Before Hurricane Ivan, I can recall those wonderful times when we had no such thing as a “hurricane season.” Well, let me rephrase that: officially we did. However, in the early ‘70s, with no TV, radio or Internet here in Cayman, no one seemed to worry about a low pressure cell 4,000 miles away – simply because we didn’t know it was there. Sure, when a storm got closer to the islands some of the wise old local mariners could sense a change in the atmosphere and they’d be the first to prepare by moving their catboats to higher ground. That was always a sign to board up the windows.
I’m convinced that modernization has led to stress, and we all know that stress can kill you. When some wizard meteorologist with the title of “doctor” predicts the action of atmospheric elements on the other side of the Atlantic and has me scrambling for plywood, well – this is not good for my health.
Why, look at my nearest neighbor – she’s 87 years old; she has a razor sharp memory and she’s always in a jolly mood. Now as for stress – the closest she ever came to stress is when Ivan washed salt water through her antique Singer sewing machine. She has her own theory to longevity: “Liquor has never crossed these lips.” It might be worth mentioning that she also has no cellphone, no computer, no car and keeps her TV on the Christian Channel, not like us worrywarts glued to the Weather Channel from June through November. “Global warming – what’s that?” she asks. I only wish I could be so unworldly – no worries, no stress. She reminds me of what my mom always said, “Every evening I turn my worries over to God – let him deal with it. He’s up all night anyway.”
Before the Weather Channel and Internet, the only medication I ever took was a Tylenol for my hangover. Since then, however, all it takes is two minutes with Jim Cantore and his bromidic environmental satellite technology and I’m on blood pressure pills, atrial flutter capsules and the occasional Valium. I increase the milligrams as the storms move further off the coast of Africa.
Some may consider my jesting about devastating hurricanes as “dark humor.” Regardless, a wisecrack is better than a worry. Look at New Orleans, this is a city that still makes a party out of funerals; Katrina could not wash away that tradition.
Before the days of the Internet, I’d take my annual vacation during our slow tourist season – September through October. In the height of hurricane season, I’d be sailing thousands of miles away in the South Pacific, where, as I had no communications informing me about a lightning storm off the coast of Barbados, I had no reason to worry about the weather in Cayman. My biggest concern was who would feed the dogs during my absence. Thanks to technology those stress-free days (and September holidays) are long gone.
Recently I was surprised to receive an email from my friend Melbourne Marsters who lives on far away Palmerston Island in the Cook Islands. Palmerston, with a land area of one square mile and 60 citizens, had no form of communication with the outside world when I anchored there in the mid-’80s. They were still waiting for the mail boat to deliver a part for their broken radio-operated Morse code transmitter, which was powered by a car battery. It could be months before the next yacht or freighter stopped by, yet no one seemed to care – “no news is good news.”
Back then I’d get a well-traveled letter from Melbourne a few times a year. He’d tell me about his prosperous coconut harvest or the huge parrotfish he’d speared in the lagoon. Nowadays his instant emails have a different tone. “Hello my Friend, I see on my computer that a depression is moving close to Grand Cayman – we had two cyclones pass over the Cook Islands in the last year. Several of our breadfruit trees died; we will pray for you – your friend Melbourne.”
As I get older, my stance on the hurricane season seems to be getting back to the nonchalance of when I first arrived here. Yes, when I can afford it I’ll buy my insurance and I’ll put up my shutters. However I refuse to worry. Why worry about something you cannot control? Worry is like a rocking chair – you go back and forth, back and forth – yet you go nowhere.
Is there a bright side to a hurricane? Well, that depends on your sense of humor and level of handling stress.
Keep this in mind, if a hurricane hits, your neighbor’s annoying Jet Ski may possibly be destroyed; considering the price of gasoline – it may be the first time you fill your tank in years; friends and family who never call ring up to see if you are OK; with no electricity, you can find time to have a romantic candlelit dinner with your spouse; and you might even dust off the old Bible – and pray.
George Nowak is perhaps better known in the islands as the “Barefoot Man,” Cayman’s own troubadour, raconteur, author and entertainer extraordinaire.