Note — there is a formatting issue with this post. WordPress is helping me to fix it. If we can’t get things straightened out by Monday morning, I’ll re-do the post so it looks right and the links work.
Until I saw SPC Scott Hagan’s photos posted this morning in our Pensacola online newspaper, NorthEscambia.com, I never thought about the small Panhandle Florida town of Marianna at all. Its only significance to me was as a place roughly halfway between our home in Pensacola and Tallahassee, a place where we usually fill our gas tank when we’re driving to Jacksonville’s Mayo Clinic every six months for Buck’s scans to be sure his mantle cell lymphoma remains in remission.
Drone footage showing the horror-show coastline devastation from late-season Hurricane Michael of the Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base area has been seen all over the planet. But there is something remarkably personal and heartbreaking about Hagan’s photos of his hometown of Marianna, some 50 fifty miles inland from the coast. Click here to see his work and here to read the narrative.
Anyone who has ever lived through a major hurricane knows about the eye of the storm. The eye is beautiful, alluring, and extremely dangerous, like some tempestuous relationships. If you don’t understand where you are, the eye will fool you. You will think the preternatural calm, the blue sky, signal the storm is over, that you are safe.
And then, with no time to escape, a wall of wind and water from the back side of the storm will rise up like hell and death itself. You will run, swim, cling to a rooftop, scream and go mad for a time. If you survive the roar, the wave, the snakes in the water, the smell of decay, and the fear of your own death, and if you are very lucky, a morning will come when you will feel the soft feathers of a dove on your shoulder bearing an olive branch in her mouth.
Coax it to stay with you, ma chère. It might be a sign that your life has been handed back to you; that you have a fresh start.
Evangeline Tibbedeaux Harper, from The Mapmaker, a novel-in-progress by Elizabeth Westmark (This passage was written several years ago when I was thinking about Hurricane Ivan that hit Pensacola in 2004. In The Mapmaker, Evangeline is a Hurricane Katrina survivor.)
For the survivors of Hurricane Michael in those hardest-hit areas, it will be a long time before they are able to see that dove, to grasp that olive branch, to feel that a fresh start is possible.