Each year without fail, the tulips at our office and my home shoot up without warning. There is always an early bird or two which gives a hint as to the color that particular bed will be. At my request, I don’t know which colors are planted. I like surprises.
At the same time, the Japanese Magnolias have exploded into full bloom. The cherry trees are starting to bud and our camellias are in full bloom. Evidence of the approaching Spring is everywhere. With Spring still officially six weeks away, the new blooms are a very welcome relief to our storm weary community.
It has been exactly four months since Hurricane Michael tore through town. In most ways, it seems like we have made enormous progress. Over one million cubic yards of vegetation debris has been collected and removed in Donalsonville and Seminole County.
The sound of roofers is steady everywhere you turn. Carpenters are finally making progress on much of the interior damage to homes and businesses. Even the arrival of pollen is more welcome this year as it gives a hint that the remaining trees will soon have some green on their barren limbs.
Feeling somewhat encouraged by the blooming flowers and progress around town, Mary Lou and I finally took a day and visited Compass Lake, Panama City, Tyndall Air Force Base, Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe. Our road trip lasted all day and covered 265 miles. By the end of the day we both had headaches and were emotionally exhausted.
Our city was the site of the strongest hurricane to ever hit the State of Georgia. Despite our tremendous progress, we will still be dealing with the aftermath of this storm for another year.
However, I must tell you that the devastation along the panhandle of Florida was overwhelming and depressing. You can tell how much debris has been removed, yet the work still to be done is massive. Traveling through parts of the area requires some planning as there are no gas stations or restaurants. There are no places to stop for a bathroom break and frankly no trees to hide behind should nature call.
Bonfires dotted the landscape as dusk arrived, with campsites of debris removal crews huddled around the fires after another day of hard work. I lost count of the number of sites where the vegetation debris was being ground up. There were four such sites in Seminole County.
My joy at seeing the tulips that morning was replaced by the realization that there are people not very far from us who cannot see the flowers for the trash. I can’t even imagine where all the trash has gone or where all the trash yet to be collected will go.
Nevertheless, our city is moving forward. There are ongoing discussions about how we deal with the remaining vegetation and construction debris now that the Corps of Engineers has pulled out. Damaged streetlights will be assessed this week. We are working to get signs replaced, ditches cleaned, roads repaired, and businesses opened back up.
I won’t lie to you. With all the various government agencies involved projects that seem simple on the surface often become frustratingly complicated. Patience is a virtue and patience is understandably running thin with our citizens.
Take a walk and look closely at a blooming flower. Smell its sweet fragrance. Things are getting better and one day we will look back at this time with justifiable pride at how we recovered from the storm of a lifetime.
Mother Nature is giving us a hint. The flowers are a sign of hope and better things to come. One day we will only see the tulips and not the trash. What a wonderful day that will be!
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org