September 7, 2016: Eye of the Storm

~by Susi Pittman

Eye of the Storm

I am a native Floridian, having roots in this state stretching back to 1868. That’s when my family ancestors, following the Homestead Act of 1862 moved into the state and received 320 acres of land between Winter Haven and Lake Wales, Florida, just to settle upon and start a life in agriculture.

One of the earliest lessons my family learned about regarding the dangers of living in a state surrounded by ocean on three sides was the “hurricane.” Needless to say, every generation since has held a strong, no-nonsense respect for the power of these mega-storms. I, personally have been through two category 1’s, one category 2 and one category 3. As far as I’m concerned, they are all scary, the only difference is in the sound of the wind.

It was late Thursday night, September 1st, into early Friday morning, September 2, when Hurricane Hermine slammed into the Big Bend of north-central Florida, where I now make my home. Days prior to her arrival, I and my family were making preparations to endure what we knew would be a long night.

We live on acreage with rolling hills and huge old pecan trees that are 50+ years old about the two homes and barns. They were heavily laden with pecans which of course would become nature’s bullets in hurricane force winds, sure to break unprotected glass. Thus a trip for plywood and wood screws. There were the barns to secure; picking up the lighter items about the property that would be blown by the wind and placing them in the barn; limbs to cut; people and animal (we have 20 animal rescues) food products to purchase; filling the water troughs and don’t forget the duck-tape.

That was Part 1 of our preparation. All of it addressing both the physical and natural needs for man and beast. Part 2 was the really important part. I gathered with my family in the main house, where we prayed for protection from the elements to Jesus and invoked the protection of the saints to endure the storm in safety. The prayers of my grandchildren were especially beautiful. Jesus must love their innocent voices so much! We placed a Saint Benedicts medal at the four corners of each of the two homes and sealed our doorways and rooms with a blessing and Holy Oil. This has always been our hurricane ritual, as we believe in the power of the sacramentals given to us by Holy Mother Church.

We were now ready.

I chose to ride out the storm in my small Florida cracker home, against my daughter’s protests to stay in the main house. I’ve never been alone during a hurricane, always having been with family and with my husband whenever a hurricane hit. But, I had my reasons. There were eleven of them, (cats and dogs) all tucked away inside and I wanted to be present to them so they would not be afraid.

And this is where the story gets interesting.

It seems that a hurricane NEVER makes landfall during the daylight hours. It seems that the majority of them arrive in the dark night like howling banshees. Hurricane Hermine was no different.

The strongest winds came through our area beginning around 3:00AM and they built to a crescendo somewhere close to 4:30AM. It was 3:30AM as I was wide awake, when a huge gust roared against the outer walls of my small home and the house shook. I have to admit here, that even though I was confident in my prayers to Jesus, I was like Peter and I felt myself slipping away into a sea of doubt. The wind roared and wailed and I heard what I believed to be several trees fall and the pecans were banging down upon the tin roof as the piercing sound of the shrill wind grew louder. All I could think about was the fifty and sixty-foot trees over my home and what they must look like.

As I sat with a clinched throat and tightly clasped hands, I looked about me at my animal family and not a one of them had stirred from their place of peaceful sleep.

I was literally shocked to see that each creature was without even a slight stir with all the noise and what I was sure was destruction on the outside.

And then the realization fell upon me ( I like to think of it as a nudge from my Guardian Angel) …they (the animals) were my “sign” that Jesus was present and had heard our prayers. Why else would they be so at peace as the natural realm outside was at war with itself? Did we not pray to Jesus and offer to Him the night? Did we not in faith utilize the sacramentals of the Church?

The creatures became present to me in their peace to comfort me, to be sign, when I thought I would be the one to be present to them.

I felt my whole body relax.

I closed my eyes and opened my spiritual eyes. I felt the peace and protection my animals were feeling.

The winds began to subside close to 6:00AM and there was a dim glimmer of light from the east beginning to show. I stepped outside to look upon the land to see what terrible inflictions might have been placed upon it. All the giant pecan trees were standing tall, though many limbs had been ripped from their embrace. There were no fallen squirrel young or birds. All the buildings and both homes were unscathed. Two large trees, one a pine and the other a pecan, had fallen at the far end of the west field.

ALL that was in our care had indeed been spared and I gave grateful thanks to God as I sat between my two dogs and the magnificent pecan trees. It was hard to believe that everything was okay!

I, like Peter had slipped from the Lord’s hand because of fear and doubt as the storm raged. Yet, in that moment it was my animals that turned my eyes back to Jesus and I was raised back up in peace and confidence to endure the night.

In you O Lord I take refuge; let me not be put to shame…Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety. You are my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.

~Psalm 30:1-4 (Douay-Rheims) 29:11 (NASB)


Susi Pittman is founder of and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; a member of the St. John’ s Catholic Writers Guild;
a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the National Wildlife Federation, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.



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