Knocking down sand castles

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“I should have taken ‘before’ pictures.”

That was my first thought when I finally had a chance to witness the extent of the destruction. My second thought was, “Well, shit!”

Of course foresight being what it is, I had no way of knowing there would ever be an ‘after’ moment and a need, a fervent wish, to have documented them both. Hurricane Opal, a Cat 4 storm when it made landfall, slammed into my little fishing village with the full force of its 150 mile per hour winds. Bringing with it a deluge of rain, sparking tornadoes and floods that could only be described as Biblical.

It was my first trip to the Island in two months. Weeks of detours because of the damaged roads meant coming into town the back way. I saw the fringes of the aftermath ~ condo pools completely filled in with errant sand, or the high water marks on buildings and overturned cars. This… this I didn’t expect.

I wasn’t prepared for the wave of emotion that hit me when I crested the bridge. Fort Walton wasn’t my real home, not yet anyway. I’d only been there since August, and it was just November. That shouldn’t be enough time to form attachments, to a place, a town. But, there I was fighting back tears, speechless over the drastic changes in the scenery.

The barrenness of it all was what stunned me. I’d been to the ocean before. I knew what dunes should look like, but these… some of these dunes had been monstrous, more massive than two-story houses.

It was like losing a forest of Redwoods to clear-cutting and the only thing remaining were meager stumps. The sand fanned out like some giant beach bully had come through, stomping on all of our sand castles. Sweeping them away with a well-placed kick. The only hint of their prior existence were tuffs of stubborn scrub brush left in the wake of high tides.

During seemingly endless hours of the storm, the whole swatch of beach from the East Pass to Brooks Bridge was beaten flat. Not just flat, concave. The optical illusion created by the 30-feet storm surges along Highway 98 had you looking up to see the Gulf. It was unnerving.

Sixteen years later, you can still see the effects of Opal. The dunes won’t return to their former majesty during my lifetime, nor even of my children. It took the power of nature to destroy them, and it will take the patience of nature to restore them.

* This is an oft-repeated story. My family moved to the Northwest Gulf Coast of Florida during the summer of 1995. After only three weeks in our new house and we were evacuating ahead of Hurricane Opal. Oddly enough, on Oct. 4, my 33rd birthday. For you trivia buffs, opals are October’s birthstone. Be careful what you wish for, I’ve haven’t asked for opals on my birthday since. The 2011 Atlantic Hurricane season begins tomorrow,  June 1.

I joined in the Indie Ink Writing Challenge again this week. My prompt for the challenge came from Wendryn at Wendryn Doubt“You stand on a hilltop looking down at a vast sweep of destruction. What happened?”

I took a little poetic license with this challenge. Instead of a hilltop, I was driving over a high bridge.

My challenge to Amy at Transplanted Thoughts“During a trip to the beach, you find a message in a bottle.”

10 comments

  1. Well crap, I was hoping that was one of your fiction pieces. Yikes that bites. I’m so grateful that we don’t have hurricanes here -and that you’ve survived yours. It’s amazing what nature can do – and you captured that feeling so well.

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  2. The devastation comes across clearly in your writing. Something we say on the Gulf Coast say a little prayer not to see each June 1st. Here’s wishing both of us a hurricane free summer and fall.

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  3. Forces of nature and the fact that they show no mercy is a very emotional thing.

    And nature, it’s bigger than us or any place or history and that’s very overwhelming to most people.

    Many years ago a bad wind storm destroyed many hundreds of years old trees and forest in Vancouver Park … and just seeing the damage … seeing those massive trees ripped out and away from their roots, ugh. It was so devastating.

    Even driving or walking through the park now it’s very and emotional. The reminder is always there of how delicate and insignificant we are.

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  4. Just as our tornado season wraps up, your hurricans begin. I will pray that you don’t experience anything this year. Mother nature is such a scary and powerful beast, yes?

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  5. I’d LIKE to say “I can’t imagine what that’s like”. The painful truth is, I can. In October of ’89, we moved into Plainfield. In August of ’90, a tornado blew through town and to say the destruction was “total’ doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling in your chest as you look around and all the familiar landmarks you use to get your bearings are gone. Gone. Like they were never even there.

    Yes. I can feel this piece. Well done.

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