We became complacent, and Charley came to visit.
A lot of folks move to Florida every day. They
tend to gravitate to the coastal areas. I would
too, if I could afford property that's mostly
sold by the square foot. But therein lies a
problem, and unfortunately most of the new
residents haven't been here long enough to
know there's an ominous presence lurking; an
uninvited visitor that will surely come. These
visitors have only first names; feminine or
masculine, makes no difference, eventually
they will visit. Charley came to visit last
We were warned days ahead of his arrival. Some
listened to the warning, others went about their
daily routine as if he wasn't really out there;
growling, watching, waiting, making up his mind
which door to break through. He grew stronger,
but still, many never thought he was a big deal;
just a lot of hype from the press. Most had heard
similar warnings before. They had lived in Florida
for a few years when visitors with first names
came. It wasn't anything like the news reporters
promised. They shrugged off the visitors; they
were all wimps, nothing to be alarmed about. This
visitor was different. Charley was knocking.
I've only been through one hurricane; she was Donna
and came to visit in early September of 1960. I was
only a nine-year-old kid and it seemed more of a
party than something to be afraid of. But I was a
kid. The next morning, as Donna plowed up the
eastern coastline smashing everything in her path
all the way to New England, the kid got an education.
Trees, power lines, parts and pieces of our neighbors'
homes were scattered everywhere. Storm-water was
fourteen inches deep. All was quiet, that's what
I noticed first, and we lived fifty miles inland.
Almost forty-four years later, Charley was taking
the same course as his older sister. I remembered
Donna; the sounds of howling winds and destruction.
He was coming and I had already prepared for his
Hurricane Charley came ashore August 13, 2004 with
a vengeance. The storm entered the southwestern
coast of our State in the area of Charlotte Harbor
as a Category Four packing sustained winds of 131-155
mph according to the Saffir-Simpson Scale. Hurricane
Andrew was a "Cat 4" storm that hit the southeast
coast of Florida in 1992, causing damages of more
than twenty-six billion dollars, and taking
twenty-three lives. To date, Charley killed
twenty-two and the monetary damage is yet to
The night of Charley, Linda and I sat with our
three bulldogs and watched his path creep slowly
up the spine of our State, as reporters gave minute
by minute video on the progress of the storm. We
lost power at ten o'clock Friday night and spent
the rest of the night with candlelight casting an
eerie glow as we listened to the wind screaming
and the sounds of sixty-foot pines snapping like
toothpicks. Part of me wanted to go outside and
scream from the crow's nest as "Lieutenant Dan"
did in the movie, Forrest Gump, "Is
that all you've got?" I thought better of
it, not wishing to challenge anyone that could
possibly hear me above the banshees that were
outside our windows. Linda and I seemed to be
drawn to it, though. We both wanted it to be over,
but somehow, wished it would last so we could
further observe Mother Nature's "Little Charley."
At some point in time, we went out on the back
porch. The lanai was on the leeward side of the
storm and figured we were somewhat safe. The wind
was so loud we couldn't hear each other and the
rain was parallel to the ground. Loud cracking of
trees could be heard; some far away and some close,
and the smell of fresh pine was considerable. It
wasn't 'til morning we realized the close cracking
was the sound of many trees in our own yard.
Then, silence. The same silence I remembered from
forty-four years prior.
Slowly people began to appear, checking on each other,
examining the destruction; unbelieving and numb from
a few hours before. It was "blue-in-the-east." Charley
had been there and gone, and no one wanted him to return.
Instantly, complacency was nowhere to be found.
The fear was in everyone's eyes, now the newcomers
to Florida had their own history. They would never
again doubt the power and destruction and death.
And, there will be new residents to come who won't
believe, and others will become complacent, until
next time he or she comes 'a visitin'.
In the mean time, I will clean up after Charley,
both at my home and others. Next week, I'll pull
out the nine-weight and head off to the flats and
wait for the next time a stranger, with only a
first name, comes to visit.
See y'all next week. ~ Capt. Gary
Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much
of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area.
After moving a little closer to the coast, his
interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still
visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."
He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's
and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little
over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow
water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came
around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary
doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the
waters will ever be present.
Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater
patterns in the early '90's and has participated as
a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers
on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting
and tying instructor and stained glass artist,
creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.