Thursday, September 14, 2017

Apocalypse Now


“I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!”---The Big Bad Wolf

Sunday Morning, September 10

The questions arrive on dusty black buses.  The vehicles lurch to a stop, open their doors, the passengers rush up to you.  How can it be so quiet a mere night before The Monster comes?  Will this be the day I perish, brought down by a single bolt of lightning as I see to my frightened horses?  Or by a jaunty tornado, skipping across the fields like one of Stephen King’s langoliers, leaping over obstacles, cutting a swath across the earth?  Or perhaps a giant oak, old and tired, gasping for breath in the wake of the onslaught before falling to its knees, exhausted?

There is flight, of course, the refuge of the weak, the lame, those of good sense.  A path through the woods along the banks of a rippling stream leads to the King’s Highway, freedom, escape from the jaws of death, the opportunity to visit another day.  But there are those of us too stubborn to be put to rout by superior forces.  We stand on guard for our homes, our fellow creatures, the familiar possessions we have accumulated in the many years of our existence.  We remain with our queen, a brave and loyal woman true to her subjects who will not be rudely dispatched by the likes of shoddy interlopers, well-armed or not.  The drawbridge is up, the moat is filled, the castle secure.  If this horrid witch, this curse, this Irma is to be The Final Chapter, let her do her worst.  We are ready.  And we are strong.


Ellison Farm engulfed

The Longest Night

Tuesday Morning, September 12

It starts slowly.  Strange clouds float in, the kind you don’t see every day, clouds with foolish Dali mustaches, clouds with giant banners cying Peril!, clouds that laugh at you and point, dark clouds on the outermost bands of The Mother Ship charging through the skies on lightning-fast steeds, mocking, celebrating the nightmare to come like the vulgar hirsute hordes of Attila The Hun.  A man looks up and shudders.

This Irma is a clever Amazon.  She bobs, she weaves, she hides her intentions until the last second, darting and dashing, throwing fake left jabs to beguile her opponent.  She is powerful, this Irma, with a heavyweight’s punch, but shrewd enough to value a boxer’s evasiveness.  She feints toward Miami and strikes at the less-prepared Naples, routing the poor devil with body blows and head shots alike.  She moves up the Gulf Coast as if to strike Tampa, then circles the ring, leering, scoffing at her opponent.  Only Irma knows where she is going.  And now she is coming after us.

There’s only so much you can do.  At our house, we mount the 3/4 inch plywood on frail windows.  We give all the chargeables one last jolt.  We clear the vicinity of Undesirable Flying Objects and fill the bathtub with suddenly precious water.  Where to park the cars and trucks?  Too many trees over here, too much flood potential over there.  Do we have all the cell numbers for our emergency contacts?  Did Aunt Minnie remember to park a car at the end of her half-mile driveway?  Why, oh why, did we ever leave Wyoming?

The TV lunatics are scrambling full-tilt, slopping through the marshes of Marathon, hanging on to hotel balcony railings in Fort Meyers, sleepless in Sarasota.  We hate to tell you this, folks in television-land, but obviously you’re all doomed to oblivion, it’s only a matter of time.  But while there IS time, don’t forget to pick up one these elegant cheeseboards, only $19.95 and going fast.  And if you don’t make it through the storm, they’ll make a great remembrance for the kids in Omaha.  “And now we go to Ethan in downtown Naples.  Come in, Ethan!  Ethan?  ETHAN, where the hell ARE you?”  The camera cuts to a woebegone Ethan, microphone held high, recovering from a fall to his knees in waist-high water.  “Ha-ha, Joe---a little problem there, but we’re back now and I gotta tell you….”

We watch the television reports with some odd combination of awe, bewilderment, hope and despair.  The emails and Facebook messages begin trickling in from points south.  “Power gone.”  “Darkness falls.”  “Utilities out.”  We feel like the crew of nuclear holocaust survivors in On The Beach, waiting for the radioactive cloud to float our way.   Then, at 8:15 p.m., the gerbils stop running, the treadmills close down and Clay Electric gives up the ghost.  We’re powerless, as well.  Not only that, but our land lines and cell phones collapse for some unknown reason.  Talk about being held incommunicado.  We sit back and wait for the fireworks to start.  At the time, the weather geniuses assure us the hurricane will hew to the coast, smash into Tampa and ride up over the Panhandle.  ABC’s Ginger Zee tells us our winds should be around 60 miles per hour, tops.  Well, we can handle that, we’re tough, right?  I said right?

When you’re getting on in years, you’d like Time to slow down a tad, but the only time it agrees seems to be when you’re on the treadmill.  But even that snail’s pace pales in comparison to Hurricane Night, when each minute seems an hour and you’re under the lash for the duration.  So you stand there with a stiff drink in your hand or you sit there glued to your generator-powered Ipad or you lie there cowering under the covers, listening, listening, as those winds gradually increase to a crescendo, to a point you think can’t possibly be exceeded and then those winds exceed it.  It seems as if Critical Mass has breen reached and there should some incredible explosion, some grand finale, perhaps a brilliant light in the sky to bring this all to an end.  But no, you’re not getting off that easy.  Irma The Dominatrix wants to inflict more than a little pain.  She lives to arouse fear, to extend the terror as long as possible, to keep you in a state of confused panic until you finally fall to your knees, begging for it to be over.  Irma wants to be remembered, to have her named enscrolled in the Great Book of Awful Moments, and she’ll ultimately get her wish.

For us, the minutes between 1:30 a.m. and 3:30 are the worst.  It seems that any second you’ll hear that horrid crack that signals the descent of a giant oak tree into your bedroom, your barn, your future Triple-Crown-winning thoroughbred filly.  At this stage, your hearing is a finely-tuned instrument and you can delineate subtle changes in the storm.  You have no outside information because your paltry supplies of generator fuel are being hoarded for the recovery period, so your instincts have to serve.  Then, over time, the subtlest change.  The winds no longer seem to increase.  There is a smidge more space between the worst gusts.  The hellish howling slowly abates.  Is this just wishful thinking?  Is Irma merely searching around for another whip?  Or is she finally ready to move on, satisfied with her utter conquest of the local territories?  Maybe there’s fun to be had in Georgia, Alabama, points north and west.  Whatever the reason, the din diminishes.  The loudest gusts continue but they are spaced further apart, their days are numbered.  Slowly, carefully, the natives come out of hiding, wounded but nonetheless satisfied with their lot.  They look around, dumbfounded at the state of the kingdom, but they smile internally.  The beast is gone.  The fort has held.




Thursday Morning, September 14

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  The Florida Keys were smashed to bits and retirement mecca Naples was roundly savaged, but Miami and Tampa, once thought to be certain targets of the storm, were spared.  Little Cedar Key looked to be on the brink of extinction, then Irma unaccountably skirted off to the right.  The weather forecasters, who were wrong about everything once again, have no answers.

The vast Killeen-Ellison holdings were left with one flooded paddock, several young trees down, no utilities, no land line, no internet and no cell phones.  When we motored out to survey the terrain, we were met with flooded roads at every turn, having to negotiate an overlong circuitous route to make it three miles to the Fairfield Post Office.   There were power lines down everywhere, including one right in the middle of our own street, which sat there for two days before Clay Electric happened to notice.  With the assistance of fabled recovery experts Janis Peterson and Pete Gonzalez, we have, however, unplywooded the windows, cut up the offending trees, cleared the roadway of debris and returned the place to the initial stages of normalcy.  It could take a hundred years to pick up all the fallen limbs and broken branches, so I might miss the end of that.  I said might.

Gas is scarce.  There is little bread in the markets and less water.  The insterstate is bumper-to-bumper with returning evacuees and is now in danger of being closed north of here by the rising Suwanee River.  That could happen today, leaving a monstrous muddle for the lesser roads, which are already bursting at the seams.  But the mail is back!  As is Fedex and UPS, so Siobhan’s business is back on track, if a little wobbly.  The gym is open and filled with wide-eyed story-tellers specializing in minuscule bouts of heroism and humorous yard disasters.  The tree-trimmers are jumping up and down in glee, promising their wives unexpected vacations in Barbados and the Lesser Antilles.  The landscapers are scouring the interstate ramps looking for cheap day-labor, a boon to alcohol and cigarette sales.  It’s an ill wind that bloweth no man good, they say, and they’d be more than correct in this case.  Best of all, The Flying Pie is here on schedule, defying the odds, ducking the swirling debris, dining on truck-stop food and showering in cold water.  Those weathermen laughingly tell us it’s only the middle of hurricane season.

dead tree

That’s all, folks….