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BLACK MENAGERIE: FORCE OF NATURE PROPELS PRODIGAL TO RETURN HOME

By Bill Bradberry

Once again the weather intervened in my frequent travels between Niagara Falls and Florida.

Unlike my experience last April, when I was greeted by a sudden storm upon my arrival here, or the torrential downpour that forced me off the road in Savannah last June, where I spent Juneteenth touring that antebellum historic relic untouched by the ravages of the Civil War, this time it was the fury of three hurricanes that convinced me to hit the road hard, fast and furious.


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I survived Charley, Frances and Ivan, and Jeanne was on the way. After nearly 10 days without electricity during the hottest part of the summer in South Florida, I was ready to roll. I boarded up the house, packed my bags, found an open gas station, topped off my tank and headed home.

In the 20-odd years (some of them very odd indeed!) that I have been living there I had never experienced a hurricane. But this year was different. Stormy weather has been following me everywhere I go.

I never want to go through that experience again! It was worse than the television pictures can convey. All the preparations in the world cannot make you ready for the awesome power of a Category 3 or 4 storm.

More than anything, I remember the sounds. The house was dark. The electricity had gone off hours before. For the first few minutes it was fun to sit in the candlelit room and snack on hurricane food and bottled water. The fun only lasted a few minutes.

Earlier that day, before the police closed the bridges, I went out to the ocean to watch the arrival. It was spectacularly beautiful to see. The ocean whips up into a mad froth, the horizon disappears and the sea rises to form a monstrous wall of water, an angry dark force unstoppable by anything mankind can do. A few foolish surfers always dare the fates while the rest of us go through the motions of putting up our storm shutters or nailing up plywood and sacrificing rolls of duct tape, as if that's actually going to do any good against the monsters in the sea.

I stood there watching the workmen securing the posh condos that line the world's most expensive ocean-front avenues. Their owners, most of them in Europe or the Hamptons for the summer, could afford to hire young men with families of their own who live in much less secure houses to protect theirs.

The stress in the faces of the police and the workmen was clear. Their hearts were with their families, where they wanted to be, not standing between the deep, dark, blue demon and empty multi-million dollar buildings. But such is their station in life, I thought to myself, to preserve and protect the wealthy.

Turning back to the water, I thought about the brave men who steered their ships through the dangerous deep, guided only by the stars of a clear night.

How would they know where they were when the sky was hidden behind the dark clouds? How many captains of the slave ships that dared to cross the Middle Passage lost their ships and their human cargo to the ravenous winds and waves? Like the men who were boarding up the buildings across the street, they were just working. Where were their hearts?

The long night seemed to last a lifetime.

As I listened to the raging wind battering the outer walls of my house, I could hear the house creaking as it strained to stand against the wind. Anything that was not tied down had become a deadly weapon banging on the building, sounding sometimes like people jumping up and down on the roof. I had the sense that the walls might come crashing down at any minute.

The roar of the hurricane grew louder and louder until I finally recognized it. I realized at that moment that it was the same energy, the same force of nature that I had grown up with in my hometown. It sounded like the constant powerful roar of Niagara Falls.

Eventually it subsided and I concentrated on my planned trip home. As soon as it was safe to leave, I left. This trip had been planned for months, and I was ready to go. I arrived just as the long rainy summer was coming to a close.

The clear, cool blue sky and chilled northern breezes welcomed me home in time to join my colleagues at Niagara University and the Main Street Business Association, along with throngs of supporters, for the Annual Freedom Trail Festival.

The calm after the storm is a good time to take inventory of the damage we may have suffered during the bad weather, but it is also a good time to count our blessings. We have many here to be thankful for, and as we begin now to discover them, let us hope that we have all learned the lesson.


The former head of the Niagara Falls Equal Opportunity Coalition, Bill Bradberry is Associate Editor of the Palm Beach Gazette, a black weekly newspaper in Florida. You may e-mail him at ghana1@bellsouth.net.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Sept. 21 2004