By Karen Zhang
Coming from a southern Chinese city that has weathered numerous tropical storms over the years, I took little concern about the hurricane warnings in America. In fact, the American weathermen seem to be a little too melodramatic about the sudden change of weather. In the Washington D.C. region for instance, when the temperatures in the summer get a bit too high, the weatherman will use words like “record high”, “scorching hot” or “unbearably warm”, as if Chicken Little is announcing “the sky is falling”.
I felt this way until last October, when Hurricane Sandy landed on the east shore of America, particularly in New Jersey and New York City where I used to spend holidays. Two incidents happened to draw me closer to the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
We visited Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge twice, before and after Sandy. The Refuge is mainly a wetland facing the Atlantic Ocean. With the pine tree forest and a number of fresh water enclosures, migrant birds and local fowls find home in this rich habitat. Not to mention the wild ponies grazing freely in herds. Vacationers in late summer enjoy the long coast line inside the Refuge. Tourists come as far as Quebec, Canada (and me from China, of course).
However, our second trip in November to the Refuge showed a gloomy picture. Not only because the season had changed, but also largely because of Hurricane Sandy. The topography in some areas was significantly altered. Where there was used to be a dense forest of pine and other soaring trees, now was a hollow clearing, with a number of trees bent, twisted and fallen. Where there was used to be a bike lane straight to the seashore, now was a path blocked by a knee-high sand dune. Where there was used to be a marsh with four feet high reefs, now was a fresh water pond, attracting winter fowls to dig their heads into the new territory for food. The beach in the fall was nearly vacant. A few tourists were busy picking up the treasure that Sandy brought to shore—countless shells in various shapes glistening with their charming colors in the mild sun.
If walking on a storm-ridden beach is my physical contact with the devastation by one of the strongest hurricanes in North American, a half-week heat shortage at home certainly has transported all my senses to the misery of those who live through blackouts and chill in their broken homes after Hurricane Sandy. I must have been spoiled by living in a heated house. In those nights when my house was cold like an ice hotel, underneath three layers of blankets and bundled with thick sweater and socks, I realized how vulnerable human beings are in the face of climate change.