Letter From Irma: Hurricane Day September 9

The storm is passing.
09/11/2017 03:49 pm ET Updated Sep 11, 2017
<em>My neighbor, Randall, cuts some broken limbs of my old ficus tree, day after Irma. </em>
Photo: Madeleine H. Burnside
My neighbor, Randall, cuts some broken limbs of my old ficus tree, day after Irma.

Irma’s not here. Not really.

It’s not a hurricane on Florida’s east coast. I knew it would not be one for a single reason: You can hear a hurricane when it’s coming for you. There’s no sound like it. It’s a sorrowful rumbling very high in the air. It’s spooky, anguished, unyielding, keening, unending. When you hear it you might be out running in a stiff breeze, you might be completing a last chore, walking your wary dog, or tying down you outdoor furniture. It’s hard to notice when it starts; harder still to remember the sky without it once it begins. Hearing it, you understand that there’s a limit to the period of normalcy ahead. Your time is up.

You know to stay calm for distant family, cheerful for friends, helpful and optimistic with neighbors but you have to keep moving, keeping working while you smile and chat―minutes are passing. You have to gather your wits and your resources because your hours in the real world are to be few. Soon you will enter the dream world of STORM and there will be little else while it rages, beats, and terrorizes. A hurricane is a torturous, wicked creature at best but it’s also unforgettable, large, and important as it destroys a world of petty things.

But those memories will not be revisited tonight.

Irma’s eye was on our latitude at eight this evening. Inside my shuttered house, the storm expresses itself as sound. Here, Irma is a tropical storm with some dangerous tornados driving winds that hoot like owls. Trees are thrashing, their branches banging together, beating bough on bough, breaking each other to twigs and green confetti with a violence that is loud.

Two large limbs have crashed down from the hundred-year-old ficus in front of my house. Further down the street the road is blocked by a fallen tree. A garbage can blew noisily down the street and a broken shutter cartwheeled as I stepped out to look.

To my unending gratitude, this is relatively nothing. It’s much less than the damage that is expected in Tampa and St. Petersburg but, even there, Irma will likely fall to a Category 2 hurricane from the Cat 4 that it was when it hit Key West this morning. Anyone on the mainland must feel the reprieve.

The power is out and my internet is down. Probably a few million people are in the same boat―same dark.

The storm is passing. It’s been thrilling here, invigorating. Even saying that makes me feel guilty when I think of Houston but there is no comparison. In Florida, the earth shed some skin. In Texas, the sky fell and kept falling as the water rose.

Now the weather here, though still restless, is passing northwards. I showered at midnight―outdoors, as I always do. Living in Florida, you feel an obligation to observe the environment and its changes: flowers, fruit, creatures, insects. My shower―planted, decorated, and completely private―puts me in touch with the larger world. No politics; no squabbles. Steam rises on the coldest days, causing rainbows. Cool sluices down when the day is hot. The changing weather makes sure I never take this planet for granted.

Just because Irma is not a hurricane here does not mean I don’t respect its power. Tonight It feels good to be alive―washing by lantern light; the warm wind and the hot water; the intermittent, fat drops of rain; my orchids bobbing their blossoms on the wall; the boldest frogs emerging to boast of our survival; the smooth pebbles under my feet; and the stars hidden by the clouds above. Tonight a hurricane shows mercy.

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