Sunday is already a bit of a blur for me. Mix exhaustion with adrenaline and too much caffeine and you get a solid forget-me drug. I know I made it to the Inn to help with breakfast and there was a large crowd there enjoying the meal after several successful weddings (yes, we had guests with us attending THREE different Woods Hole affairs).
It was rainy, grey, still so very hot the air thick like in a movie but everything seemed normal — hot coffee flowing, baked goods fresh from the oven, halogen cutting the flat grey from outside. Then the electricity flickered and died. Wow, everyone could use a little makeup in the light of those camping lanterns.
By late morning, the wind was really howling, screaming into Woods Hole’s Great Harbor and the tide was high, lapping at the tops of the docks. The Martha’s Vineyard ferries were bobbing visibly on the piers outside our windows. Salt spray was washing over the building, covering the plants whipping in the 40-50 MPH winds.
Inside, many went back to bed, lulled to sleep by the roar of the winds and the dark light. A group from one of the weddings gathered to watch a ten-month old baby crawl across the king size bed. Little Susannah was adorable but I bet if the TV had been on with weather news, that would never have happened. Someone broke out the Jenga and played a few distracted rounds before moving back to the hot tea and cookies. Even the Sunday New York Times held little appeal — it was yesterday’s news and we were in the middle of the story of the week. There really was nothing to do but wait it out.
By mid afternoon, it seemed to be tapering a bit. It never hit the intensity of my memory of Hurricane Bob where the scream of the wind put your teeth on edge and the curvature of the glass windows threatened to bring the storm inside. It didn’t rain a lot, which is a blessing as I watched roof tile whip past me to the street half the morning. For us, several hundred miles from the eye, Irene was downgraded to a “tropical storm” and she was an entertaining but well-behaved actress, like a burlesque dancer from the roaring 1920’s (Irene) compared to a stripper on the “Sopranos.” (a stripper named Bob? I guess on the Sopranos…)
I wandered out in the car. The surf on Nobska Beach was intense, really churning in a way that we never see in Vineyard Sound (protected from the prevailing winds by Martha’s Vineyard.) There was this bright yellow foam whipping off the top of the waves and oozing over the road in strips. I heard that Surf Drive was impassable, covered with drifts of sand and seawater. When I ventured from the car I felt small and vulnerable, the sound of the wind an overwhelming roar, and I struggled to keep my balance.
On the way home, I saw a power line bucking and sparking by the Sands of Time. I later heard that when NStar tried to put our grid back online there was an explosion in a local house, burning it to the ground. Terrible. I hurried home, made a light dinner and collapsed.
Then it was just over. A gorgeous day today, sunny and cool, the taste of fall in the air. Except for the downed branches and the unusual smell of fresh green crushed leaves, you would never know there had been a storm. The ducks were out on their favorite little dock, the only difference that a summer’s worth of duck poop was miraculously gone, fresh scrubbed, as if it was made new by some magic cobblers in the night. I marveled at the small brown birds – so resilient! Where did they hide in all that wind?
Up way too early, I conquered the Inn’s generator system, managing to make warmish showers, hot coffee and freshly baked croissants with one plug and five gallons of gas. I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with myself as mechanical tasks are amongst my most dreaded, and generally least successful. Charlene took the sheets into Falmouth (can you say laundromat?) and Amanda and I cleaned rooms with brooms, dustpans and rags. By three pm, we were still without power but miraculously ready to check in new guests. We even managed a new batch of cookies.
When NStar showed up on the pole right outside the front door of the Inn I knew we were close. Power was restored about 5.30 pm, my trusty generator put away for another day. Irene was relatively sweet to us. We we ready for worse, but so lucky we only got her simple side. Our hearts go out to others out there not so lucky. We know first hand how scary it can be. Now I hear there is a new tropical depression brewing out there…so we take our experience from this one and we wait for another battle. Next time, less florescent camping lanterns and more battery operated candles! I am gonna need that forgiving faux flicker to weather the next one.
The streets are empty, the restaurants deserted and the air completely still. The last of the ferries hurrying out of Woods Hole getting people to their destinations. There is an odd green hue to the afternoon light, muted with a grey low sky. After moving another set of porch furniture in, making two banana pound cakes and allaying the fears of many guests about the storm situation (which appears to be improving), I grabbed a little “me” time. I walked home past the Eel Pond where many parking meters stood empty like sentinels and I went to Stoney Beach.
It was incredibly flat calm down there, the waves so tiny they made a miniscule little whoosh as they lapped the sand. Dead high tide, moon tide which is especially high, leaving the beach a sliver and the distance to the swim buoy more challenging.
I breast-stroked out and floated on my back, toes in front of me in the water like my Dad used to do, and looked back at the houses that line the beach. Many have boarded up. There are shutters closed, or removed to keep from blowing away. But some houses seem to have made no preparations at all.
I thought about what a privilege it is to live so close to the water that I can walk to the beach for a quick after-work swim. But that this same proximity is a huge disadvantage in a storm like Irene. If the surge comes at moon-high tide, there could be 10 extra feet of water. That would turn my street to a canal, my basement to an oily swimming pool and my lawn to seagrass. Floating, I thought about how amazingly mutable the sea is, one minute calm, warm, embracing; the next roaring, foaming, angry.
I thought about my Aunt Ellen who spent her waning years living in the Big House on Wings Neck (a place lovingly described by my cousin George Colt in his book “The Big House”). She loved to bathe in the sea, luxuriating the in the way the salt crunched on the sheets when she fell asleep. In her youth, much of which was in the Great Depression, the Colt children were not encouraged to wash the salt off after swimming, so for her that feeling became reminiscent of long summer days, childhood games and fresh seafood at supper.
I learned at her memorial service last month that when she became too ill to walk down to the ocean to take her daily swim, the nurses brought up buckets of seawater to gently wash her with cloths. “If you can’t come down to the ocean, we will bring the ocean to you,” one of them told her.
I think I will resist showering tonight, for that swim was so sublime I think it may cradle me in a well deserved sleep where I will dream of my father and his sisters, frolicking in the waters of Buzzards Bay so many years ago. And pray that when the sea welcomes Irene later tonight, that perhaps the memory of an woman bathing in her dying days might mitigate the damage.
We are preparing for Hurricane Irene. Will she pass with a whimper like last year’s Earl, or rumble through roaring like Bob or Carol, or the dreaded Hurricane of 1938 that decimated this coast so many years ago that only octogenarians remember.
Doesn’t much matter because no one can actually see into the future (even those hurricane trackers) to tell us where the eye of the storm will pass. And so we must go through the same rituals every season, all the stuff up from the basement in case it floods, sandbags at the doors, boats out of the water, flashlights, gasoline, duct tape, spare water, tubs filled, canned goods at the ready.
I went to Eastman’s Hardware and stocked up. What a place! A real, old-fashioned hardware store with knowledgeable staff and plenty of the supplies you need. I filled the gas can and tested the generator. Jeremy moved all the porch furniture into the basement and tied down what was too heavy to move. We put batteries in all the flashlights and took down the flag.
And so we are ready. And then we wait. I wandered out onto the street to compare notes with other business owners — have I thought of everything? Is there more I can do? I thought of the early settlers, and the Native Americans who survived on this narrow peninsula for generations without doppler radar and the constant barrage of media warning to prepare prepare prepare. Perhaps some of them came to be able to feel the low pressure systems in their bones, or noticed how the birds get very quiet.
But on a sunny hot day like today, it’s really hard to imagine that a huge storm is coming. And easy to think that people were caught unprepared before modern tracking and the relentless clack clack of the TV’s StormWatch!. I guess that makes us lucky, but sometimes the anticipation is worse than the storm.
For real time pictures and news, follow my FaceBook feed at “Woods Hole Inn.” As long as the cell sites are operating, I will be posting up to the minute news and information. After the dust settles….