The very first thing I see every morning outside my bedroom window is a tall, skinny pine tree growing across the fence from our backyard.
Until last fall, it was surrounded by other, larger trees - a couple of oaks and gums, and a few other pines. All of them were thicker, taller, greener and seemingly stronger than this scrawny specimen.
Then Hurricane Matthew hit.
In the days just after we returned home, I didn't pay much attention to what was going on in that neighborhood, as we had so much to deal with in our own. Our immediate neighbors were in dire straits with downed trees, flooded homes and mangled roofs.
We were grateful that our house was spared, so - like many others - we pitched in to help others however we could. I was most amazed by the sheer determination of our neighbors to get busy right away to put their lives and their homes back in order. One guy who still had half a pine tree splayed across his lawn began pulling out ruined carpet and cabinets within days of his return.
We began to hear stories of courage, perseverance and community spirit before we heard about the nightmares of dealing with appraiser imposters, price-gouging clearing services and unresponsive insurance companies.
As the most critical needs were being met, gradually attention turned to other needs and cosmetic fixes. Our piled-up debris was picked up and hauled away.
Landscapers were called to repair lawns and replace shrubs. Tree services came to take down trees that were leaning or broken. Sewer lines and cable boxes were fixed. Neighbors helped neighbors rake yards and trim unsightly shrubs.
I don't remember when I noticed that the gaunt pine across the fence was standing alone. All the other trees around it had either fallen or been cut down. It stood there by itself, forlorn, stripped of its few thin branches and boughs.
It had always been rather homely. Now, I thought it looked sad. I wondered why the tree guys hadn't just cut it down when they took out the others.
But more than that, I wondered, how the heck had that scraggly thing withstood the 100-mph winds that had destroyed so many big strong oaks? How had it managed to remain standing when so many others could not?
I started to keep an eye on it, to watch for signs of distress, of leaning, of evidence that it might eventually fall toward our house or someone else's.
Through the winter it stood, swaying gently in the wind, bending a little more vigorously in occasional storms. But it never did break. It didn't fall.
As spring approached, I noticed that the top looked a little fuller. What had been mere twigs grew into thick limbs. As weeks passed, green needles popped off the ends of new branches.
Then it hit me. What had saved this tree was its strength and resilience. It wasn't scrawny - it was scrappy, a fighter! It must have swayed easily in the high wind, its slender girth allowing free airflow around the trunk. And now it was coming back stronger than before.
This tree has become for me a metaphor for our whole community. It reminds me daily to be strong and resilient, no matter what the circumstances.
That's a good thing to consider as we approach, with heightened awareness, another hurricane season.