I need to talk about muesli but I also need to talk about the hurricane. This will be long, I warn you. A post of dual intentions: the pleasure of an unbaked blend of oats, almonds, pretzels, flaky coconut & sweet golden raisins for someone who always chars granola, and the storm that shoved & jostled the same outside world I viewed while mixing the cereal. After the hurricane, I have a home, and the ability to enjoy the muesli. How thankful I am for both.
I didn’t take Irma too seriously at first, many of us in Tampa didn’t. When talking to friends and coworkers I raised my shoulders indifferently saying “I’ve seen worse, it’s nothing more than a squall of severe summer weather.” At first, the spaghetti models wriggled up the east coast or perhaps back into the Atlantic – a damaging scenario for Daytona, Miami & Jacksonville, certainly (as it wound up being anyway), but little more than a powerful rainstorm for Tampa-Clearwater. Mom felt less confident as Irma steered closer to Florida. Just in case, she said, booking two rooms shortly before Marriot’s server crashed, shortly before the gas stations emptied and turned out their lights, shortly before buying bread became impossible. As I tracked the monstrosity of a tropical whirlpool throughout the week of its inception and growth, my certainty of safety diminished.
Thursday, Friday. So rapid was the onset of fear. Suddenly the west coast all envisioned a wasteland of surging floods, torn roofs, cars afloat, survivors huddled atop shingles awaiting rescue. The city realized the potentiality of Irma making landfall in the Bay. The tracks veered west, a bit more each advisory. Friday I joined the crowds grabbing what they could at Publix, searching for gas, texting others to help & extend “I love you” just to make sure they knew. Oh God, I may not have a car, a job, an apartment, a livelihood after this. God help us if a four or five crosses over. I left The Weather Channel streaming on my computer as I peered around the corner of my complex hoping the station beside it had restocked, then seeing it hadn’t resigned myself to laying out a suitcase and earnestly considering what was most important to me. I couldn’t believe it: will everything deteriorate, change, will I have to rebuild? I threw clothes, documents, the teddy bear my mom sewed, my Delectable Egg coffee mug I bought in Denver, into the pile. Irma was real. She was coming.
We left Saturday around 10am. Nine hours we bumped through evacuee traffic, thankfully lessened since the frantic migrations Wednesday to Friday, three to the cramped sedan and my mom’s Ragdoll cat snoozing in her crate.
Thanks for visiting Florida.
Welcome to Georgia.
Welcome to Eufala, Alabama.
Montgomery, at last! 7:30p CDT/8:30 EST. Why is the hotel building dark. Oh God, where can we go? We have to go…No, no we don’t, I kept saying. We can’t. It’s not logical. We just have to wait.
A lady smoked on the curb, eyes sunken, wearied with the two days of travel she said she endured with her family. I can’t keep driving, she said, I have three kids and I just need a shower, I’m going to lose it, I can’t handle this… A gentleman paced beside his car, on the phone. We counted three or four non-Florida license plates in the lot before everything quickly blackened as night draped over the stained asphalt of Eastchase Parkway. I went into the lobby and stared at nothing as an older man passed affable comments about my wherefromabouts and the situation at hand. But I couldn’t stay numbed up forever. I listened to guests shuffling into the lobby growling about missing “the game” (what game, I don’t even know), being locked out the rooms, as if the power being out was her doing, her fault it wasn’t coming back on, her idea of humor in a grim circumstance. The older gentleman who’d tried to talk to me started conversing with her, trying to make her laugh. I don’t remember what he said. But I do remember empathizing – service workers understand other service workers. It’s not your fault, I said, and the older man agreed. People are stressed already, and this just doesn’t help. But it’s not your fault. At least you have one guest who knows this. I no longer thought about how the outage inconvenienced me: I thought about this poor girl, all whips aimed at her back. I prowled by the reception like a guard dog awaiting a hand to bite. We chatted, I turning glances at anyone I thought might become hostile. She doesn’t need that, any more than we need this power surge, or anything that’s about to happen in Florida.
Not too long later, the lights illuminated the lobby, the radio resumed, a collective cheer rose, and out of some depth I felt the need to grab the desk worker’s hand and tell her “We’ll make it, it’s all okay.” In the end, we were.
Irma blinked slightly eastward on Sunday & made landfall in Marco Island and Naples, The bizarre move saved Tampa. Friends at home mentioned the scary winds, sent photos of street flooding & trees uprooted, sighed about extensive outages – typical of a category one, much more benign than the projected 3-4. I have mused since about why Tampa lucked out. Atmospheric phenomena I don’t begin to understand, probably. More so and on an individualized scale, though why September has launched bullets at me & they’ve only grazed or missed entirely – first a car accident that did not result in a total loss of a vehicle, then a hurricane that blew leaves and made noise and darkened but didn’t destroy – and why, amongst it all, I never panicked. I’m confused about why, in scenarios I’d imagine myself losing my shit entirely, I leveled out, not something I can do when dizzily overwhelmed with fitting perfectly doable errands in a day, but apparently something I manage when faced with more important losses. Ultimately, I think I’m an existential optimist. Though fatalism churns up the shore, I push it out when I look at the big picture. I get this inexplicable feeling that the devil isn’t ready for me yet. I’ve got too much more room to build before anything falls apart. So I didn’t really think my home would be lost, or my mom’s or my sister’s. I didn’t think I’d in a few days place flowers on a friend’s grave and say goodbye. I didn’t think Tampa would be reduced to scraps when the waters drained. I refused to believe any of it. Maybe my belief and the belief of everyone else with homes and lives at stake is what protected Tampa.
Either way, I’m grateful Tampa stands, I’m grateful for functioning electricity, for the slow but even return of normalcy that might’ve been more jagged had Irma’s eye laserbeamed over Tampa. And, personally, that I put myself aside for someone else, even in that small way, because reassuring her that everything would be okay reassured me, too. Maybe it was good that the power failed when we first arrived – maybe it was showing me that such would be the worst we’d suffer, just a moment of darkness before a bevvy of expansive rich beautiful light.
I returned home to leafy piles in the roadways, some dysfunctional stoplights, a strangely crystalline cloudless day. In a sense the pace of Tampa’s regeneration left me lost. Things were, and are, so easy post-storm. Not that I’m complaining in the slightest, but I wasn’t prepared for the fact that only a couple of days later I restocked my fridge entirely and reestablished my routine and had nothing pressing to address aside from mundane adult responsibilities & retrieving my repaired car. I have enough time to mix up muesli, and photograph it, while others down south and east scramble to embalm their old lives & unwrap new ones. I nibble a bowl of bircher, concocted from said muesli and fresh grated pear, at work while others wonder if they’ll have a workdesk to spill crumbs on. I ache for all of them. I want to tell them everything will be okay, and show it, but I can’t reassure those suffering masses as effectively as I can one person or sometimes myself, and I can’t reverse Irma or take them all in to safety. I can only continue with the life I’ve been granted, sharing triumphs and tumults, eating muesli, and helping how I can along the way.
MUESLI WITH COCONUT CHIPS, PRETZELS & GOLDEN RAISINS
- 2 cups old fashioned oats
- 1/2 cup wheat bran
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pretzels (salted or unsalted)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut chips
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped golden raisins
- 1-3 tsp ground cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Carefully transfer to a mason jar or airtight tupperware; store in a cool, dry area.
- Overnight bircher – mix 1/2 cup muesli with 1/4 cup milk of choice, 1/4 cup yogurt, and 1/2 of a large piece of fruit, grated or finely chopped – apple is traditional for bircher, but pear and banana work very well. Top with berries, additional chopped fruit, nuts & seeds, preserves, or fruit butters.
- Parfait – In a jar or bowl, layer yogurt, muesli, and various fruits. Drizzle honey or maple syrup to taste, if desired.