Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Weariness of Life in a Hurricane Prone Zone

Friday night, I awoke to the sound of rain coming through the laundry room ceiling into the coolers that my spouse set up as the crisis was evolving.  Because it happened soon after I fell asleep, I was useless--I am that kind of person who sleeps hard for 4 hours and then can't sleep well again. 

My experience with hurricanes has led me to expect that we will be discovering damage for months to come.  The thought of it exhausts me.

We spent yesterday going back and forth to Home Depot to get materials to try to patch the roof and to work on the swimming pool, which at the end of the hurricane looked murky and dark green, the kind of place where we would expect to see an alligator surfacing.

And then, this morning, the rains began, and the roof is not fixed, despite my spouse's efforts to patch it.  We will call a roofer tomorrow.

We are educable, after all.  After Hurricane Wilma, we had a leak that lasted for years while my spouse tried to fix it.  Finally, we called a roofer who was able to find the leak--amazing what one misplaced nail can do.  We ended up just having the roof replaced, since it was going to need it soon.

Now we have a flat roof.  It will be interesting to see what the roofer recommends.

We have been having many discussions in the wake of this storm.  I am worried about how our insurance rates may increase in the wake of the storm.  I expect that many of the insurance companies who recently began to insure in this state again will decide to pull out.  I expect that our rates may increase by 20-50% in the next year or two, and a 100% increase within 5-10 years will not surprise me.

When/if that happens, we will not be able to afford to stay here.  We might be able to absorb a 20% increase, but more than that makes our situation precarious.  We are both in the education field, not medicine, not law, not finance.  We can only take on so many more part-time classes, even if they are available.

The other thing that makes me tired is the knowledge that we could get all of this fixed, and in just a few weeks, be facing another storm.  We could have a storm every year--or we could go 12 years between storms.  If you lived in most parts of the US, you might suffer something like a tornado, and you could be mostly sure, statistically, that you wouldn't have to suffer that again.  With hurricanes, we can't.  If I knew I'd get this all cleaned up and fixed and then we'd be OK, that would be different than this sinking feeling that this could be my life for awhile, depending on wind and currents and storms coming off Africa and such.

This knowledge comes along with the knowledge of my aging body.  Yesterday, as we made our to-do list and our shopping list, my spouse said, "In my younger years, I'd have been halfway through this to-do list already."  We are not in our younger years.

In fact, some days I feel ready to pack it all up and head for the old folks' home--but the deaths during Hurricane Irma show that those places may not be safe either.

In the end, I remind myself that we are lucky to have the options that we do.  We have insurance, along with money in the bank so that we can make repairs.  We had part of a tree fall on our car this morning, two weeks after the storm, but I was able to drive out from under it.  We have electricity.  Our lives will get back to normal, and if normal becomes unsustainable, we can make other plans.

Many other people will not be so lucky.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Post-Irma Update

We finally got power restored on Thursday--we had to have an electrician come out to do some repair work to the conduit/tubing/riser that had come apart.  On Tuesday, the FPL woman told me that we didn't have to do that, that the crew would fix whatever damage they found.  On Wednesday, the crew said no.  I called several electricians--thank God for Facebook and my various communities there who could make recommendations. 

I feel fortunate to have found an electrician who could come the next day, instead of in October.  I feel fortunate to have power and even more fortunate not to have to do battle with Comcast.

During the rain yesterday, the first rain since Irma, we discovered a leak in the laundry room.  I'm trying not to feel overwhelmed by the ever-growing to-do list.

I hope that this week will see a restoration to some sense of normalcy, even with all the repairs we need to make.  I hope to be back to blogging more regularly this week.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Rusty Survivalist

Wednesday, day 10, no power, with the website saying it will be restored by 11:45 tonight. Let me keep my perspective by reminding myself that 2 weeks ago, my spouse and I took a walk and talked about the very real possibility of a category 4 hurricane coming over our house in a more direct hit and what that would mean for our house and posessions left behind (a total loss, we assumed, 2 weeks ago).  Today, 2 weeks later, we don't have power, but we have a house.

Let me remember the very surreal feeling of walking through the house and thinking about evacuation by car or by plane--what would we grab?  Our various documents, our laptops, and some clothes, if by plane.  If by car, a few extras here and there.

As we packed the car on Friday, Sept. 8, I thought about the space that was left, and whether or not to leave things behind to face what we thought would be certain storm surge losses.  Should I do a quick sort of CDs to ascertain what I'd truly miss?  Perhaps pack a few books?

In the end, I left it all, for the most part.  I meant to bring my box of chapbooks, but I didn't.  We almost forgot the fireproof safe that has all of our important documents.  It's become very clear to me that my survivalist skills have gotten rusty.  In this week with no power, I've discovered that I didn't have the stash of batteries I thought I did, and we don't have an alarm clock that works with no electricity.  Until 5 days ago, we had forgotten that one of our radios will work with AA batteries.

Let me not focus on the fact that my house is the only one on the block with no power still.  Let me focus on the survivalist skill that I've kept sharp:  a variety of communities.  Let me sing the praises of people who have invited us over for a meal and who have shared their batteries.  Lots of people have offered their generators or their guest rooms, but we don't need them, because of our very kind neighbor who hauled his revamped 1968 camper with AC down to our driveway--we've had a cool place to sleep.

We are rich in friends.  We are lucky to have a safe neighborhood, where I can sit on the porch at all hours of the day or night to read.  I am happy that I still have my supply books to read--I've been revisiting them.  A collection of books:  I may not have as many batteries as I need, but a supply of books is as important to me.

And we will have power soon.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Literary Allusions After the Storm

I have heard the chainsaws singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

It is interesting, the literary allusions that go through one's head, when one waits, sometimes patiently, sometimes in despair, for the power to be restored.  Of course, Eliot used different images in his "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."  Mermaids, chainsaws, the sentiment is similar.  Or perhaps I've been sitting in the heat too long.

I spent one afternoon sifting through people's offers in my head.  A guest room, a place to put our air mattress, a 1968 camper that's not only been restored but had AC added--I recognized my grandmother's voice in my head, the woman who always said she didn't want to be a burden.  My brain has become a mix of my grandmother, the Thoreau who wrote "Self-Reliance," and the voice I call my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder.

My inner Laura Ingalls Wilder tells me to quit whining and to get on with it.  Build a house out of sod, or do something constructive.  Did Laura's sister Mary ever whine?  No, and she was blind.  What do I have to complain about?

Most of the time, we keep our sense of perspective by reminding each other of how it could have been much worse.  We have our house, even though it's got no power right now.  The issues keeping us from having power are fixable.  We should be back to "normal" soon.  Many will not be so lucky.

Today, I broke down and went out for coffee.  It's not as good as the coffee I will make when I have power.  But this morning, with my spouse having an 8:00 class, we couldn't make coffee on the grill.

The power company says that our power will be restored today.  We continue to live in hope--tinged with the fear that we will always be a third world spot with no power in our first world neighborhood.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Books and Time Travelling

When I think about the first two weeks of September 2017, I'm sure that it is Hurricane Irma that will loom large for me.  But I also want to remember my father-in-law's 80th birthday, which I've already covered in earlier blog posts just after Labor Day.  I also want to remember the reading I've done--an unintended treat that comes with air travel (Labor Day week-end) and loss of power (Hurricane Irma).

Before leaving on our Labor Day Surprise Birthday Party adventure, I didn't have time to get to the library.  Happily, I have a huge library of my own, with plenty of books that I've meant to read.  I first read The Hours when I was commuting back and forth to the University of Miami on public transit.  I read it weeks after reading Mrs. Dalloway for my Brit Lit survey class, and my English major reading self loved that experience.  I've wanted to do it again--what better opportunity than on a plane?

Two weeks ago I read most of Mrs. Dalloway on the plane to Memphis.  I made an audible gasp when I got to the part of the novel that tells us that Mrs. Dalloway is 52 years old.  In my head, I thought of her as 32 or so--probably because when I first read the novel, I was in my early 20's, and she didn't seem like a woman at midlife.  Of course, when I first read it, how would I know?

Now, viewing the novel through that very different lens--characters at midlife wrestling with decisions they've made--it was very different for me.  When I last read it, I was planning to teach it as a hallmark of literary British modernism, and when I read it in grad school, I was viewing it through that lens, along with my eagerness to see Virginia Woolf as my creative grandmother.

Once I finished Mrs. Dalloway, it was on to The Hours.  It was phenomenal--amazingly phenomenal--to read the two back to back.  I am in awe of the skill of both writers, but especially with Michael Cunningham's ability to take many of Woolf's elements and make them his own.  As a woman at midlife, considering all the roads I've taken and not taken, both books spoke to me.

Of course, both books are dealing with great loves of one's youth, but loves that didn't result in lifelong partnering in a sexual/marriage way.  Would the insights be different if these characters had fully committed to the great love only to find themselves at midlife with that person?  Some of that longing and wistfulness comes from that memory of the highpoint of youth--when one thinks one is at the threshold of a great future, only to realize looking back that the moment of the kiss was in fact the primary moment, not the opening.

It was fascinating to read these novels about time and the strange way that time passes in its folding, wrinkling way as I travelled with my spouse--the love of my younger life, when I was as young as the two characters named Clarissa.  But reader, I married him.  And I read those books as I travelled to Memphis for a family reunion of sorts--and it was interesting to read those novels surrounded by these people whom I've been seeing periodically through all of my adult life.

At one point, on our way back, reading my way through a delay at the Memphis airport, I looked up and caught sight of myself in a window.  In that wavering reflection, I thought that I looked very similar to that young girl who first arrived at the Memphis airport to see her college boyfriend, much to her parents' dismay.  And here I am, journeying with him still.

Those two books are the highlight of my month of great books--and perhaps will be the highlight of the whole year.  I am in awe of the writing of both Virginia Woolf and Michael Cunningham--it makes me want to return to my own writing desk again.  Hopefully my power will be restored soon, and I will pick up my pen/pixels.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Haves and Have Nots

Today is the day that my good spirits start to flag.  It was fun, the first day or two without power.  We had had a few sunless days, after all, and then it was breezy, as one might expect in a hurricane.  Most people lost power, so we were all camping in our houses.  We went ahead and ate all the food that had been in the freezer.  We chatted with neighbors with whom we rarely speak.  We had leisurely evenings with nothing to distract us.

The sound of generators wasn't as maddening as in past storms--likewise for generators.

Now that some people have power, and we don't, I confess to feeling a bit more dejected.  We are lucky--we should have power by Sunday, FPL tells us.  We have activities planned at our friends' houses.  I am so grateful to have friends who say, "Come over for dinner" and/or  "Stay in our guest room."

Still, it's wearing.

And it's a valuable insight into the way that parts of the world live all the time.  I know that plenty of people in the U.S. can't afford to run the AC, even if they have power and AC.  I know that those same people often live in neighborhoods where it's not safe to open the windows.  I know that although the developing world may have access to electricity more than they did in the past, that the electrical supply isn't reliable.

I know that plenty of people would love to live in my little cottage in the back of the property, even though we haven't cleaned it up from the flooding.  I know that plenty of people would envy me my ability to cook on propane.  I have water that's clean enough to bathe in and drink--much of the world does not.

This week, I have had a glimmer of how it feels to be a Have Not in a world of Haves.  But it's only a glimmer.  I'm only a tourist in this land.  I'll be returning to my home country of the Haves very soon--but I hope to help more people migrate to this land, having been reminded of how tough it is to live on the Have Not side.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hurricane Aftermaths

Two weeks ago, when I bought the autumn trees that run on battery power, I wasn't thinking I was buying hurricane supplies.  But it has been lovely, sitting on our front porch, during these days without power, lit by only these trees.  One morning, I got up early to read, and I was surprised that I could read by their light. 

I don't know why I'm surprised.  They have warm LED lights, and they require 3 AA batteries.  This picture from the website doesn't do them justice:

We still don't have power yet.  I am posting from my office, which does have power and the boil water order for Hollywood was lifted this morning. My AC at the office is a bit underpowered, but better than the temp at my house, which still has no power. Our neighbors' tree ripped out our power line when it toppled. I am hoping to have power restored soon, but it may be as late as Sunday.

We sheltered 17 miles inland, and by Monday, we were eager to get home to see what our status would be.  I was not anticipating that the roads around our house would still be flooded--and how disorienting that would be.  I got out of the car into calf-deep water in our front yard and counted the trees--our 3 gumbo limbo trees still stood.  We passed several houses with palm trees through the roof, so I knew that even native trees might not be standing.

I expected flooding, so I was grateful that the water didn't get inside our main house.  We have a small cottage in the back corner of the property, and it has flooded in a heavy rain, so we weren't surprised to find water intrusion.  We think we had 6 inches of water in there.  Happily, we don't have anyone living there or anyone with plans to stay there, so it's not the immediate crisis that it might be.  We will throw out the drenched area rugs, and the floor underneath is concrete--most of the furniture appears to be salvageable.

We've spent the time since Monday clearing water out of the cottage, hauling brush, collapsing into exhausted sleep, hauling more brush, and taking trips in the car to enjoy AC, cellphone charging, and the possibility of batteries and ice.  We've cooked up all the perishable food and shared it with neighbors.  Here's a hurricane cooking tip:  when cooking all your frozen veggies in one big pot on the grill, chuck in a stick of butter too--peas and beans and corn never tasted so good.

At some point, maybe I'll write a post about how my survivalist skills have gotten a bit rusty.  I was surprised to see how our supply of batteries had dwindled, for example.  I should remember that people get panicky about gas way before they need to.  And I'll hang on to all these empty bottles--no need to buy water when I can fill bottles with tap water before the storm.

I'm still not sure what notes to make for next time when it looks like a huge (category 3+) storm is bearing down on us.  It's too far to drive and not enough planes to fly us all out.

We are grateful that the damage to the main house was minimal.  We know that so many across a broad swath of this Caribbean basin are not so fortunate.