I’m writing this on September 11th, windows open to perfect weather here in Seattle. Those who love warmth (such as me!) and those who don’t (what can I say about them?), might agree that it doesn’t get much better than today’s sunshine, 70 to 75 degree temperatures, light breeze and clear blue skies.
Subtle signs of fall are everywhere. Wasps and stinging insects are more hostile. Spiders have barricaded my doorways. Are those hints to stay inside? I’m choosing to ignore them. I refuse to fast-forward ahead. Rather, I want to savor these late summer sights, sounds, colors and warmth, as well as reflect on this beautiful day.
I’m reminded of course of that September 11th, now sixteen years ago. It was a similarly stunning sunny day; the devastatingly sad and ominous happenings in stark contrast to the backdrop of beautiful skies. I’m often unexpectedly reminded of that day; moreso each September when identical, perfect weather carries with it a subtle poignance.
My happiness today is also marred by the massive weather-driven destruction that has taken place in recent days and over the summer. I watched news coverage yesterday and worried for my cousins in Naples, as well as SlideMoor colleagues, in the direct path of Hurricane Irma as it made landfall in Florida. A friend’s parents who are in fragile health also live nearby; they chose to remain in their home. Fortunately, they are reported safe. I feel for those who still await word about whether loved ones are okay and/or the extent of their losses. My heart breaks for those who receive sad or unbearable news.
Late last month, family members and I similarly worried if one of my young nieces in Houston would safely weather Hurricane Harvey. She heeded warnings to evacuate her apartment in one of the lower-lying areas that was hardest hit. Fortunately, she was able to find comfortable and affordable shelter elsewhere. We collectively held our breath as the storm swept over that area. All of us were relieved to learn later that “only” her unsheltered vehicle was damaged by the floodwaters.
The reality of those impacts and the disruption to people’s lives is profound. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure will be repaired or rebuilt – but those things will take time. The scenes of damaged or decimated homes, businesses, boats, vehicles, furnishings and other possessions are so ubiquitous as to be numbing. They belie communities shaken.
It is the more personal impacts that sadden me most – injuries; the loss of loved ones and pets; disruption to income and potential loss of livelihoods; the destruction of photos, memorabilia and well-loved possessions that evoke such powerful memories; and the relentless tearing apart of connected neighborhoods and communities. These are things I personally fear the most.
I also worry for those who may not have the fortitude, resources or the ability to rebound, rebuild, and regroup from those losses on their own. When massive events overtake entire communities and overwhelm resources, the most vulnerable in our society are often impacted the most; the wrenching photo of nursing home residents trapped in floodwater a vivid illustration.
An almost perennial silver lining is that without fail ordinary people show up to help and work tirelessly after disaster strikes. After Harvey, many boaters showed up to rescue people from the floodwaters, while others without boats used anything that would float to transport people to safety. News coverage highlighted many heroic and helpful gestures. Many more may have gone virtually unnoticed by those not directly involved. As the tedious work of clean-up begins, may that spirit of helpfulness and kindness continue.
One longer-term impact may be toxicity, literally in the floodwaters, later in the soil. Long after the winds die back, chemical pollutants and other hazards such as mold and bacteria may remain. It’s hard for me to imagine the impacts to fish and wildlife, as well as the shorter and longer-term health-related effects for people as they return to water-damaged homes, or later want to plant a garden or go fishing. I feel lucky to have not experienced that here.
In contrast, Washington state, British Columbia, and other western regions have suffered drier than normal conditions and raging wildfires this summer. Although homes in Seattle and nearby cities weren’t threatened, oppressive smoke settled heavy over our area. We awoke some mornings to a dusting of ash on vehicles, tables and other smooth surfaces. Visibility continued to diminish; nearby islands and the mountains beyond them vanished. Our lovely, vibrant sunsets were initially muted – later replaced by an eerie red-orange fireball against a background of unyielding gray. The terrible air quality disrupted countless plans, and caused me to reconsider all of my outdoor activities.
As I reflect on the end of this day and the approaching end of summer, on loss and resiliency, I savor tonight’s sunset here – ever more appreciative of the vibrant colors. I’ll leave you with this favorite sunset scene from my earlier travels in British Columbia, before the fires raged. It evokes wonderful memories of boating there, as well as time spent on pristine beaches.