It was an absolutely glorious Labor Day weekend. On Saturday, my kids spent time racing kayaks with friends across the bay in Fairhope. On Sunday, the whole family and I took a boat ride with friends from Dauphin Island to the Mississippi coast. My daughter had an absolute look of bliss on her face as we made our way to Gautier for a party.
She would scream, “Go faster, Uncle Rob! Go faster!” any time our captain dared to slow down his boat. The water was as smooth as glass much of the way and the sun’s rays made it look like we were gliding across a sea of gold.
The largest pod of dolphins I have ever seen came around the boat at one point, showing us their fins and putting on quite the show. One even jumped up and flipped out of the water like it was performing for an audience at Sea World. It was incredible.
While we were making our own fun on our local waters, my social media feed was full of friends doing the same thing — holding up their last snapper catches of the season, posting photos of their kids in front of Middle Bay Lighthouse or on Sand Island, or holding up bushwackers at Pirate’s Cove.
Add in breathtaking sunsets and a gorgeous nearly full moon over the water each night, and it was the perfect way to say goodbye to summer. And it reminded me just how lucky we are to have this magnificent playground in our backyard.
But with the horrific images coming out of Texas of the devastation Hurricane Harvey caused, coupled with the impending destruction Hurricane Irma is certain to bring wherever she makes landfall and beyond, we are also reminded sometimes there is a high price to pay for living in paradise.
Anyone who lives on the Gulf Coast knows this troubling truth, of course, but after years of not getting a direct hit from a major storm, it can drift to the back of our minds. Storms like Irma make sure we don’t forget. And so do stories from those who have experienced hell at the hand of Mother Nature.
We tied up the boat in Gautier at the waterfront home of my co-publisher Rob Holbert’s parents, as they were hosting a surprise 50th birthday party for him. (Happy Birthday, old man!)
Rob’s mom and I chatted about Houston and how long it would take for them to rebuild. She would know. The very home we were standing in had been severely damaged by Katrina. She pointed out how high the water came up in the house — the very spot where we stood had been underwater. It was just crazy to even think about.
Even after all of these storms finally move out and the sun starts shining again, the recovery process takes so long.
Mrs. Holbert said workers would come to their house, make repairs for a few days and get it to a certain point. Then they would have to do the same thing for a bunch of other folks, so they wouldn’t see them again for weeks. There just wasn’t enough labor to handle it all. It sounded like such a long and grueling process. One many in the Lone Star state are sure to experience in the coming months and years.
As I sat around a dinner table with friends on Monday night, we discussed the forecast and possible paths of Irma and hoped none of those spaghetti plots would have her aiming at us. Afterward, the conversation turned to our own hurricane “war stories” from storms past.
Our experiences were far less dramatic than those who experienced Harvey in Texas, Katrina in Mississippi or Louisiana, or who remember experiencing Frederic here. But it definitely brought back memories of preparing for a “big one.”
One couple talked of how they watched a giant water oak swaying back and forth for hours during Ivan or Katrina. I can’t remember which one they said now. They could see the ground literally rising up as it swayed. It finally fell and brought up a big chunk of their midtown backyard along with it, while also taking out another tree. But thankfully it didn’t take out their house, as they feared it could have.
We talked about the infamous “jog to the east” Ivan took, sparing us the worst of his wrath but devastating Pensacola.
Another couple talked of how a tiny little tropical storm that wasn’t very memorable for anyone else around here caused massive flooding at their family’s home on Fish River.
My husband and another guest talked about some of the storms that affected South Florida, where they had both lived.
We all offered how long it took us to get power back after Ivan and Katrina.
And of the big one that hit here back in the ‘70s, Frederic. Most of us were small children when it hit and couldn’t really remember much about it.
Though we have weathered storms such as Elena, Danny, Georges, Ivan and Katrina over the years, Mobile has not had a devastating direct hit since ol’ Frederic and that was in 1979, 38 years ago. We have been fortunate. (Please everyone knock on the nearest piece of wood you can find.)
One will eventually hit here again. It may not be next week (hopefully not), but it will happen.
How prepared is our city? I don’t know. I mean, how prepared can any city really be for one of Mother Nature’s monsters?
But after watching countless individuals and groups here reach out to help people they don’t know in Texas over the last couple of weeks — I am sure the same will be done for the victims of Irma — at least we know we all have each other’s backs. We all know the risk we take living on the Gulf Coast but we also know the rewards. That’s why we immediately jump right in to help one another because we know it’s going to be us one day. And we know our neighbors will return the favor.
It is very scary to watch a large Category Five hurricane swirling out there, not knowing where it will land at this point. And it is going to be devastating, no doubt. But even still, I can’t imagine living anywhere else in this world. Because in our lifetimes, this magnificent water that we have the privilege of living near gives us far more than it could ever take away.