As I start to write this, the scent of an offering of Dragons Blood incense wafts through the house. My family is safe and well, or at least as well as we were before the storm, and our home is mostly intact. My larger family of choice are also safe and at least as sound as they were before the storm for this and for many other things, I am grateful.
Living in Florida means that one of the necessary observances on my own personal Wheel of The Year is Hurricane Season. Traditionally observed from June 1st through November 30th, although climate change may end up playing with these boundaries, Hurricane Season is the period when weather conditions are most favorable to the development of Tornadoes, Tropical Storms, and Hurricanes. I remember years ago before moving to Florida when I would mention my impending move many people responded with some variation of “But they have Hurricanes and alligators?!” I would have to chuckle as I, until the move a life-long Alaskan, responded with a cheerful “Yes, but we have earthquakes and grizzly bears?!”
On one level to live in Florida is to try always being low-key prepared. We are lucky to live near the center of the peninsula, 50 to 80 miles inland depending on the coast in question, so even when a storm is likely to impact Orlando it will usually have downgraded several degrees by the time it reaches us. Even so, I have plenty of emergency medical supplies set aside, our pantry is well stocked with several shelf stable items, we have a camp stove and pop-up and a variety of camping supplies in case of extended power outages.
We are almost too well informed thanks to the efforts of many local news sources who cover the weather in state and out to the Gulf and the Caribbean and the Tropics and Atlantic. Having grown up in the earthquake country of Alaska, I sometimes find the breathless disaster foreplay style of storm coverage a bit fear inducing rather than informative. I have found, however, that if you dig into the County-by-County impacts and review the City and County advisories it can help allay panic when EVERY BIT of news coverage of an approaching storm invokes the word “catastrophic”.
Somehow this year though things were off my personal radar. Luckily, I had a couple days off before the storm and was able to do some much-needed running around for bottled water and other items to prepare as best I could.
I worked the evening Ian made landfall; the motel was full of a mix of regular guests and refugees from the Coast. Rooms had been set aside for employees to have available for a few days, not an uncommon practice in the hotel industry, not only as a kindness to the employees but this helps ensure the hotel (if it Is not under an evacuation order) has staff on site to remain operational.
The rains and winds came in waves as the storm bands slowly swirled by above us. I got off around 11pm and made ready to drive home. Jon and I had opted to ride out the storm at the house, it was projected to be down to a Tropical Storm by the time it was passing over Orlando and since his stroke my darling is even more of a homebody than ever! I drove home in wind and rain, through some epic puddles at some points. The radio informed me that Ian had downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane and then as I was listening, a Category 1, winds were down to 70 to 80 mph gusts and heavy steady rains as the storm slowly flowed over Orlando and Central Florida. There were a couple of points where I got worried the car might swamp out in deeper water, but I made it through and got home safe, something was dragging under the car, but at that point I was more concerned with getting inside and I could investigate that in the morning. I checked in with Jonathan and double checked our supplies.
Then as now I lit some Dragons blood incense sticks. I poured some liqueurs and wines into the offering cups of the Dead and the Spirits and the Gods. I spoke some simple and very heartfelt prayers for protection and safety in the face of elemental fury. I stood at my kitchen sink and before my windowsill altar listening to the rushing winds and the persistent misting rain. The power was still on, but for the moment I was more focused on the flickering of a candles flame and the scent of incense, the sensation of the ground beneath my feet and the calming of my breath and heartbeat, a mingled sense of fear and hope, a mingled sense of empowerment and surrender.
We went to bed early for us that night. The emergency alert system notifications blared from our phones a few times in the night, flash flooding warnings in Orlando, but we were both exhausted and there was a hurricane going on.
I woke up in the morning and the power was still on. I started some coffee checked around the house. We had had a roof/window leak in one room, not overwhelming but water leaked in and all over the floor. I threw down some towels and then threw them directly into the dryer as we were going to need to sop up more water and I had used all the towels already. I sipped my coffee and then stepped out onto my front porch for a cigarette.
Our street had become a River in the night, the neighborhood storm drains overwhelmed by a 1 in 1000 year rainfall event that drenched an average of 17 inches of water over Orlando. The front porch was now a dock. The water was to the edge of the top of the front porch, wind driven waves of it lapped over the corner of the porch as I stood there.
I texted my managers at work with pictures from my porch and apologized that I was not going to be able to make it in that night. They understood, and once again offered us a room when we could make it there. That was the first time I lost my composure, I took a moment to regain it and not break down sobbing over the phone with work, and thanked them and said we might be taking a few nights at the motel once we were able to make it there.
I called the non-emergency sheriff’s number to report the flooding and from their direction called the 311 number (central number for assistance and local government services) and let the operator know and she promised that emergency work crews would be informed. She urged me to call 911 if the water started getting inside the house and we needed help evacuating. I thanked her and then did a group call with members of my friends circle and family of choice checking in on folks. Then I double checked the house and cleaned up the minor leak from above the window in the fabulous Jonathan’s office. I threw a bunch of wet towels directly into the dryer and put out some more. Ran around checking the battery powered lights and kept checking the porch. This was when the power finally decided to give out.
Trapped by flood waters, no power, no way out. Gusts of wind and bands of rain still passing overhead. I stood for a few moments before my altar again and crafted a second altar from a couple of gifts from a dear friend. I took a breath and sought stability and calm.
Needing to do *something* with my nervous energy and fear, I swept off and cleaned up the front porch, wiped things out there down as the rain had drifted away for a time, and lit some frankincense and myrrh incense cones both as offerings to the spirits of sky and sea and to invite blessings and to set a peaceful and calm energy to the porch. I sat out there for a while watching the flood waters dance with the wind. Achingly slowly, the waters began to recede. Once I was certain that the waters were in fact receding and as the weather calmed a bit as Ian flowed further away from us, I started wrapping my mind around what would need to be done in the days and weeks to come.
It took many hours for the flood waters to recede, soaking into the ground and into the overwhelmed storm drains. Lots of hours with minimal distractions from the circumstances. Time to ground, to center, to contemplate, and to process a whole lot of fear.
We did end up spending a couple of nights at the motel. We went in the next day before my shift and I ended up working a double, sleeping in the morning, and working an evening shift the next day. After work I went and checked on the house, power had reestablished, so we slept at the motel that night and returned the next morning.
All in all a very frightening episode, and we were incredibly lucky that the house did not flood out. In the days since I have been slowly catching up on a lot of things that have been needing to be done for a long time now. I am also looking to the future and what we can do to try and make sure we are in a better situation for the next time storms come through.
In the end that all any of us can do, though, isn’t it?
Bliss and Blessed Be,
Pax / Geoffrey
PS- This took a few days to put together, partly because life and work and the many chores that have needed doing, and partly because I needed to approach and retreat from these memories a few times before I could exercise them onto the screen.