Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

August 23rd, 2004

The Visitor
By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson

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 week.

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 evil breath.

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 be totaled.

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

About 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.

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