The Calm Before the Storm

By LOUISE M. DENECKE | Nov 13, 2013
Photo by: Michael Bagley Photography The author and her dog Baloo pose in a mesmerizing image. What originally was meant to be creative photo shoot took on a whole new meaning in light of Superstorm Sandy.

On Oct. 26, 2012, my trusty canine Baloo and I met with professional pet photographer Michael Bagley in Forked River to do a creative photo shoot. We arrived with a carload of costumes, makeup and props. My eccentricity in costuming managed to get a chuckle from Michael, though he sincerely welcomed my enthusiasm.

I had hoped to create a variety of theatrical and dramatic professional photos of Baloo and myself, while also capturing the magical bond between us. Michael was thrilled to help make that happen, and to collaborate with his own colorful imagination. Baloo was, of course, happy to participate for the benefit of treats and attention.

The photo session lasted most of the day, with multiple theme, studio and costume changes. The final theme was classic and elegant, and was purposely reserved for the warm glow of sunset. Our happy trio piled into Michael’s vehicle and departed the studio for Michael’s chosen outdoor venue, a park nestled alongside Barnegat Bay in Forked River.

I wore a formal green gown; long, white satin gloves; and a furry shawl, which had belonged to my beloved grandmother. Baloo complemented my wardrobe with his silky black fur and a bold, plum-colored lead. Our photo set certainly was eye-catching, with costumed characters dressed from another time, and a small arsenal of photography equipment clicking and flashing away. The scene was provocative enough to interest passersby, who stopped to ask what was taking place.

During the shoot we mused that this image should be called “The Calm Before the Storm,” due to the continued reports of a developing storm called Sandy rumbling up the coast. Little did we know that Sandy would become a monster storm, or even the “Storm of the Century,” as some forecasters labeled it.

As of Oct. 26, Sandy was just another of many hurricanes that hovered off the Florida coast. On the morning of Oct. 27, she even weakened to a tropical storm. However, just three hours after her downgrade, Sandy was reinstated to hurricane status, and from that point forward she strengthened while she crept northward. On Oct. 29, 2012, just days after the Barnegat Bay photo shoot, Hurricane Sandy struck the New Jersey coast with a vengeance. The awesome devastation left by the storm was shocking.

The day before the storm, Baloo and I evacuated our coastal residence in Beach Haven and took shelter inland with friends. This stay was meant to be merely a place to “ride out” the hurricane for one or two days. But in the wake of the massive “superstorm,” we were temporarily displaced. Long Beach Island was a disaster zone, and our Beach Haven residence had suffered structural damage and was heavily covered by sand.

Our guest status inland was extended for 30 days before Baloo and I were able to return to our home. (Though Baloo and I were able to return to our residence in Beach Haven after Sandy, financial burdens created by the storm led to the sale of the property by late summer. Baloo and I were again displaced and continue to seek a permanent residence).

Michael’s home, while largely unscathed, was left without power during an unseasonably cold November. An avid outdoorsman, he chose to stay in his unheated and powerless home with his own furry canine sidekick, PJ. Michael posted updates of their status via cell phone, including photos of the thermostat temperature settling down into the 40s. Together, Michael and PJ camped out at home until their utilities were restored, approximately two weeks later.

Just after the storm, as the luxuries of power and heat began to return, Michael revisited the images captured at the photo shoot that lovely day before the storm. The favorite image, “The Calm Before the Storm,” which had already elicited a powerful human response before the storm, now seemed to evoke an entirely new level of emotion post-storm.

The image alone was undoubtedly beautiful, but it now also captured a moment in time preceding an epic storm, which changed hearts, minds and landscapes.  The power of the image was amplified after Sandy left her mark on the Jersey Shore. It was “worth a thousand words” and seemed to reach deep into the psyche, and leave a lasting impression upon its viewers. The image had lived up to its name and had truly become “The Calm Before the Storm.”

Hurricane Sandy will be remembered in New Jersey coastal history as one of the greatest storms of all time, as will the contrasting calm that preceded its wrath. The storm stirs up a variety of emotions for those who have been affected by its unwelcome and aggressive visit to the coast.  Some are disheartened and overwhelmed as they continue to work hard to put back together the pieces of their world. Others choose to embrace the event as a pivotal point in their lives, and in the region’s history. The comeback after the storm, for some, developed into a spirit of resilience, of proud people who never quit and, like the mythical phoenix, aim always to rise from the ashes.

In commemoration of the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Michael Bagley and I wished to share “The Calm Before the Storm,” and the story behind its creation. We admire the resiliency that we have observed in our community, and in the people who have shown such courage and pride in their quests to overcome adversity “in the eye of the storm.”

Louise M. Denecke lives in Beach Haven. Her dog, Baloo, has his own website, thelanther.com.



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