutes before the hour is the “Tropical Update”, and God knows that the tropics have had plenty to be updated about this summer. Bonnie, Charlie, Frances, Ivan and right now I am watching for Jeanne, who should be here sometime tomorrow, although hopefully not in hurricane force.
We have been treated to continuous and totally overdone television and newspaper coverage detailing the daily misery of people, some even our friends and neighbors, blown about by the extreme forces of nature this year. I’ve got to break this Weather Channel addiction, I mean I have really had enough of Jim Cantore doing his best mime act of being blown hither and yon by gale force winds, or Dr. Steve Lyons and his scholarly in-studio discourses on wave heights and wind fields, although they do make me consider whether the curriculum vitae of the successful television weather personality states that male pattern baldness is a required item.
Why can’t Alexandra Steele be out in a rain squall, not in the official blue L. L. Bean wind proof, rain proof Gore Tex foul weather gear, but in a wet, white T shirt? Now, would that not be a better, more informative and decidedly scientific way of gauging the intensity of the wind and the rain? Of course. What has happened to the scientific method and imagination in this country?
As Hurricane Kate neared in 1985, my stable of running mates had the great idea to go out and run at the height of the storm. Fortunately, cooler heads ultimately prevailed (we chickened out for good reason, that was one scary storm and it came through Tallahassee at night). Nevertheless, a few of us were out at first light and made our appointed rounds, marveling at the storm damage, the incredible number of huge downed trees on houses and blocking roadways, and dodging live, electrified powerlines everywhere. I was hooked, and since that time I have felt it a necessity to go out during the biggest storms if possible, to test my mettle against the primeval forces of nature. This summer has been a worthy proving ground.
Tropical Storm Bonnie: Bonnie will be overlooked in the annals of this hurricane season, but it hit Tallahassee harder than any other named storm, simply because of the volume of rain it dropped. It is August 13, and I am running around an absolutely deserted Lake Overstreet. Well, I am sloshing more than running, it is raining very hard and stinging my face. At least none of the brown shirted, skin headed park Gestapo (OK, that is a little extreme, but not by that much, I have never seen them goose stepping) will be out here to ticket me this day, they are probably huddled in their miserable barracks somewhere, under their cots, waiting out the storm). I have decided to chance it by not paying my $1, “Come get me Coppers”!
There isn’t much debris down yet, but about three quarters of the way through this run, and right behind me, a rather large dead pine tree decides to drop, taking any number of smaller trees down with it. The sound is loud and it startles me, and for the moment I imagine that someone will find my rotting, crushed body under the debris in a few days when the brown shirts and their stooges get around to clearing the trail. They will then use that as an excuse to close the trail for a few more weeks. Fortunately, the tree crashed down about 50 feet behind me but the park administration did later choose to close the trail to bikers, hikers and runners because of a largely unconfirmed report of a wasps nest. Oh, the horror, the humanity.
Hurricane Charlie: Charlie was, thankfully, largely a bust up here. There was a little rain and a little wind, but pictures of Punta Gorda and the surrounding area were truly frightening. So many elderly people, with no one and nothing, their lives left, at least for the moment, in tatters and pieces.
The “height” of the storm here was around 5 AM on August 20 and I am out in the dark, running the roads in Killearn. The humidity is unbearable, one might as well be swimming as much as running. A small price to pay.
Every now and then a small moisture laden gust of wind passes through the darkened roadway and I am suddenly transported in time back to where I grew up in New Jersey. It is a languid summer evening. The neighbors actually sat out on the front stoops (“steps” for you rednecks who know of no such things) and the adults actually talked to each other well into the night. We kids played in the streets, dodging traffic, because there were no parks nearby, and when it got late enough at night in the summer, parents would lean out of their open windows (there was no such thing as air conditioning, you could even hear the crickets chirping) and call for their children to come home. “Jooooohnny…Daaaavid…Joooeeeel…” Our mothers voices were almost sing-song, I can hear the sound of screen doors creaking open and then slamming shut. Our neighborhoods were safe, secure wombs.
It is all over in a microsecond as someone’s air conditioning compressor kicks on and I am rudely yanked back into the present. But I have distinctly heard the sounds and smelled the smells of a youth of long ago, and I am grateful that I will never forget them.
Hurricane Frances: Everyone in Florida is suffering from hurricane malaise now, the first week of September. This storm reaches Category 5, with gusts reported to 200 mph, and no one really knows for sure where this one is going to finally make landfall. Everyone looks sort of shell shocked and nothing has even happened up here this entire hurricane season. This storm actually requires some preparation and I am digging through camping gear for water bottles and a propane gas stove and gas lanterns. We have laid in our provisions and the ice maker has been humming nonstop now for days.
I have to make an early business trip to central Florida and I am driving on I-10 east and then I-75 south, and I think that I am the only one going that way. I-75 north looks like a parking lot, I have never seen so many RVs in one place, heading in the same direction. It looks like all of south Florida is being evacuated at one time. Fortunately, I receive a call as I pass south of Lake City, that the trip has been canceled due to the incoming weather, and I am able to sneak back to Tallahassee on US 27 and Hwy. 90, and avoid the really heavy traffic.
The weather does deteriorate some throughout the day and it is raining hard and steadily at 5:30 AM, the next morning. But Buster and I get out on the golf course to celebrate. I know that there will be no trees down in the middle of the fairways and no powerlines, so we go out in the dark before sunrise. There are some pretty good gusts now and in the narrow bright beam of my headlamp, I can see Buster’s big floppy hound dog ears pinned back against the sides of his head, pointing straight backwards. He is squinting into the darkness and the driving rain, but he is weaving back and forth across the wide fairways, splashing through every puddle that he can find.
Don’t tell me dogs cannot smile because he is grinning from one big ear to the other and having a time of it. I want to cut the run at 3 miles, but Buster knows where the turn off is for 5, and he drags me through it. There is no stopping that hound dog this morning, and no stopping me either, he is tugging on his leash for all he is worth, any thought of pacing him flies out the window and our run through Hurricane Frances was truly a special one.
Hurricane Ivan: The Florida panhandle is overdue and the law of averages being what it is, Ivan comes home to roost. While Tallahassee somehow escapes again, Pensacola and areas west are not so lucky. I have an e-mail conversation with Mary Jean Yon, who works in Pensacola during the week, and she tells me that David is on his way over to ride out the storm with her. You ^%$#$ idiots! Don’t do this to the people who will worry about you both, but there is no reasoning with them. MJ tells me that David is doing this because he loves her, but not so secretly she says that maybe he is doing it (a tiny percentage perhaps) for the adventure. Knowing David as the loving husband that he is, I will still keep my opinions to myself. Of course, they do make it through Ivan, mostly unscathed, but much of Pensacola and Escambia County was not so lucky. Even the I-10 bridge over Pensacola Bay has partially collapsed. Whew!
Ivan blew in during the night of September 13-14, and it is eerily storming here. A rain band come through and drops a heavy downpour for about 15 minutes, than everything stops. The wind gusts hard then stops. It is very dark out and the low pressure makes everything, even the air we breath, feel heavy..
I am up at 7 AM for the morning storm run. Everything outside is gray, the clouds are racing by at tree top height and look dark and mean. There is a rumble of thunder now and then and the trees and bushes are bending this way then that way and there are a few good sized branches down in the yard but no big trees. A few small ones have been torn out by the roots, however.
I am dressing out for the run and looking at Buster. This is normally his cue, and he will begin to stretch in anticipation. But this morning he is doing his best impression of road kill, laying out on the cool tile floor and barely breathing, I’m really dead, don’t bother with me. Every once in a while he opens his one good eye and sneaks a peek at me, then sighs a long sigh and tries to sink deeper into the floor. OK, I get the picture.
I am out the door for the 7.5 mile loop on the golf course. No golfers this day, another real plus. Much to my surprise, however, there are some duffers actually out on the course, trying to play through the hurricane. As I get closer I see that it is the Three Amigos, laughing and cutting up on each other as always. I pass by with a wave of the arm and one says “You must be nuts.” We all snicker at the irony of his statement, but just then there is a rumble of nearby thunder, and I say “Maybe, but you are the one holding a lightning rod”, and now we have all fallen out that much further and are laughing almost uncontrollably, and I learned a long time ago that you can’t run when you are laughing that hard. We four are just standing there then in a heavy downpour, smiling at the good fortune of our chance encounter, intersecting with each other at this tiny crossroads of life.
Soon I am off to finish up this run. The wind is really picking up and I am wondering whether a tornado isn’t lurking around here somewhere, but looking in every direction, I don’t see anything but low dark clouds whipping by. A big gust of wind hits me and almost knocks me off my feet, and I stagger around for an instant like a drunk, and in my mind I suddenly see Lon Chaney Jr., playing the werewolf, staggering around London during a full moon, in some last 1930’s B movie which plays late, late at night. You know the one.
I was running early in the morning, the day before Hurricane Ivan struck, and everything outside smelled bad. Like putrid, rotting flesh. I thought that maybe the earth was calling upon the spirit of the hurricane, to help rid her of disease and decay, to cleanse her.
The day after Hurricane Ivan was bright and blue and it was even a little cool in Tallahassee. It was fresh and clean here, we had been spared while others had not. In due time recovery will be complete elsewhere.
Jeanne will be here tomorrow. Remember to appreciate the little miracles of life and even the big bad ones.