Storm Fatigue

Fri, 09/09/2016 - 12:00pm

Suddenly, after days of ever-changing tropical storm advisories and screaming red banners on the weather sites, shifting from one to three to one to four days in length, even the fear-mongering ratings seekers have surrendered. All warnings and watches have been cancelled, the only tag remaining a consolation prize orange “high surf advisory.”

It began Saturday, this one more Labor Day weekend lost to weather, with multiple lines of cars in the standby queue at the ferry landing. Sunday morning I looked out and saw the spray blowing from the tops of the waves on the other side of the bank lot to the east, not an everyday sight, and knew the sea was building despite the bright blue sky.

In town, Saturday's lines had been re-ordered and much of the taxi lot was filled with vehicles with out-of-state license plates, people who had to be home for work and school on Tuesday and/or did not want to be stuck on an island in a storm for which they were not prepared.

It is a sad way for a summer to end, not just the loss of a final full weekend of filled rooms and marinas and restaurants, of store sales and general activities, but of long-planned end-of-season family visits. It is often the last gasp before children or grandchildren are pulled back into their routines of school classes and sports and activities, the last weekend the shrinking daylight can be ignored in favor of summer-warmed water and still-sandy beaches.

Other years, a storm threat has brought the season to a crashing, complete close, with docks pulled from the water, ocean-facing windows covered with plywood and houses shuttered, only to have the churning hurricane turn out to sea at the last minute and leave us on an island beautiful and calm and eerie in its sun-drenched emptiness. The streets feel more empty than mid-winter and the mantra is “better safe than sorry,” the legacy of Hurricane Bob, which did not turn but flew up the coast, hitting us broadside, leaving the New Harbor rimmed with vessels broken free of their chains and a then newly rebuilt beach house beaten. 

I heard the boat whistle blow on Sunday afternoon, more than an hour after I had thought the last run had departed. Everyone who wanted to get off must have gone; there was space on the freight deck of that final carrier as it left the harbor, swung a bit to the east and pitched the way we have all seen it do going out into a rough passage.

The neighbor had been over that morning to tend to a chore that would have to be done sooner or later and, from my perspective, the possibility of a storm was a good reason to get it over and done with before Labor Day. We did not know what would happen; we agreed there had been some of that undefinable air of something approaching a day earlier, but that odd sensation had blown away by Sunday. 

There would be a blow, the boats would likely not run for a couple of days, but for lack of a more scientific term, it just did not “feel” it would be worse than a winter storm, despite the fact that the water was still hurricane feeding warm just to our south.

It was just going to be tiresome, and I knew as I stood there I would let myself get sucked into the weather site hype that is only a notch below that of the winter storm-naming melodramatic Weather Channel.

The ocean was wild, the wind roared last night, but rain was sporadic, and by this afternoon, when it was clear there was not going to be enough even to wash the salt from my windows, Autumn and I went forth to investigate the conditions at Mansion Beach.

There were leaves on the road, there had been leaves in the entry and hall, the maple, parched by August, had easily given up more leaves, and the stand of knotweed was strangely naked, clusters of flowers clinging to stalks stripped of greenery. There were a few tiny puddles in the road and, by the gate, more branches, brown and sere, leftovers of the neighbor and my brother “taking care of” the narrowed entrance from the Mansion Road. Suffice it to say there is a bit of a gap between their and my definition of “getting rid of” trimmings.

The path to the beach was strewn with leaves of the privet, the old hedges that must be well over a hundred years old, scarcely tended trees for the better part of that time. There were more maple leaves closer to the beach, another wild seedling grown tall when no one was looking.

The shore surprised me, wide and quite sandy, if with a lower profile than it had before the storm. It felt rained upon, but so had I when I had stood beside the road near town earlier in the afternoon. The ocean was still all white and roiled, a tumble of energy throwing up salty mist, lacking the graceful form of long rollers with trailing white manes. Autumn was delighted to see playmates on the beach, first, accompanying a walker, an energetic black dog carrying a great chunk of treasure easily dropped in favor of play, then, as we moved north toward Jerry's Point, a pale golden, with a group of young people come to play in the ocean.

They, kids to my mind, carried boogie boards, perfect for the disordered surf and in they went while the dogs stayed at the water's edge, dancing in and out of the shallowest foam, rolling in the sand. It was a perfect moment, no one there who would be overwhelmed by my overly-friendly retriever who, much to my amazement, came when I waved to her a bit later.

She'd had a little romp but that ocean was still big and scary, she was ready to go home.