The Fall 2004 semester at Our University was an ungodly mess, disrupted by no fewer than three major hurricanes in the neighborhood – two of which gave us something approaching direct hits. We’re talking downed trees, damaged buildings, floods, and longish power outages (no small inconvenience in a latitude where balmy September days tends to hover in 90s, with regular 100% humidity). Last October I came up to New York for the Zukofsky/100 conference at Columbia/Barnard in between Frances and Jeanne, and had the pleasure of getting soaked in the remnants of Ivan.
And now it’s all beginning again. The first week of the Fall 2005 semester has coincided with Tropical Storm Katrina, which is at our doorstep and has already closed down classes for the next day and half or so. I’ve lived in South Florida for almost a decade now, but I still haven’t gotten quite figured out the mindset necessary to put up with this irregular barrage of natural catastrophe. Yes, you put up your hurricane shutters, you back up your computer, you wrap your most valuable books in plastic; you huddle in your safest room, listening for the wind-howl to be punctuated by the crack of breaking trees; in extremity, you clear out and head for a shelter. You watch the television news and follow the National Hurricane Center’s website, sometimes obsessively. If you’re so inclined, you pray, chant, or send out vibes to higher powers. But why, I keep asking myself, are people willing to put up with this annual roller-coaster ride? There are simply too many people in South Florida, too much development crammed into this little band between the Atlantic and the Everglades. (If the developers had their way, they’d just pave it over from Palm Beach to Sarasota, and we could all spread out a bit.) The local TV news media down here – which frankly strikes me as the worst local news of any market I’ve ever seen, anywhere – seem to gleefully feed and feed upon the sense of apocalypse that spreads thru this overpopulated concrete jetty whenever a storm appears on the horizon.
The idea of staying in Florida from November through March strikes me as eminently reasonable and pleasant. But the prospect of facing another hurricane season (and by all predictions, a real whopper) makes me long for the good old days of Ithaca winters and lake effect snowstorms. Send out your prayers, chants, and general vibes, okay?