On September 6, Miami-Dade County issued a Mandatory Evacuation Order in preparation for Hurricane Irma, and in that moment, my family and I became environmental evacuees. A Mandatory Evacuation Order meant that we—and the other 5.6 million Floridians living within coastal storm surge zones—had to leave as soon as possible. Storm waters would soon surge into Downtown Miami. In Brickell, streets would turn into rivers. Seawater would fill the cars parked along coastal avenues.
My wife and I secured our home and loaded the car with our boys, our dog, and some personal belongings. We drove for16 hours straight to avoid the havoc that Irma would eventually wreak on South Florida. Like everyone else evacuating by car, we drove in the only direction available to us: north. The highways were congested. Evacuees spent countless hours idling in traffic. Patience (and gas) was dwindling.
We didn’t appreciate the irony at the time, but we drove to the water for refuge. We rented a cabin near Chatuge Lake, a man-made reservoir in the Chattahoochee National Forest. We took long walks along the lakeshore, played fetch with our dog, and went tubing down the Hiwassee River. Our minds and bodies, strained and stressed from the last-minute packing and interminable driving, were instantly soothed in the water. The lake healed the parts of us that had been broken in the turmoil.
Dr. Wallace J. Nichols uses the term “Blue Mind” to describe this state of peace in the water. Research shows that we associate blue spaces with happiness. Blue spaces promote exercise and make us healthier. Fresh, clean water is crucial to our physiological and psychological well-being, as well as our ecology and economy. Being in, on, under, or near water simply makes our lives better.