Back to Nature (Published on - Sept. 20, 2006)
Preparing for the worst – taking time for the best
Photo by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
After Hurricane Charlie devastated their home, children wait by the roadside for rescue workers to deliver water and food.
The morning sun is shafting across the desk and easel lifting my spirits from the dreariness of the last few days of heavy rain. Lucia, the Amazon parrot, has eaten her banana and is now preening her misted wings in the warmth of welcome sun beams.

Blue jays are fussing in the treetop canopy outside the studio window, while Carolina wrens and chickadees flit about, as if buzzing bees from feeder to feeder, bird bath to bird bath. Downy and red-bellied woodpeckers scour the trunks of the massive oak trees for breakfast. The sound of all this activity is truly amazing.

The recent rains have brought needed nourishment to the landscape. The ferns and elephant leaf plants seem to have multiplied overnight. Staghorn ferns are draping over the sides of their hanging pots, bromeliads are blooming with bright red spikes as are the vinca, lantana, crape-myrtle, scarlet bush, butterfly weed, lilies and so on. The garden is alive.

It’s hard to believe that in some parts of the country people are already receiving snow. No sign of that here. Although, September and October can be two of the harshest months in Florida, these months can also be the most overwhelmingly beautiful. Florida is a place of extreme duality. The key to enjoying the best with the worst is being prepared for the worst so minimizing its power.

I lived in Canada for more than 20 years. In the rural parts of Canada residents can become stranded during and after a storm without electricity or access to the outside world until emergency crews are able to clear the roads. This can take some time, especially if one storm follows another. You wouldn’t be very popular in those parts of the country if you were the one hiking to the neighbor’s home begging for handouts because you “chose” not to be prepared.

Our apathy toward hurricanes and storms in Florida is best described with the attitude, “Maybe it won’t come here, a little farther south or north, please.” For many other residents the motto is, “We’ll take our chances.” Unfortunately these are the very same people that rescue workers are forced to risk their lives to save.

It is reasonable to assume that at least one storm will strike Florida this season. The variable is location and how serious. There is no crystal ball and no advanced technology or clairvoyant weather person who can precisely predict that circumstance.

So tell me, why do some Floridians run around at the last minute like chickens with their heads cut off as a storm is bearing down on them? “We’ll take our chances.”

As a reporter, I visited the aftermath of Hurricane Charley. I witnessed firsthand devastation. No amount of preparing could have helped some of those residents or their homes. With that said, those that did prepare on the fringes of the direct hit of the storm faired much better than those that didn’t. We drove down back roads handing out water, baby wipes, work gloves, canned food and bags of ice.

Children with outstretched hands lined those roads waiting for rescue trucks, as their parents feverishly worked in the background trying to make sense of it all. It was indescribable. I felt as if I was in a foreign country, a battle ground. A sense of disorientation came over me. No words could ever portray those visions. After each day, I came home to my warm bed, tea kettle and toaster dazed but with growing determination to do my best so my children wouldn’t find themselves in similar predicaments, if at all possible and the power is within me.

Now is the time to check your pantry. Is it filled with enough food and water for each person in your household to last at least seven days, as well, batteries, first aid kit, medicines, blankets, rain wear, sturdy shoes? Florida State Emergency Response Team recommends:

• Water – at least 1 gallon daily per person for three to seven days.

• Food – at least enough for three to seven days: Nonperishable packaged or canned food/juices, foods for infants or the elderly, Snack foods.

• Nonelectric can opener, Cooking tools/fuel, paper plates/plastic utensils.

Valuable Citizen Emergency information can be obtained at the SERT Web site,

The cicadas are singing a warm summer song in the oaks. A mourning dove is cooing next to her mate. Sun dapples the landscape in pastoral peace, accepting the duality of life while preparing with peace of mind … back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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