Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
As Hurricane Irene approached, clouds stacking high in the sky, my 10-year-old nephew Sam donned fatigues and a military helmet, patrolling the neighborhood at my mother’s home in Annapolis to discern who had generators and other key information.
By 8 p.m. Eastern Time, power was out at their house, and I, who had been monitoring the storm with all media possible, was feeling as important as Sam, eagerly feeding information to five members of my extended family. They all sat in one room with two flashlights, both of which Sam tried to commandeer, saying, “Grandmom, you take a candle.”
I grew up in the East, so like Sam’s, my experience of hurricanes started in childhood, and I know well the sense of mounting tension and even underlying excitement of being about to witness a historic event, and nature’s power.
The first I remember is Hurricane Agnes, the most damaging hurricane on record, in 1972.
For me, though, the worst was Gloria in 1985. I had just moved to Boston, and the day the hurricane hit was my first at my new job, but the office was empty. Under dust-colored skies I headed to the grocery store only to see hordes of people giddily buying up chocolate-chip cookie dough and other essentials.
Having no one to share the occasion with, I returned to my shabby fifth-floor apartment, with no phone service yet, silently taped up my windows, and listened to the radio – my one connection to the world – as the DJ’s played “Glorrrria,” by the Doors. Then I spent a day and night listening to the wind.
The next morning was Saturday, and I felt bolstered just to have gotten through the storm. Planning to go away for the weekend, I walked outside with my gear, peering avidly around for damages, almost disappointed to see nothing in particular – until I stopped dead.
A sundeck, from a roof nearly a block away, had flown across and down the alley directly onto my car. I would later meet someone who had been at a party nearby.
“That was your car?” he exclaimed. He clapped his hands together: “Squashed like a bug!”
In the 1990s, when I had small children, my mother began gathering our family for an annual beach trip to the Delaware shore, where we were consecutively presented by hurricanes Bonnie, Floyd and Dennis. The first year we were told we might have to evacuate, but the order never came.
Floyd in 1999 created what are my then 3-year-old son Roy’s earliest memories of “the house on stilts.” It was perched a story off the sand, and swayed in the storm. Water sloshed gently in the toilet, and the bamboo bookshelves rocked. And once again I found myself rather alone, as my mother had gone home in the only car to help my stepfather after surgery, and my brother and sisters were delayed by storm and schedules.
“Where are all the aunts and uncles?” Teddy, then 6, wondered.
I remember pacing that house as night approached. “Why do you keep looking out the windows?” Teddy asked. I was listening to the surf and watching the dunes, and planning what to do if the water came over them.
This year, in a week that began with my mother and stepfather shaken around on the lawn by an earthquake, I followed Hurricane Irene’s progress up the coast, hitting North Carolina beaches where I’d camped; Mid-Atlantic boardwalks my boys and I had trolled; Northeastern towns and cities I knew and where I knew people.
My vigil began at 11 the night before the storm hit, when Lucy and Sam boarded a red-eye out of DIA. Would they make it to Boston? Would they connect into Baltimore before the airlines shut down? They nipped in, barely under the wire.
We are all here, and move around in our lives, by assent of geology and meteorology, and can only hope for luck, and pay attention.
The next day, in trailing drizzle, young Sam was outside helping neighbors pick up branches, still in his uniform to mark the occasion.
– “Femaelstrom” appears on the third Saturday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at email@example.com.
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A crew from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center last week cut disks of wood from trees downed by a powerful avalanche that thundered off Garrett Peak in March 2019. The samples will aid research by dendrochronologists into the epic avalanche cycle.