“The trees were snapped in half like toothpicks” is a cliché, but there is really no other way to describe it. Entire fields of trees as we drove through the Florida panhandle were snapped, cracked, bent, uprooted, toppled over, gnarled, bare of leaves. The closer we got to the Gulf Coast, the more awestruck we became.
This was the sheer force of wind and water, the power of nature, laying waste to man-made structures – roads, buildings, power and technology infrastructure. A cell phone tower that looked as if it had melted from the top. An Air Force Base hangar stripped of its roof. Homes gutted. Businesses crumbled. It looked like the Apocalypse had happened.
In Mexico Beach, ground zero of the destruction, nothing was where it was supposed to be. Houses blown across the street. Beach sand where houses once stood. Chunks of torn-up asphalt on the beach. RV’s flipped on their side and boats pushed aground. Massive trees inside houses, and the insides of houses out on street corners to be picked up. And in the background, the calm, glittering water — a picture-perfect Florida beach — as if nothing had ever happened.
But like ants that immediately start rebuilding their colony when it is trampled, the humans went to work. Assess what you lost, recover what you can, rebuild what you must. It was impressive to see how quickly the disaster operation was up and running — government agencies, companies, non-profits, local groups, and neighbors mobilizing to help. Amid the destruction I saw humanity and generosity. It’s tragic that it takes catastrophe to bring us together. Yet that is the silver lining when these things happen.
One of the most poignant images I saw are the trees that didn’t snap. They were all gracefully arched in the same angle toward the earth — bent but not broken. I thought about the combination of strength and flexibility they must possess — strong enough to susatin battering winds, yet yielding enough to not reach their breaking point. How firmly planted and deeply rooted they must be. How the ones that were clustered together seemed to be the ones that made it out ok.
What a beautiful metapor. The winds of life, good and bad, are relentless. If we are strong facing what tries to knock us down; if we are flexible enough to go with the flow; if we remain rooted in what gives us life; if we stick together…we’ll be ok. Bent but not broken.
Thank you to Dianna van Horn and Tony Briggs for some of these pictures.