When a lot of us came back from evacuation following hurricane Irma, we found that our yards were filled with knocked-over trees, brush, and branches everywhere! Some neighborhoods were flooded, people had lost their homes completely, electricity was out, telephone lines were down; it was a real mess. The Naples water table had been contaminated and our water was not potable. A lot of people had stocked up on plastic bottles or jugs of water while preparing for the hurricane’s arrival.
I remember growing up in Naples during hurricane season and one of the things that my mom used to do when a hurricane was coming was sterilize and scrub out the bathtub. She would fill it with water in case we needed it for the toilet, whenever we needed to flush it. We never ended up using the water in the tub but it was a precaution in case our water supply was cut off as a result of the storm. If you’ve never been in Florida or any of the southern states for that matter, during hurricane season then you might not be familiar with hurricane preparedness. Getting ready for a hurricane here is similar to getting ready for a blizzard or a snowstorm up north. However, in Florida, we board up our windows or pull down or hurricane shutters, instead of putting chains on our car tires.
People run out to the store and buy canned food, water, and maybe charcoal for the grill. When I was a child, we used to buy little tins of butane for chafing dishes or fondue pots and oil for our oil lamps. Yes, seriously, we had oil lamps; they were made out of clear glass with a fabric wick, and the oil was golden yellow or pink sometimes. I don’t even know if anybody has those anymore. To this day, we fill our cars and propane bottles with gas and buy flashlights, tons of batteries, and first aid kits. Those who can afford it purchase nice new shiny generators that run off fossil fuel and can power an electric air conditioning unit, if you have one handy. This is super practical and brilliant. I wish we would’ve thought of that before Irma hit.
You see, hurricane season is during the hottest months of the year here in Florida (August, September, and October). Naples is down at the bottom of the state. It’s damp, hot, muggy, and sticky, and there is no going outside to cool off when there’s no electricity. We have mosquitoes by the millions, more little bloodsucking insects than people.
We get hurricane days off school in Florida the same way kids have snow days up north. I looked forward to those as a youngster, what school-aged child and teacher or two didn’t? We would prepare the house while listening to the radio and watch the news waiting for the meteorologist from the Florida Hurricane Center in Miami to come on. I would check outside periodically to see how the sky looked. Yes, that’s right, we would check to see if the sky was turning a gray-green hue because sometimes this indicates a tornado being close by. We kept our eye out for funnel clouds, and if there was an announcement that there was a tornado in our area, we had to take shelter. We would take our battery-powered radio into the tub with many pillows and wait for the announcement that it was all clear to come out. We didn’t have the weather channel. We didn’t have a weather app or read weather radars on our phones. I’m talking about when we didn’t have computers in our homes in the 70s and 80s. We used to get updates on the hurricane’s speed and position every half hour through a “special bulletin” either on the television or again on the radio if the tv wasn’t working. I would sit underneath the dining room table with my pillow and blanket in a central part of our house, far away from any windows that could shatter. Anxiously I would listen for the coordinates announced by the broadcaster and plot them on the little hurricane map in the back of the Florida phonebook!! Does anyone else remember that? Please don’t tell me I was the only person nerdy enough to sit there with my marker, all through the night plotting the course of our impending doom as some wild as hurricane approached us? It was scary and exciting at the same time.
When the eye of the storm approached, it was silent and still. We would go outside to secure things. I always felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, emerging cautiously from her farmhouse after flying through the black and white sky and landing with a massive bump on top of the wicked witch of the East. I was so disappointed when I got out the door to find that I wasn’t going to be greeted by a bunch of cheery, singing munchkins offering me loads of candy and gifts. No, it was those pesky mosquitoes and loads of branches and palm fronds. Those were the days, young innocent, naïve, and thinking that the event of a hurricane was exciting and fun.
Anyway, back to the reason I started this story, during Irma, which was in 2017. We didn’t have any water at the house, but my husband had a stockpile of it at work!! I was so thankful and went with him to pick some up. I don’t know what I thought he had on hand in the shop, but it was not what I had expected. It was a mountain of individual PLASTIC BOTTLES, WRAPPED IN PLASTIC!!! As a stared at the heap of water, a movie reel of world disaster playing through my mind, and I pictured a little atomic mushroom cloud exploding over my head! I said, “man, I don’t want that!” Paul replied, “well, what else are you going to drink? Where are you going to get water”? Stuck between a spring rock and a plastic hard place, I hated to take it to the house but had no choice.
Months after Irma had left her mark on our state, there were still plastic bottles of water floating around our home and in the refrigerator. I kept seeing them laying half-drunk all over the place. Why were my family members still drinking or just opening these??!! What happened to glasses and the filtered water from the fridge? I said, that’s it! #gettheplasticouttahere!
Knowing that plastic takes up to 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill and enough plastic is thrown away every year to circle the earth four times, I had decided to wage war on plastic water bottles. It’s a war that will be hard-won if at all. We have left a mammoth size carbon footprint stamped across Mother Earth’s heart and the repeated blows are taking her down. I’m pretty sure my husband and children think I’m over the top about this but I know I’m not. You see there will continue to be hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods; more than ever before because we are making our planet sick. The intensity of the storms we will weather will get stronger and stronger until mother earth just totally loses her s**t.
I see the rich spending trillions and trillions of dollars building rockets to send us to make homes on Mars, a place where there’s no breathable air for human beings. And I wonder, “why are people trying to find a way off of our planet with their money, instead of spending their money to come up with ways to fix our problems here, on earth where we belong? It doesn’t make sense to me. I have always believed that the only way to fix a problem is to work through it, not go around it or, in this case, Rocket Off into space away from it. I take the matter of caring for mother earth very seriously because I want my children and grandchildren to live long, healthy, happy lives. I want them to grow and thrive and discover the beauty in this world that we have and still have the ability to share with others. We need to change yesterday, decades ago. We can’t evacuate from the earth like we’re evacuating from a hurricane. We’re past the preparedness stage, and the reality is, unlike the beloved character Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we are not going to be able to click our heels three times say the words “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home” and magically return to the place we once loved and the people we shared it with. The storm is coming, and there will be no pulling down shutters on this one.
AUTHORS NOTE: We can change the ending of this story. The only requirement for a happy ending is that EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US CHANGE OUR WAYS, today, right this minute.