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October Winds!

Shortly after my September blog post, I wrote down a few thoughts and ideas for this October one. Since then, some things have changed.Here, most remnants of summer have disappeared. The evenings grew chilly. The days have shortened. The warmth of summer, and that last blog post, are slipping into the past.

I donned sweatshirts and jeans several weeks ago, and even wore boots for the first time recently. If I can, I accomplish my outdoor activities when the clouds are silvery gray or if there is an encore of blue sky and sunshine. It’s not unusual now to have a succession of charcoal gray days with rain and very breezy weather.

We’ve also had some spectacular storm cloud formations. Fortunately, those have been more show than bluff. I have no complaints, as I do enjoy autumn in the Pacific Northwest. I feel fortunate that our weather is usually pretty tame as compared to many other locations.

It found it difficult to watch the recent news about Hurricane Matthew, as its high winds and storm surges ravaged Haiti; made landfall in Florida; then continued its rampage along the east coast — leaving death, devastation and disruption in its wake.

To echo what Ashley said in her post about Hurricane Preparedness, my heart goes out to all who were affected. It especially saddens me to see the high death toll, and to think about the human impacts (losses of loved ones, pets, homes, favorite places, photos and memorabilia, livelihoods, and even the luxury of free time). Those impacts, as well as residual fear and financial setbacks, may linger long after the flooding has subsided, the debris cleaned up, and the winds have died back.

In the wake of this hurricane, I find it hard to think about, or write about, much else. The notes I jotted down earlier can wait.

I feel so fortunate to have not personally experienced losses from a catastrophic storm or other large-scale disaster. Memories of some less severe storms, nonetheless scary ones, flooded back this week. Each one left me unnerved at the time and in awe of the power of nature. Looking back, I realize that I also learned things and gained insights from each.

My most terrifying experience was aboard a very crowded (or perhaps overcrowded) passenger ferry in Mexico one year. We were returning late from a day-trip to an island, Isla Mujeres. The moderate winds earlier in the day kept steadily building until they were gale-force.

Additional people on the island decided to take advantage of this last sailing to the coast because of the worsening weather, so we had a late departure. Finally underway, the vessel pitched and made lots of groaning Halloween-like sounds. This was even more alarming after the skies grew dark and big sheets of water bore down.

What was the worst? Several of the English-speaking passengers incessantly joked about the Titanic, and how our vessel was going to meet a similar fate. This fomented the tension in the cabin, as that possibility was all too real. Their remarks disturbed me, and absolutely terrified a young girl sitting nearby. She was traveling with her grandparents. Unfortunately, they seemed oblivious to her fear and to the situation unfolding around them.

This voyage certainly wasn’t for the faint of heart… That girl, and a majority of the passengers, tried to be discreet as they made use of the seasickness bags. Others made stoic attempts to steady themselves, and hope their sea legs would convey them to the restrooms.

Eventually and thankfully, the crew somehow managed to get us to our destination and docked in that wild storm. I think I heard all of us breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Then, a few more powerful gusts hit. The ferry reared up and the huge ropes which tethered it broke. We were tossed about in the waves a few more times. Then, the crew successfully brought us back in, and secured the ship with new and additional lines. My earlier trip aboard a passenger ship on the turbulent North Sea, (where all the tabletops had railings) seems like an amusement park ride in comparison.

One severe windstorm here in Seattle, nearly 10 years ago, tore a skylight off my home and deposited it hundreds of feet away; it sounded like a freight train as it did so. It also dismantled a neighbor’s porch, brought down neighborhood trees and powerlines, broke windows, and made confetti of the paper materials in recycling bins. Identity theft criminals could have had (and may have had) a literal windfall after that storm. Credit card offers, bills, letters, and other personal papers were found miles from where they originated.

Following the storm, I asked someone who lived aboard his sailboat how he and his girlfriend had fared. He confessed that they had gone to stay with friends on shore shortly before it hit. Almost all who had boats in that marina had done the same. Only one of his friends, who also lived aboard a sailboat, decided not to leave.

I inquired about his friend’s experience. He replied, “He doesn’t remember any details.” I was bewildered. He clarified, “He’s a bit of a drinker.” He then added, I assumed jokingly, “I think he may have missed it.”

Forecasters had predicted that this windstorm would be significant (and it was). I said I found it hard to believe that his friend wouldn’t want to stay on his toes, be able to evacuate quickly if necessary, or take steps to save his boat.

He replied, “He drinks every night until he passes out. Every night is every night.”

Those words and what they meant have stuck with me. Those words have also shaped my thinking about disasters and emergency preparedness, and alcoholism/substance abuse.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to relaxing and enjoying adult beverages…but, not at those times when a huge windstorm, some other known hazard, or something out of the ordinary, is imminent.

What struck me so profoundly was the realization that someone might not be willing, or able, to adapt their behavior or break from their entrenched routines to deal with a potentially critical situation. I recall I said to him that I had never seen anyone do that.

Later, I realized that I had seen similar behaviors in people close to me, in retrospect and in the present, but I had not recognized them. I was actually very shocked to realize that.

I learned then that we do often overlook things that happen gradually right in front of us – winds that build in strength throughout a day, as well as small habits or behaviors seemingly of no consequence that become entrenched or segue into addiction.

We also may not notice how behaviors that seem quite ordinary and accepted in our culture, comfortable habits, may affect each of us differently.

I am not sure how we can best navigate this issue…but, seeing the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, and the prediction of strong October storms approaching here this week, I feel prompted to float the concern.

With winter yet to come, I worry that some in our communities may need additional help in potentially overwhelming situations. For a variety of reasons – addiction, poverty, health issues, or reluctance to admit that they need help – they may not ask for assistance if or when they need it.

I hope we will notice them, and help them, anyway.

Karen Berge

Karen Berge

I enjoy living in Seattle, where boating opportunities abound. My goal is to take advantage of them all!
Karen Berge

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