Everyone loves to get away. Even in retirement, there are stresses and demands on our time, so getting out of town for a few days can lighten the load. Unless there is a hurricane seemingly headed toward your house way back home — which is the situation we found ourselves in last week.
I was sitting at a lovely poolside table with warm sun — not too hot, clear skies — while all hell was breaking loose in the islands of the Caribbean and all of Florida. Irma, a nice, old-fashioned name for a lady at church or a friend of your mom’s, was potentially headed toward my house, and she did not ask for an invitation. Nor did my cries of “No, no, go offshore!” mean anything to her.
Irma was a woman madder than the proverbial wet hen. She was gusty and pushy and mean. If I believed in such things, I would say she was very, very unhappy with us. The truth is, she was just weather. Bad, angry, destructive weather.
So sitting away from home was not stress-free at all; rather, it is the polar opposite. Tempted to go home? Well, everyone may be driving north anyway, and running into a hurricane is foolish at best and futile at worst. We were, like everyone, waiting to see what Miss Irma decided to do as far as direction. Irma is no friend of mine.
The one thing she has reminded us is that as people continue to build where we probably should not — like taking over beaches and stripping Mother Nature of her dunes and wetlands buffers, while refusing to believe that we can’t have what we want where we want it.
Irma and Harvey were unusual, but the fact that they came so close together, with Jose right behind, has to speak to what is really our problem. We simply do not want to believe that the globe behaves as it wishes and that everything we do on this precious globe effects everything else.
Shake your head if you must about climate change or reframe it to “just the way things are.” But we are part of it all. We all suffer the consequences of denial.
People build, farm, pollute and turn a blind eye to the pile of environmental sins that may support the development of hurricanes, storms, floods and air pollution. Or at the very least, we use the land unwisely. By overbuilding, we have many more people in the path of a hurricane than sense should allow. By building many clustered condos and resorts right at the beach in areas like Florida, we create tall little towns in a state that has no east or west to evacuate to. North. They only have north.
When did we stop thinking about what the land should bear? When did we come to believe that our will is greater than nature? And, having learned that it is not, why do we not change our ways?
Of course, some of the answer is money. We wish to make money more than preserve the planet. And once you have invested in building a 10-story condo tower, you have to make it work. Or do you? Once you know that it is going to be assailed again and again, maybe you should cut the loss and return the land to more reasonable uses. Or just fewer people.
This presents the dilemma of rich versus the rest of us. Because, as sure as I know Irma is a monster raging, I also know that preference goes to the wealthy. So goodbye, beach vacations, for the many. And hello, hurricane-proof castles, for the few.
We have to think better and act better. Some states actually make the coastlines public. No one can own them, and the setbacks allow for dunes and necessary clearance and infrastructure. And the Lord knows it isn’t only about beaches, but also about any environmental area that should be left to do its work and not be built on.
If we really watch and learn from Miss Irma, Mr. Harvey and Mr. Jose, we might move forward instead of repeating this over and over. Weather can be just weather, but the effects are determined also by how we honor the land. Some people will die, others will be homeless, and many will suffer — much of it needlessly, had we but honored the land.
There are none so blind as those who will not see.
Joyce Reehling lives in Pinehurst. She retired here from New York after a 33-year career in theater, TV and commercials.