Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Recalling a Hurricane & Starting Fresh...

(In the day or two leading up to the hurricane, there were groups of herons everywhere...
apparently, they were looking for more shelter with the approaching storm

For months now I have wanted to get back into my blog. It has served as a means of expression. Of keeping in touch with some, while establishing fresh connections with others. Then there is its therapeutic side. By posting thoughts, feelings, and even my photos. Posts about things that interest me. It all leads to the positive vibes of feeling more grounded without what feels like the weight of the world bearing down on one's shoulders.

If I take a moment to reflect on what has taken me so long to start posting again...well...where do I begin? Having a full time gig at the mine has taken quite a bit of wind out of my sails. I can't blame anyone but 'moi' for that as I've allowed the stress of the work day to pull me down. If I push that to the side...well...where DO I begin? Sitting here at the computer, I have swept aside some mental cobwebs. It didn't really take much thought to decide on the last big event we had here on the marsh. Back in September of 2016...

Hurricane Matthew.

Here on the marsh of Wilmington Island just east of Savannah, we were going to be in the path of the mass destruction being imposed by hurricane Matthew. Have we been in the path of hurricanes before? Oh yeah, but Savannah sits back in a coastal divit. The most we usually experience are some winds and rain. The worst always skates on past us.

(This fallen limb was crawling with black ants that appeared to call this hole
as the door to their digs)
I was born in Atlanta, Georgia. I grew up with rainstorms and thunder storms. Even the occasional tornado. But I never got to experience the power of a tornado first hand. I moved to the west coast in my mid-twenties, so I left inclement weather behind me for about 18 years. Los Angeles was hit with an El Nino here and there that would dump a lot of rain, and cause flooding and mudslides, but it was not the usual. Hot and dry was the usual. The calm steady rain, and the more angry grumbling sky of a thunderstorm...I missed them. Rainy weather and tree filled forests. Autumn, as well. Can't forget about Autumn, my favorite season. I always knew that I would eventually move back to the east coast and the southern weather here. Savannah is the place. Forests - Check. Autumn - check. Rainstorms - check. Not until I moved back to Georgia did I realize just how much of a storm fanatic I have become.

I'm going to be honest and say that every time a hurricane has churned and swirled its way in our direction, I have hoped that we would get some major action. No 'doom and gloom' effects, of course. In September of last year my hopes were answered, but sadly there was quite a bit of damage for many residents, here on Wilmington and other areas. Tybee is a few miles away on the Atlantic, the front lines of the storm. Things would get fierce. Before I get too ahead of myself, I'll share a little of the lead up to Matthew's arrival.

We were watching the TV coverage religiously. The fact that the coverage had taken over the airwaves here kind of forced the blow-by-blow reporting. For me it just became the backdrop to whatever else I was doing. The same reports were repeated over and over, with the occasional update. These days news coverage is a competition with each organization trying to beat the other to the next nugget of news. Add to that the fact that weather reports are something I always take with a grain of salt (although I have been addicted to the 'Weather Channel' in the past). Weather in general is so unpredictable, and a hurricane would definitely qualify as unpredictable. Would it be the destructive force that the weather people were excited about? Would have to wait and see.

I continued to report to the mine for my shifts because I was scheduled to be there. If the store was open, I was there. I'm sure they would've understood if I called out because of the storm as I do live on an island on the coast. Evacuations had begun, but in my area they weren't mandatory...yet. Glenn and I decided early on that we would be riding the storm out. I had no problem with that. I had heard all of the reports, but there was a side of me that wanted to witness things first hand.  Crazy? maybe. We didn't really have anywhere to go. Besides, the roads leading out (and there are only a couple) were going to be utter chaos. Evacuations in the area were starting to go mandatory, and on the last day I reported to the mine Wilmington was a mandatory evacuation area. I reported in to prep the frame shop for the possibility of flooding, etc. The go ahead had been given by the powers that be that we were to close up shop. The storm shutters were put across the front of the store, and we all headed home. I got back to my digs around 1:00 in the afternoon. I'm blanking a bit on actual dates, but I believe the store closed up the Wednesday before the storm really hit us, which was on that Friday night.

One thing I noticed about those couple of days leading up to the hurricane were the herons. We always see herons here on the marsh.  Generally I don't see more than a couple at a time. Flying by, sitting on the dock remnants, or poking their beaks into the mud when the tide is out looking for food. In those days leading to the arrival of the hurricane I saw large groups of them hanging out in trees, or riding the winds. It appeared that they were coming inland a bit. I also saw hawks riding the winds with the herons. They weren't stupid. They were being cautious like the rest of us.

When I got home from the mine things were beginning to feel a bit surreal. The number of cars parked around the condos was virtually nil. Many were obeying the evacuation. Except for us, the only other residents I knew to still be hanging around were our immediate neighbors on the right, Anthony and Michael (brothers). The occasional police car would drive through checking things out. Although there was a mandatory evacuation in effect, they couldn't force us to leave. Our local news stations had started addressing aspects of their reports to those of us who were going to stick things out. We were in for the duration. We knew power would go out eventually - I made sure to buy batteries for my portable radio, the battery powered lanterns, and flashlights. Unlike others in the area, we had power until Friday night. The wind outside was lashing everything about, and we had a little rain here and there. Reports were that we were going to get hit hard Friday night, so we were bracing ourselves. We were braced for flooding. We are relatively close to the marsh edge, but we have a tidal creek behind the condo that was no more than six feet away from the screened in porch. I had never seen it get up to the top edge of the bank before, but we were looking at that as a real possibility.

In the couple of days leading up to what was supposed to be the hurricane's peak, it wasn't as stormy as I would've thought. We had seriously strong winds, but not a whole lot of rain. I kept checking the tide because of the flooding reports. Glenn and I expected the water level to get pretty high, but it wasn't any higher than a normal high tide (including tides high enough to cover the causeway out to Tybee). Actually, at one point the water was really low. It was as if the hurricane was sucking the water away from us instead of pushing it inland. Needless to say, we were quite relieved to see that the flood warnings weren't going to play out. I stayed up as late as I could Friday night, but had to eventually drag myself off to bed. The power was on when I drifted off. It would be a different story the next morning.
(Boat owners moving their boats...the 'Bull River Yacht Club' is just a few blocks from my digs by the Bull River Bridge)

(The marsh side picnic table that I visit and photograph from time to time...I've been know to sit there for a spell during one of my photo strolls...it's very peaceful there...was happy to see it made it through the hurricane unscathed)

The first day without power didn't really feel that terrible. My tune would change later. It wasn't until I walked outside that the hurricane's effects really sunk in. It was a mess. A few trees at the end of the building had fallen, a couple of them on our neighbors truck. Of course, Michael's truck was totalled. Glenn's truck was fine. My Audi was in the shop, so I assumed it was okay...although I didn't know the status of the mechanic's shop area. 'Two Nuts & A Bolt' is just up the street from the mine. As is usual with me, when I headed outside I had my camera at the ready. In the few days leading up to the big event I had used my phone to go live on Facebook. To chronicle things a bit for those in other states. At a particularly windy and rainy section of the approaching storm I streamed via my phone what I thought was a good bit of footage, including a beautiful blue heron just a feet away from me under the dock remains on the edge of the marsh. I would discover that I had the phone pointed the wrong way and had instead recorded some rather unflattering footage off myself getting drenched and blown away. Yeah, I deleted that. On a good day I hate even having my picture taken...*shudder*...

After having a walk around the condos, we hopped in Glenn's truck to go check on his brother's house on the far side of the island. Things were really hit hard in his neighborhood. There were homes that had trees fall on them, but all I could see were the fallen trees. I'm a lover of trees and it was so sad to see all of the tall majestic ones that had been killed by the storm. The only activity I saw were a few homeowners trying to pick up the pieces of what was left of their yards. Wearing work gloves and hauling branches to the edge of the street. Cutting through tree trunks and limbs with chainsaws. We had to stop and try other routes a few times because streets were blocked by fallen debris or electrical lines, but we eventually made it to Jeff's house and everything looked fine.

(Crude, but it worked)
The first night of no power (Saturday) was tough. When the power goes out here the world becomes black as pitch. We had lamp light and candles which really aren't that effective. I am a candle addict, so I have a bunch of scented jar candles. Candle light was in heavy supply, but
with the various scented jar candles burning I developed massive headaches. The various aromas co-mingling was beyond cloying. (Couldn't burn a candle for awhile after that, but I think I'm past the rough part.) In the dim light I kept wondering how people were able to function all those years ago when modern conveniences weren't around. For sustenance, I got creative. Our stove is electric, so cooking didn't seem to be an option. Then I got an idea. I put half a dozen tea light candles on a saucer, created a chimney effect with a piece of aluminum foil, and took a cooling rack that I put on two overturned ramekins. Voila...scrambled eggs. It worked really well as a makeshift cooking stove. Eggs and soup were the only things I used it for. I would take a few trips out and about in search of ice, and non-perishables, but that first day or so things were dead. Gradually a couple of the businesses opened back up. The very first was 'Chu's', a gas station, mini-mart and liquor store a block from the condos. Mr. Chu had opened the front door to let some policemen use his facilities, people started coming in and buying stuff, so he just stayed open. He had a generator or two, and also had a bunch of ice. He was the first one. Then my coffee cravings started. Thank you Publix. After driving around the island I saw that Publix was open on my way back home. They had complimentary coffee brewing (back-up generator), so I grabbed two cups. That was some damn good coffee.
(My neighbor's truck...the official diagnosis was 'totaled'...a tree also claimed the corner of
the building that is pictured)

(A different angle on my favorite spot by the marsh next to the dock remains...plus a lot of fallen limbs and a few trees)

(My usual approach to the marsh by the dock remains...it was so sad to see quite a few of my tree friends fallen)

Around Sunday residents started to return. Activity picked up as neighbors walked around surveying the damage. Electrical workers from other states were pouring in to help get our power up, so we had various trucks from Alabama power around. On one of my trips out I saw a couple of men with hard hats talking. I slowed and rolled the window down, calling out, "Thank you!" They turned smiling and said, "Yes, Ma'am!" (On a side note: I've been back in the south for awhile now and I still can't get used to people calling me "ma'am"...anyway...)

I got a text from my boss saying that people were reporting in to see how things fared in the storm, but that we wouldn't be opening up yet. If we were able to do some things with the store closed, we would. I reported in. It would give me a reason check things out closer in to town. When I got to the mine only a couple of co-workers had shown up and the power was still out. Needless to say, I wasn't there long. Not much you can do in the dark. So I headed back home with a portable phone charger my boss loaned me. I hadn't been able to charge my phone on Glenn's truck because his cigarette lighter wasn't working. It wasn't until my neighbor Anthony started running the generator he had and let me charge my phone via it that I was able to do any real communicating with the outside world. I used the charger and then went outside to wander the grassy area across from the condo looking for at least one bar. There were a number of other residents doing the same thing. A connection was possible, so I took quite a bit of time to send texts to my family outside of Georgia. It felt good to let them know that I hadn't floated away with Matthew. A couple of hours later our power came on. So we had about three and half days without power. Not bad considering it would be more than a week for many people out here.
(I came across this beauty when I was out walking in search of bars on my cell phone...tried to Google what kind he/she was, but didn't have any luck)

(I almost didn't see this marsh resident...since there isn't a collar present, I assume it to be one of the feral cats that live in the wooded areas...we have quite a lot of them here)

Things took a week or two to reach what was the new norm here on the marsh. The tree parts that were strewn everywhere were eventually hauled away, but it did take some time. When I would walk outside the trunks and limbs looked like corpses to me. Especially the ones at the marsh edge by the dock remains. Not meaning to elicit any eye rolls, but those trees were friends I would visit while on my strolls. It was sad to see them broken apart.

Tybee Island had warnings out for Trick or Treaters at Halloween because there were still piles of limbs and such along the roads, which were prime hiding spots for 'critters'. I doubt anyone has any worries of another hurricane hitting us any time in the near future. As I mentioned earlier, we usually get passed by. On the flip side of that there are definite climate changes happening on our planet, so who knows what effects that will have. Maybe another hurricane will hit us in the next few years. Maybe the next one will cause more serious mayhem.

So that is my much belated report on hurricane Matthew here on the marsh. It's also my launch point for getting back into things on my blog. Expect more 'musings on the marsh...'.


  1. Isn't the bird in your photo a mockingbird?

    1. Could be...he did say some rather rude things to me...