I first visited Grand Cayman when I was 18 months old. My family had visited the island since the mid 1960s. This was before the island had paved roads to the East End, electricity everywhere, phones, or the insane number of tourist traps in either Georgetown or Seven Mile Beach. Our family has gone back many, many times over the years. Instead of some massive quantity of christmas gifts, we decided to gather the family on Cayman, stick some lights on some bits of driftwood and pine branches, and call that our christmas present.

For the past decade or so, my parents have spent the winter on Cayman (having invested in land in the ’60s proved to be a very wise move). The house is on the shore in the middle of one of the older villages on the island. Over the years, we have become close friends with many Caymanians and have greatly enjoyed their company, culture, and cooking– sharing what we could of our culture along the way (a number of our friends have visited in the states– a Caymanian in the Missouri winter is often quite surprised by exactly how cold the world can get).

My wife and I were married on the beach in front of that house. The wedding was incredible, from the reception dinner at Reef Point (a friend’s restaurant that has excellent native food and shark feedings) to the marriage ceremony on the beach to the amazing reception dinner catered by The Lighthouse (stew whelk, fried conch, curried goat, and jerk chicken).

With Ivan having wreaked utter havoc upon the island, we are, obviously, very concerned. The house’s position on the island means that it likely suffered 150+ MPH winds directly off the ocean for several hours. We have no way of knowing if our friends are OK or if any of the houses are intact or how the rest of the island has fared beyond the very few/brief reports available via normal news channels.

We can pretty much assume that the Lighthouse’s dining dock is gone, their back dining area is heavily damaged or destroyed, and the rest of the restaurant– a historic landmark– is heavily damaged. LIkewise, Reef Point is right on the ocean along the south shore, so it will have sustained heavy damage or simply be gone. Our neighbor’s cessna is likely utterly destroyed. It was tied down, but flying debris will make short work of that.

Reports are that the storm surge has been huge, with 5+ feet of water flooding out homes well back from the ocean. Many roofs are gone and certainly quite a few buildings destroyed. Fortunately, Cayman has strict building codes, so many of the island’s structures will survive the storm somewhat intact (hopefully, protecting any people trapped inside). There was 2 feet of water covering the airport’s runway, several miles inland. There were also reports of landmark trees– ones that I remember being awed by in that way that only a 5 year old can– being ripped from the ground.

Once all this is past… the rebuilding, the recovery, the cleanup, and — god forbid it is necessary — the mourning… it will certainly be interesting to see how the beach has changed. Even a good sized tropical storm will change the amount of beach in front of a house or the depth of the ocean between beach and reef. Something like Ivan will completely change everything along the shore. Where there was sand, there may be rocks. Where it was deep, there may be a sandbar. The coral will be devastated, but out of that devastation will come new growth, often with an emphasis on different species of coral than were dominant before.

Even over the years with “regular” storms, the spot where Christine and I were married has changed. It is further from the waterline than it was and the surrounding bushes have grown considerably, which also changes the beach’s geometry. All other things aside, the change wrought by Ivan will be sweeping.

After Ivan, rediscovering a paradise I knew like the back of my hand will be both terribly sad and incredibly interesting.

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