Before the Storm

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 8:45am

There was a dusting of snow on the ground a few days ago and new snow at first light today, but it quickly devolved into plain old cold winter rain.

Yesterday, last Friday, someone who needed to be back by Sunday called for advice about travel plans. I went to the NOAA site; it did not sound bad. Still, the one thing I know about the weather is its uncertainty compounded by my own fundamental obliviousness to it, best summarized in my often being surprised that the boat is not running.

“Call my cousin” was my sage pass-the-buck advice, and a good default position: Ask the retired mariner who lives on the other end of the island where the wind rolls in from 2,000 miles of open sea. When you spend much of your life on great ships on great oceans, even from the engine room, an intrinsic sense of the weather is honed. 

Still, I was a little surprised — although I pretended not to be — when I got the return call and heard, “He said don't chance it.” I knew he would err on the side of caution, a part of the reason for that referral, but the forecast just did not sound that bad. 

The last round of boats for the day, including the back-for-Sunday-morning last run, has been cancelled. My mother's advice has held true once again: “You do not have to know the answer, you have to know where to find it.” 

The rain, a great green glob across the radar on the weather site, was never as dreadful as the graphic foretold. It is, though, January, and what might be welcome showers embraced by soft earth another time of year is just cold rain, puddling on the ground. The sun will shine tomorrow, before another storm hits. 

It is almost February, and it will be the first serious snow storm of the season. “Historic” they are saying and I know it has been some time since we have had a truly bad one. Last winter, as relentless as it was, never gave me a day of an impassable road, and the much-heralded blizzard of the year previous would not be memorable but for the power being out 12 hours. 

The storm will have come and gone by the publication date of this paper. This new deadline of mine, erasing any hope of timeliness, is resultant of the new process. “You will get used to it,” they tell me and I think of the many things to which I have never become accustomed.

Now it is Monday and already I have fallen into storm hysteria. It is going to be cold, it is going to snow, the wind is going to blow and the snow will drift, and the power will likely go out. I will spend the next couple of days waiting for the power to go out/come back on. 

Autumn, my loves-the-snow golden dog, will be happy. She comes to me with a thick rope, knotted in five places, hoping for me to let her out with it which I will not do; she has already left two of these toys out in the heavy brush. At least I presume that is what happened to both; I only witnessed, a moment too late, her disappearing with the second, following some blasted deer path. 

This last is a gift from our friend who lives in Chinatown, where I was, I suddenly remember, during one of these storms, a crazy Presidents' Day blizzard that shut down the great city. At day's end, when the last errant flakes of 20-some inches of snow were falling, the streets were already clear, such was the force of the public works department. (My jaded-side thought, “On a holiday when they don't have to wait for double time.”) My niece was down from college in Boston and a friend came over in an SUV and drove us around an empty lower Manhattan, up to Delancey and out over the empty and gleaming Williamsburg Bridge. It was magical, an overused word, but it was that. 

We used to have bad winter storms as a matter of course. I have photographs. The landscape also used to be very different. One of those black and white snapshots was taken from my yard with a little brownie camera pointed southwest across clear white fields. My mother's old Mercury station wagon was parked on the lawn of the house on the corner when the Mansion Road takes a hard right. 

It was a given that our road and the Mansion Road, years before it was owned by the Town, would be drifted with feet of snow but it never seemed to be that great a concern; all the fields were clear, of both brush and houses and we went out the road that went through the middle of the vacant Minister's Lot. 

Then the houses were built and the road moved to run along the north wall, where it quickly filled with snow. 

The wind is picking up, the snow is falling, the open view from the first part of Corn Neck Road, where the dunes are so dangerously low, was stunningly beautiful when I drove it a few hours ago, the ocean still almost blue and only beginning to show its outrage, the road already white in places it should not be so soon. 

Talking to the neighbor on the phone as I'm driving down the Neck, I spy something and blurt “There's a tree beside the road at — " and before I can finish he says, “Cozy Cottage.” It is a dry, brown pine, a discarded Christmas tree, but dump day was over yesterday at 1:30 and between us we know it was not there last night or this morning. Already, then wind is bringing things in from the dunes. 

It's the end of January, we are long overdue for a winter blow. It will be over soon enough, I tell myself, and the world be stunningly beautiful.