You heard of the storm that flooded the west coast of Florida and washed away countless houses. The flat little island where Marsha and I once owned a trailer was flooded. Friends report that the water was a foot high in more than 300 kitchens and over the dashboard in the cars. Friends sent me photographs of the high-water mark on the side of one trailer. Residents proudly call them “double wides,” but because they are towed in on wheels and propped up on jacks or cement blocks, to this old Maine man they will always be trailers.

I think that everyone evacuated that park before the water poured in, but yet it must have been horrifying. Snowbirds had yet to migrate south, but those who lived there year-round were shuttled to a nearby hotel that had neither power nor generator. Guests were still charged the regular rate.

We are talking about Orange Harbor, a small island on the south side of the Caloosahatchee to the east of and within sight of Route 75 and the big bridge. It was a pleasant little community with almost 400 “trailers” squeezed together for the best economic advantage.

This is where Marsha and I spent a dozen winters, the last few as caregivers for our elderly friend, Doris Bent. It was a quiet little community, unfriendly to pets. I liked it. I went to exercise class with 20 senior ladies three times a week. Every day I rode my bike, going round and round the park. I made my TV program and shuddered at the thought of having to drive to Maine on April 10, when southern Florida got to be too hot.

I recall that the clubhouse was on raised ground about 3 feet higher than the rest of the island, so the owners who built it were thinking years ahead. But I’ll bet that even that might have seen a few inches of water last week. Like the people who walked and played in the shadow of Vesuvius, I still find it difficult to believe that such a bad thing could happen so soon. For years we’ve heard that global warming has speeded up the rising ocean level. Even in my short lifetime, I had seen some of Fort Point wash away since I first dug clams there in the 1940s. But had I not seen it, I would not believe that one storm could raise the water so high as to make miles of Florida coastline unfit for buildings.

The Orange Harbor park has a promotional video, and in it you can see that the water is only a foot below the lawns. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, the water in this part of Florida only goes up and down a foot or so. And in the promotional video you are looking at a pretty high tide, because seeing the water right at the edge of your lawn looks pretty enticing if you are a boater or want to fish off your back lawn and aren’t thinking of hurricanes. If the sea level rises only a foot in 40 years, you’d think you were safe here for 80 years. An unthinkably long time for a retiree of 62 or 65. But I was in school 80 years ago, so I can tell you from experience that 80 years go by in the blink of an eye.


Yes. Even without a storm, a rise of only 2 feet above high water will put the lawns and streets under water. The brokers who sold $125,000 double wides on the shore probably didn’t think to ask the prospective buyers what would happen if the water were to suddenly rise even 4 feet, because even two months ago that was unthinkable.

We have good friends who still own shares in the park and the units that sit on those lots. Cars that were left in carports were ruined. These are the shiny vehicles with mold in the carpeting and door panels that some sharp trader will clean up, haul to Boston or Texas and try to pass off as cream puffs. Many people who lost property are affluent snowbirds who can easily turn their backs on this and walk away. Others, however, lost everything and have no place to go.

Is Orange Harbor now a completely worthless piece of land? Of course not.

The grass continues to grow there. When over 300 trailers have been hauled off for scrap, this would make a wonderful pasture. Some cows were always peeking out of the woods from their pasture by the entrance gate. It’s an island. Make it pet friendly. Put cows on it. When the next storm is still grinding up Cuba, gather the cows into a carrier and let them ride it out in The Villages.

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:

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