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Learning in Freedom

Welcome to Learning in Freedom, a blog all about the learning adventures (and mishaps) of the Allen family. My four children are unschooled, following their interests and passions every day and living the lives of their choosing. The purpose of this blog is to share our every day lives (and my not-so-humble opinons) with anyone interested in stopping by. We hope this will give a glimpse of how natural learning unfolds from day to day......

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Living in hurricane country

As we wait for hurricane Katrina to bear down upon Louisiana tonight, I am sitting and pondering all of the learning that has happened over the course of seven years and several hurricanes as we lived here on the Gulf of Mexico. We moved here unaware, as many are, of just how these massive storms take shape. Our research into hurricane statistics didn't forewarn us that just because a city isn't considered a "direct hit" doesn't mean it isn't greatly affected.
Katrina for example, stretches across most of the gulf, hurricane force winds extend over 185 miles from the eye. That means from one edge of the storm, to the opposite side, is over 400 miles. That's like a storm affecting both Anchorage and Fairbanks Alaska at the same time!

We aren't concerned about the devastating wind this time, looks like it will only be 50-60 mph here in NW Florida, but the storm surge is already pushing over the roadways down by the beach. Dangerous surf is brewing from the Florida keys all the way over to Texas.
So we watch the news, we worry, we feel deep empathy for the folks over in Louisiana that are going to lose homes and property tonight and we thank the stars it isn't us this time.
In seven years, the memorable ones were George, Isadore, Ivan and Dennis....and now Katrina.
There have been tropical storms, those that blow through and don't stand out in memory, but make you thankful it wasn't worse.

We've learned about hurricane tracking, latitude/longitude, meteorology, evacuation routes (and just how lousy it is to get stuck in evac. traffic), how to live without electricity and still do laundry, eat gourmet (charcoal pit built on the back porch) and entertain ourselves in the city with no lights. We've learned that no matter what the weather center says about tracking, the hurricane makes up it's own mind in the end, that Pensacola is not a fun place to live when the bridges go out, that tracking down ice can turn into the primary goal for the day and how to be a clearing center for friends that lost everything. We've also learned that a lot of people not living in hurricane country are pretty clueless about these massive and fascinating storms.

As we live out the last hurricane season living on the coast, and dream of our home in Tennessee awaiting us, I am grateful for the lessons we've learned. Katrina is going to be devastating, possibly the worst in recorded history for the New Orleans area, but probably not the last of her kind as we head into September. I will never see hurricanes the same again. It may be the mountains in my horizon soon, but sand, sea and storms will always be a part of my journey.

For those that haven't lived through a hurricane or tropical storm, it's hard to imagine just what they're like. If you can picture a really bad thunder storm, that's pretty much what you experience while in the storm. They look like a big swirl from space, but from the ground it's like being caught in a terrific storm....wind and rain mainly, but also lightening strikes and those nasty tornadoes being spun off occasionally. Only when the eye passes directly over you, do you get the affect of the wind reversing direction, northeast quandrants being the most volatile and destructive typically. If you're close to a hurricane, being on the West side is desirable. Another thing that surprised us, is just how long the storms last. Forward momentum is typically between 10-15 mph. For a storm that massive, it takes hours and hours for it to pass over.

Here's a cool site for checking on the weather and following hurricanes:
Weather underground

Hurricane Ivan was the worst hurricane to hit this area in a very long time. We evacuated to Tallahassee during the storm, but came home soon after to deal with loss of electricity, a devastated town and mess of a neighborhood. It took us months to get the yard back to normal, but our house was alright, other than some fascia that tore off on one corner. Many of our friends, including the Armstrongs (whose house was destroyed), were not so fortunate.

There's a fun side to hurricanes also, it brings out a deep feeling of community and comraderie for one thing. People living through a natural disaster tend to bond. My manager at MAC usually has a hurricane party with friends, hard liquor being the main attraction, (good for numbing fear if you decide to stay). One of our neighbor friends had his hair dyed in a hurricane shape after Dennis recently and my children have enjoyed massive puddle swims after hurricane George and T.S. Isadore.

There are some cool activities at Enchanted Learning on hurricanes.
See if your name is on the hurricane name chart, see a diagram of a hurricane and see how to track one.

Pensacola Beach should have been home to the Live and Learn unschooling conference this year, but due to hurricane Ivan and the complete destruction of the Clarion resort, it was moved to St. Louis. Ben and Kelly Lovejoy visited earlier this year and we checked into the possibility of hosting it in 2006 at a different location. It's a good thing they made the decision to take Pensacola off the list though...Dennis hit a few months later, leaving the beach looking as though a war hit, in spite of all the months of clean up. We went down to Santa Rosa island last week, it's no place for a conference at the moment...it's hard for me to believe how beautiful it used to be.

One of the bands off Katrina just moved through, dumping a bit of rain, it's about 9pm central time. Trevor and Jared just brought their overnight things up from the basement, in case of flooding, we have our flashlights and ice ready should the electricity shut down. I don't sleep well on nights like this, you never really relax until the eye comes ashore...things can change so quickly and staying informed feels safe, though safety is really an illusion.

I'm glad my children don't have to learn about hurricanes and preparedness from some book, or take a test to declare their knowledge. Instead, we've lived on the Gulf in hurricane country, they learned what they needed for this time (we all did) and now we'll move on to the adventures the Appalachians hold for us.

Living on the Gulf is both serene and dramatic, a place of extremes and dichotomies. Like the shells we gather at the beach, life lessons have been collected over the years, including our storm experiences. We carry it all with us, stories and memories a bittersweet load, into the next chapter of our lives.

Katrina will cut a swathe of destruction that is hard to fathom. There will be loss, there will be mourning and disbelief tomorrow. She'll take no notice of the mere human lives she affects, yet her spirit will be felt long after her winds are only a whisper in the ear of an Atlantic gull. She will spiral herself into nothingness and into the anals of history in one fell swoop. Those living in her path, will pick up the pieces and move forward...until the next hurricane....and the next hurricane season.

8/29/05 Morning Update: The wind picked up late last night, made it hard to sleep. It's still blustering and blowing outside, tornado warnings being posted on news channels constantly it seems....at least not many are near us. Looks like New Orleans was on the West side, it's still going to be bad though. Things should start calming down this afternoon.

Markus took Jalen outside to feel the wind this morning. He kept smiling and oohing over the movement of the trees. Sierra joined us and we sat on the porch, watching the rain roll sideways over the rooftops and a large branch in the neighbors yard come crashing down on their lines. When I woke up about 4am to check the weather, Trevor was still awake looking blearily at hurricane news on tv. As mild as we had it over here, most of us didn't sleep much. The highest gusts have only been clocked around 40 mph, but you still worry.

It's 10:45 am now and the rain just started coming down like a monsoon. It's positively dumping buckets out there. Sierra, Jalen and Jared are dancing around laughing hysterically (staying close to the carport of course) and chanting "this is more like it!!" The rain and wind are intense enough to blow almost horizontal, smashing water into their faces when a big gust hits. Storms are beautiful and awesome, especially when you know your house should be just fine. Playing with Katrina's fingertips is a bit different than being hugged by her.

Jared turned 12 years old today. Sierra suggested a cake with a large swirl of a hurricane on top. Great suggestion! So far we've kept the electricity, a cake might actually happen today. You sure don't plan a hurricane on your Birthday, but he's happily dancing around in the wind and asking about presents every five minutes, so he must not be too disappointed.
Only one more year before he's an official teen. I remember my Mom telling us how fast children grow up. We all thought she was nuts, childhood took FOREVER! But she was right. My babies seem to become toddlers, then children, then teens so fast. I want to suck up every glorious moment I have left!