Hurricanes are a peculiar kind of natural disaster. You can see them coming at you for days ahead of time, and when you’re in the possible path there’s a way you keep a side-eye on the storm while still going about your business, every day deciding the risk, how much prep you should do, how much you can put off for when things get more serious. The storm might hit you, it might turn, it might strengthen, it might weaken. You don’t know what you’re going to get til you get it, but you can see it coming a long way off.
I’ve been through hurricanes, and I’ve watched my friends and relatives go through hurricanes. It’s often so much easier to actually be IN the hurricane, because once you’ve done all the prep and battened all the hatches, you’re in a moment to moment survival zone with nothing to do except survive. When you’re on the outside you know, basically, what could be going on inside the storm, but you’re powerless to actually DO anything about it. Except pray.
Dorian was a true monster. From my Utah home, I had friends who worried on my behalf for my Bahamian family, and all I could say to them was “I know my family, and I know they’re smart and prepared and they’ll be OK.” Even with repeating this mantra, the reality of the storm when it hit them overwhelmed me. I could barely skim the headlines and statistics as Dorian ground its way across the islands. September 1, 2019, was a very bad day. I managed the wreckage of my emotions by going into our basement, cranking the stereo to 11, and screaming and screaming and screaming.
Communications are always down after a storm, and a storm like Dorian cut them really effectively for a few days. Little by little, though, I got information about my family and relatives – thankfully, all had survived. Not all my Bahamian ex-pat friends were so lucky.
As I watched remotely, people posted video and pictures of places I knew and loved looking like they’d been put through a wood chipper, and I felt true powerlessness. I was an onlooker. I could do nothing to help, except send what money I could spare, which felt paltry and ineffective. Even if I could have made my way home to the islands, I would just have been in the way. People had lost so much – one uncle and aunt and cousin had been in their home when the roof peeled off and the walls started coming apart around them. They were able to relocate during the eye and survive, but lost almost everything they owned.
So I did what I know how to do, which is make art. I carved this printing block design you see above, of the Elbow Reef Lighthouse, the symbol of Hope Town, hit so devastatingly by Dorian, and of the Abacos in general, and a phoenix rising. I printed off a copy for each of all my friends and relatives, laminated them to waterproof them, and sent the whole batch to my cousin in Florida to bring them over to the islands whenever he was able. It still felt like such a small thing, but it meant a lot to me to do it, and my family appreciated it. Hope Town was, after all, founded on hope. The settlement has seen a lot of trauma since its inception in 1785, and has survived again and again. I knew that my people would put their lives back together and rise again.
In 2022 a cousin of mine who had been through Dorian and who has been working for the Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society to restore this beacon (the last remaining kerosene-fired clockwork lighthouse on the planet) told me how much the image had meant to her, and suggested that it might look good as a design on a tee shirt. I donated the image to the Society, and they’ve made t-shirts available. All proceeds go to them, to further their work preserving this historic symbol of hope and rebirth.