Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lowcountry Hurricanes by Walter J. Fraser Jr.

The bookgroup that I lead at work is a genre group rather than the traditional type.  The traditional book group picks one book (usually per month) and everyone discusses that book.  In my group we pick a genre or topic for each month and everyone gets to pick their own book to read as long as it falls within that topic.  This month's topic was southern history nonfiction and I chose this little gem about how hurricanes have affected the history of coastal Georgia and South Carolina.

Man oh man, let me tell you that it is a wonder anyone ever stayed there OR made any money.  The discussion got a bit repetitive, but then that very repetitiveness got in my head and morphed into something more along the lines of obsession.  The first time anyone thought to jot down a few lines about a hurricane in this area came in September of 1686.  Around this time coastal Georgia and South Carolina was basically a sparsely populated, unexplored subtropical wilderness.  Anyone crazy enough to venture there faced all the similar sorts of critter-driven diseases and dangers you might imagine in the Amazon jungle.  Then along comes a hurricane to drown you, your family, your animals, your crops, your home and your boat.  Multiply this times 80 billion and you have what went on in this area for the next 300 years.  

Hurricanes, tropical cyclones, tornadoes, and floods frightened and bedeviled that Spanish while they where cruising around trying to get their foot in the door and later the same thing happened to the British during the Revolutionary War and then the Union boats during the Civil War.  Rice was the king crop, with this area producing 98% of the region's rice and over 30% of the nation's supply.  Unfortunately, about every 2 years a hurricane would blow ashore and drowned everything.  Half-sunken ships dotted the coast and, what I thought was creepiest, abandoned ships floated around until they beached, were scuttled, or were bashed to pieces on the breakers.  Basically, from August to November it was a constant stream of dead bodies and ship debris washing up on all the beaches.  

These people's livelihoods and homes were being completely wiped out every other year and they kept coming back.  They would stay in their homes until either the house was lifted off its foundation by the storm surge and carried out to sea or until the water was up to their necks and they would make their way out to the yard and lash themselves to a tree for the duration of the storm.  Can you imagine? 

This was 250 pages of mayhem (oh yeah, that's why I loved it so much) and we are all crazy for being southern and loving it.  I remember maybe 3 or 4 hurricanes that have made it to where I live (Opal, Katrina, Dennis..maybe one other I can't recall right now) and I thought it was bad ass when it got here.  I can not even begin to imagine what that crap is like when it first comes ashore.  People of old, you have my repect.  People of now, listen to the weatherman and get OUT!

As I said before, it does get a bit repetitive as you read about the storm coming ashore, people drowning, crops being decimated, tide receeding, town rebuilt but bigger this time.  Rinse, and repeat.  But they kept coming, kept advertising on behalf of their towns to attract new residents, kept planting, kept on, kept on, kept on.  A good lesson for us all.


Katie said...

so is this one for dad?

Holley T said...

I'd definitely take it so he can give it a whirl!