Saturday, October 27, 2012

The calm before the storm

Those who live by the sea have the deepest respect for their fickle neighbor. They cherish the calm demeanor and tranquility of their fair weather friend, but they also know when it is agitated, slamming surf and kicking up sand, it is time to get to higher ground.

Many years ago, I met an elderly gentleman, an officer in the Coast Guard Auxiliary who assisted the Coast Guard on weekend patrols on Mount Hope Bay and the Sakonnet River.

In the 1930s, his family converted a small fisherman’s shack near Sakonnet Point in Little Compton into a summer cottage.

Coming of age there, he often sailed around the lighthouse or paddled his canoe up and down the coast, edging his way around the many boats in the fishing fleet.

He worked at the Fo’c’s’le, a popular seaside tourist spot, opening quahogs, shelling lobsters and peeling potatoes.

Then the 1938 Hurricane struck without warning.

“We lost the house, and I almost lost my father,” he told me. “He was washed out to sea from Sakonnet Point all the way down to Taylor’s Lane. He watched five people drown, and he couldn’t save them. He had cracked ribs and was bruised all over, but he came out alive.”

Fifty homes in his Sakonnet Point neighborhood were destroyed.

When my parents bought land near Fogland Beach in Tiverton in the winter of 1969, they learned that their neighbor’s cottage had been beachfront property. Fifteen years earlier, Hurricane Carol had dragged it to its current site, three streets from the water’s edge.

In 1991, Hurricane Bob made landfall over Newport. When the water receded, one of the rental cottages along our beach had been torn from its foundation and set down in the middle of the salt marsh.

Last year, on the day before the arrival of Hurricane Irene, we secured the summer house and boat the best we could and flipped the picnic table. Some of our neighbors had boarded up their windows, and most of the residents had already evacuated. When we drove away, we understood the very real possibility that upon our return, everything might be gone: the summer house destroyed and our yard underwater.

Here we go again.

This morning under sunny skies, with no wind and unseasonable warmth just a few days before November, my husband and I repeated the drill.  

An unprecedented fluke of nature, Hurricane Sandy, a Category 1 hurricane embedded in a nor’easter, is barreling up the coastline.
God help us.  

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