One Dune Away from Mayhem

Ocean Park, Maine, Sunday 8/28/11 at 10:30 a.m. - 20 minutes before high tide

I’m sitting at my desk on the second floor of a hundred-year-old cottage, looking out at mayhem.

Raindrops stuck in the window screens blur my view of the ocean just before high tide.  The sand dune that we like to complain about, because it blocks our view of the beach, is high enough that I’m confident the storm surge won’t reach the house.  The rain and wind come and go, with odd lulls when the ocean’s chaos looks like a scene in a silent movie.

Those aren’t waves, really. You couldn’t ride them.  They have no beginning or end, no shape.  What I’m staring at is liquid agitation–raw power and random mix of foam and gray water, sullen surge of elements spoiling for a fight.

The National Weather Service is calling for maximum gusts of 51 miles per hour, eight hours from now.  Storm surge predictions have been at well below the height of the dune, which I eyeballed yesterday afternoon as being at least five feet high.  The Scotch pines between the cottages are runty and stubborn, unlikely to give up their roots to the air without a struggle.  But even if one or a few do, they’re not going to crunch the cottage.  So I’m glad we stayed here and didn’t decamp to a motel on higher ground.

This morning at just before 4 a.m. I awoke to feel a breath of air coming through the open window facing the ocean. It was raining.  Such a gentle beginning for so much power.  We spent the day yesterday getting ready, which seemed weird on a calm day with nothing of note happening in the air or water.  In the casualness of it, I forgot to unhook the swinging chairs on the porch and to bring in some firewood, so we took care of those tasks in the dark.  What else did I forget?  I checked the forecast before returning to bed and slept till 6:30 when rain woke me up. I rose from bed with this thought: “It’s show time!”

I have vivid memories of a hurricane here in Ocean Park, Maine, when I was a boy, probably Hurricane Donna in 1960.  We were in the cottage next door, and the roof leaked.  I remember buckets and pans of water arranged on the living room floor, catching lines of water from the ceiling. I loved it, but I knew the grownups were anxious and worried.  Did I get a chance to go outside and feel the wind and rain at the beach?  I don’t remember.  I just remember trying to catch the water falling from the ceiling.

How come that boy loved the hurricane? Wasn’t he scared? I may have liked it when the grownups were confused and worried. It put them in my world. It showed there was something bigger than all of us, kids and adults alike. That was good news, even if I had no idea whether that something was friend or foe.

I’ll turn 61 in two days.  I have no appetite for stupid risks. But I still love being one sand dune away from the mayhem. Something in me awakens with a wild Yes.  There is no dress rehearsal. This is the show.


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