A lesson in leaving

There are secrets in the ocean. Perhaps that is why I’m compelled to visit as often as I do.

When I go to the beach, I always curl my toes up in the sand. Then, I test to see if the water is inviting.

As constant as the waves, I watch as water rolls out to me. It always seems like a game of chase.

“Come on in,” the tide says… I do. Time and again. That is, until a fish swims by me. At which point, I start running out of the water, shrieking.

The drive to the Alabama coastline is one that I have been making for most of my life.

I’ve been to both Orange Beach and Gulf Shores as well as the Florida coastline.

While I have also visited Galveston, Virginia Beach and have spent time out west in California, I always return to Alabama. I don’t really know why.

Since last week was, for many, the last week before the hustle and bustle of back to school activities, it seemed a perfect time for one last hoorah.

With stresses mounting, I consider my work at the paper. There’s projects galore. So, I pack up the laptop and head to the beach. A little vacation is better than none.

As I headed South, Kevin, one of our Tulsa Today photographers, is heading off with a sports team to shoot a sporting event in Washington. Immediately following, he’s scheduled to return for the McCartney show.

Luke, Brent, and Justin all have their assignments and everyone is excited about what they have planned.

We all exchange emails in route. And, with business squared away, I focus on the trip ahead, thinking of the drive. Fortunately, I have some very good directions courtesy of a friend. There are a few navigational angels who see me through just about every trip I take and to them I am always grateful.

In route, I think about a dog I once had named Jessie–how he loved the beach.

It wasn’t uncommon for the two of us to hop in the car, get on the freeway, find a safe spot behind an 18 wheeler, and cruise on into the shore–where we’d chase waves into the nightfall.

Jessie was a traveling dog. It’s hard to find a good traveling dog. Even harder these days to find a place that allows animals.

Most condo owners do not.

It’s a consideration on my mind as I make my 10 hour drive to the Alabama/Florida coastline.

Although it’s redundant to state the obvious, I love road trips.

Always, I’m reminded of the Jackson Browne song, “Stay,” that seems to illustrate time spent in the car so poignantly.

"But the band’s on the bus,
and they’re waiting to go.
We gotta drive all night
And do the show in Chicago… or Detroit.
I don’t know, we do so many shows in a row.
And these towns all look the same.
we just pass the time in the hotel rooms
and wander around backstage.
Till those lights come up, and we hear that crowd, and we remember why we came.
Now we got country and western on the bus,
R & B, we got disco in 8-tracks and cassettes in stereo
We’ve got rural scenes and magazines
And we’ve got truckers on CB
We got Richard Pryor on the video
We’ve got time to think of the ones we love
While the miles roll away
but the only time that seems too short is the time that we get to play”

It’s a great song to sing while traveling. It reminds me of time.

And, this trip was all about –finding time.

To say goodbye to the season. To finally take that vacation there was never time to take.

Sometimes we all have to take a big, deep breath and exhale slowly.

So, I sang my songs. All my lost favorites, like the cds made two years ago. I put them in the cd player and played each one through to completion.

When those played out, I listened to other music. To NPR. To whoever happened to be on my radio in any given town.

It didn’t really matter as most everything was secondary on that long, rural highway through Louisiana and Mississippi that I was traveling to reach the glistening shores.

In route, I pass through a town called Transylvania, Louisiana.

I’m fascinated by it. Fascinated by the name. By the rows of crops. The tractors on the side of the roads. The man driving the locomotive alongside the highway.

It all seems so rustic.

It doesn’t seem possible that a coastal area could exist at the end of this destination, but it does.

And, as always, I arrive to find that I’m glad I’ve made the journey. In many ways, this vacation was better than most.

I was able to spend time in the sun and surf. I saw beautiful skies and glistening earth. I even slept until 3p.m. one day, with the balcony door open, just listening to waves.

Paradise, yes, if only for a brief few hours.

One of the highlights of the vacation included a dolphin cruise, which was quite affordable.

On the boat, I met the nicest lady, who looked just like Sandra Bullock. Perhaps it was, but she said her name was Becky.

Becky is beautiful and funny. Really funny. To me, funny people make vacations worthwhile. What is that saying? Laughter is the best medicine….

In the time that we shared, we exchanged not only laughs, but stories. New conversation is.…a welcome change sometimes.

All in all, time spent with my vacation buddy ended far too soon.

As my vacation drew to a close, plans were made for packing. All was set to go. Then, as usual, the unexpected happend. The weather took a really strange turn.

In all my visit’s to the shore, I have never experienced bad weather. I guess what they say is true….there is a first time for everything. It seems on the day that I was planning to depart, a tropical storm decided to arrive.

Before I knew it, my plans for leaving became plans to stay.

Little did I know that staying longer would be the downfall. Or, more appropriately, just in time for the “landfall.”

I thought long and hard about how I wanted to report on Tropical Storm Claudette or if I even wanted to.

As I know all too well, these types of storms can have some devasting impacts on the communities that endure them. Further, Tropical Storm Claudette was not the only concern. There were additional reports on storms Anna and what people were referring to a possible Hurricane Bill.

As I listened to news in regard to the weather, there were tornado and flood warnings, as well as inland wind watches. With all those advisories, I didn’t quite know what to expect.

So, I ventured out to get some insight. I spoke to other folks nearby…the security guard, the man on the 1st floor.

They each had stories to tell.

The security guard talked of past hurricanes. For instance, he was there when Ivan struck. He said they had experienced 90 foot waves.

I can only imagine.

Since the parking lot was filled with license plates from Oklahoma, Missouri, and every other place one could live, I knew I was not the only tourist around.

As the evening progressed, weather reports jammed the TV every five minutes. And, I wonder what everyone else is thinking.

Interestingly enough, the storm warnings were not just for a specific amount of time –like a few hours. They were in effect for a few days.

Overall, I made it safely through the night as Claudette crashed into the Florida Panhandle a little after midnight.

For the most part, I thought that was it. I did not expect the storms that followed.

It wasn’t until I was driving down the main highway from Florida into Gulf Shores, that I saw the true power of the wind as the sand started flying, amid the rain.

It was a sight I have never really seen. So, I stopped my car to get a quick picture.

I was outside for only a minute. Yet, that’s all it took to get covered in sand completely.

I was shocked to see the wind blow sand so furiously through the air as the waves crashed hard along the shoreline.

If that were not enough, odd rain bursts appeared.

One minute you could see the road. The next minute you could not.

As quickly as the rain set in, it also departed. Then, it would reappear on another road for brief moments of time.

Trying to drive out of town, I passed utility trucks. I assumed they were driving into the gulf to repair phone lines. Visibility was low, so driving around them was difficult as sand and rain circled around like mini tornadoes.

I was completely fascinated and scared… Yet, those who live along the coastline, seemed prepared. Calm.

Everyone had generators, window panels…emergency kits. At least, that is what the TV reporters on the local NBC and FOX News Stations were saying.

On the night of Tropical Storm Claudette, I watched as eight to 10 foot waves crashed onto the shore.

I stared as abandoned beach chairs were covered with water and waited to see if they would be carried away with the currents.

At the same time, I watched as the shoreline disappeared further and further into a dark, foreboding ocean…and I wondered what the rest of the evening would bring.

Waiting with the rest and listening to the ever urgent weather reports, I was wondering if we would get evacuated.

Those along the shoreline, I’m told, are usually the first ones required to pack.

Turns out, in the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area, they evacuated those who were staying in nearby cabins and a few streets were closed as well.

In those hours, I sent messages to my friends via the computer.

One or two were kind enough to stay up communicating with me as I watched the weather–ever curious about the new weather terms I was hearing.

That next day, I awoke to find that I was safe and sound. Yet, there were interesting pieces of debris along the beach and flooding was evident.

Somehow, I managed to escape the worst part of the storms that followed Claudette.

One thing I know for certain…it took nearly a day to get all of the sand off that blew onto me in that one minute that I stood outside.

Although I am aware of their seriousness, I’ve never truly given the storms down at the coast much thought.

An earful of sand later, they definitely have my attention now.

Last Updated ( Monday, 31 August 2009 )