Two hours is a long time to realize you know nothing about hurricanes.

You look out the smeared surface of the sliding doors, peering into a thrashing darkness, trying to see if the duck pen still stands.   At 5:41 you were merrily blogging about the wind finally rising and now you stare, mouth agape on your tear-streaked face.  You calculated risks: weather reports, wind projections, surge assumptions, the strength of the hatches you personally battened.

Sandy doesn’t care about your assumptions, projections, your tiny efforts to prepare.

You thought you’d have time to adjust the plan—worst case: get the ducks into the garage.  Call it Plan P (for, well, you know) because waterfowl in an unbedded, uncaged space can be messy and possibly a hazard to themselves in those howling conditions.

Sandy gave you time, but not quite enough.  Not enough when you realize you know nothing about hurricanes.

You know about earthquakes.  You’ve driven over bridges that collapsed before you lived there and collapsed once again.  You breathed California fires that carried the acrid flakes of someone else’s life across the basin and onto your face.  You watched National Guard troops roll down streets in days of curfewed chaos.  You’ve seen what mudslides destroy weeks after rains have ended.  You’ve prepared for tsunamis and nuclear meltdowns, dealt with boil water alerts and rolling blackouts, avoided freeway rage and gang wars in your alley.   So what’s a tropical storm got that you can’t handle?

Your ducks.  Your feathered, trusting babies, in a ten-foot pen attached to a 170 lb. coop.  Covered in tarps, pegged to the earth with hose guides, paver stone, mulch bag and the coop itself.  Tropical storm winds?  No biggie, you guesstimated.   In tempests past, the pen never trembled.  And now with tarps lashed ’round, your waterfowl should be snug as bugs.  Shouldn’t you put them in the coop?  But what if the water rose and they couldn’t get out?  If you had to skedaddle, at least the pen could drain on its own.  Could you get the birds in the coop, push the hefty contraption up the hill, through the narrow gate, around the house and into the garage?  Maybe with help but now the winds are rising.  A large limb falls off the tree in front of your house.  No, it’s too late.  Sandy decides for you.  The ducks will have to shelter in place.  A place in the middle of your yard as far away as possible from the hazardous trees that ring it.  A place all by themselves while you stare through the glass with your disaster prep flashlight shining feeble beacons in their wind-battered direction.  Your husband and child and the two cats are with you, probably safer and certainly drier.  There’s no power and only radio voices to sketch in details that amplify your fears.

As long minutes stretch,  you realize that the winds are almost twice your speed probabilities, the rain almost non-existent.  (It’s the wind, stoopid!)  You mentally measure each pine and try to guess which direction they’d fall–the living room, the master bath?   You finally understand what “sustained” means.  You feel impossibly small in the forever space of each shrieking gust.   And if the ferocity of even this backhand wind staggers, you can’t quite imagine the terrifying experience that landfall must have been.  You wonder about folks even closer to water than you.  Closer to the storm center.  You remember Irene; you start to think Katrina.

You move your daughter to the bedroom at the front of the house, away from possibly treacherous trees.  You continue your vigil with flashlight and radio, watching the hysterical flapping of the tarps and the winking red lights on the sides of the pen.  As long as you can see those lights, the pen still stands.  You keep watching.  It’s too late for anything else.

So watch.  Wait.





Later, you wake to post-storm quiet.  You grab a helmet and clogs but there’s very little wind, just that strange leftover silence.  The ducks, bedraggled but apparently well, greet you with sleepy quacks.  The pen never moved; the coop never wobbled.

But next hurricane, everyone goes inside.



Thinking of all the families who still struggle after Sandy.  And Irene.  And Katrina.  And the storms yet to come.  Let’s support…and prepare.


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Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes