Business As Usual

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White pelicans are Florida snowbirds in the most literal of senses. (Photos by Michael Givant)

In early September, Hurricane Irma was due to make landfall in Florida. Weather reports didn’t know if it would go up the west or east coast. When it was determined that the path would be the west coast, I became very concerned. Longboat Key, where my wife and I stay, is on the west coast. An inlet of Sarasota bay is 20-yards from the sliding glass door of our rental condo. The Gulf of Mexico is 200 yards on the opposite side.

‘What If’

What if Longboat Key was in the path of a hurricane that was a category 5, now a category 3 hurricane? Weather reports predicated five or even 15-foot storm surges. The former would flood our unit almost to the ceiling; the latter would drown it. If that “what if” happened, the question was what would we do for the winter? The weather reports focused on what would happen when the storm hit Tampa about 55-miles north of us. Places along the way like Longboat Key weren’t mentioned. I was left in limbo.

I searched the Internet where I could for information. Very little. I resigned myself to the worst. I have a few cartons of books in a friend’s garage. With black humor, I said to my wife that they would surely be in the Gulf of Mexico by now. Finally I spoke to our landlord who said that there had been no damage save for a large blooming tree from which purple flowers had fallen like snow in previous winters. It was a victim of the high winds. What happened? Something called a reverse storm surge pulled the water away from the coast exposing the flats below. It was eerie looking on TV and I couldn’t imagine ordinary looking people going out on those flats with smiles on their faces because the water would be coming back. It was a miracle. I didn’t even try to understand it. Why look a gift horse in the mouth?

There have been numerous times that I’ve stood on the dock at the spot at the inlet yards from our unit and watched white pelicans paddle by, an osprey that uses the branches of tall Australian pine trees as a lookout perch, roosting brown pelicans and numerous herons and egrets. Somewhat skeptical, I was eager to get down to Florida to actually see that spot. Seeing is believing.

Business As Usual

A great egret is on the hunt.

Our first morning on Longboat, the rising sun falls on the sides of palm trees, bathes the white sides of a condo and lays across mangroves. The water of the inlet is dark and made mysterious as it is ringed by hedges and Australian pine trees. However, a huge white pelican is softly landing. With a wingspan of 9.5-feet it’s ethereal. Later when the sun is fully out, a turkey vulture puts on a demonstration of how beautiful and elegant it is in flight. Never mind its small red knobby head and the ivory colored bill that I always joke only a mother could love. Watch this vulture flying, it’s majestic. The turkey vulture is 2.5-feet with a 6-foot wingspan and weights approximately 5 pounds, but seems to float on air. One comes low from the inlet its pewter color underwing pattern visible as it twice circles and lands on the branch of a mangrove. There it can see someone approaching from one direction and hear a person coming from the other side. From the dock, I can’t see the bird nicknamed the “red-necked buzzard.” It might tolerate me if I approached it from the side. I start down the row of mangroves and ominously hear crunching under my feet. So did the bird. Almost immediately I hear the buzzard leave the branch then winging across the inlet and disappearing through the tall trees on the other side into an empty sky.

Outside our front door, there’s a great egret, a large white heron, flying toward a rooftop with its long neck crooked. This is an odd position, but when it gets to the “A” frame the egret chases another great egret who flies directly toward our rooftop. The interloper successfully ran off the first heron then flies to another rooftop. I have to laugh, territorial disputes are part of everyday avian life. When I get back from a walk that afternoon, my wife informs me that white ibis who often frequent the grass by the inlet were here with another great egret. Despite the hurricane, it’s business as usual for the birds.

I know that we dodged a bullet with Irma, but I think that there will be more Irma’s, Maria’s and Harvey’s with different names that may be even stronger and more devastating. I never before appreciated the potential and power of hurricanes to reek destruction to the tropical world. But when thoughts of a flooded condo became realistic, that changed. It’s sobering to hear a Floridian refer to “a cat 2 storm.“ Being a New Yorker, terms describing snowfall include “a dusting” or “a sprinkling” of snow. “Nor’easter” or ”blizzard” bring images of days long confinement in homes and excessively long treks to and from work. However, they may be things of the past as endless streets of cities underwater from hurricanes of record proportions may more likely our global warming future. And don’t forget weeks, if not months, of no power. In the not too distant future, disaster relief may be a new budget category into which we will pour money, like water, down a drain instead of trying to slow climate change’s onslaught now. The hurricanes of 2017 may likely become our new business as usual.

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Michael Givant, who writes our Bird’s Eye View column, resides in Woodbury and teaches a film course at Farmingdale State College in the Institute For Learning In Retirement and a foreign film class at The Longboat Key Education Center in Florida.

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