Setting Sail into the Storm

One hundred years ago and only the old watermen would have known: a great storm is approaching. So late in the year, the lowering sky and restless wind could be chalked up to October’s moods. But now, the Weather Channel blares drama from every flatscreen.

OK, I’ll confess: I’m right there with them, those eager meteorologists. This is their moment, and it’s the best reality show on TV, stealing the ratings from not only Real Housewives and Storage Wars, but the last gasps of the Presidential election. There’s good old Jim Cantore, knee-deep in surf, gamely reporting at the risk of his own dry socks.

I love this stuff. I grew up with a northern fresh-water version of bad weather, doing homework by lantern light and cooking on the fireplace though fierce winter storms. You can’t scare me. So although my hotel is closing at five tonight due to a mandatory evacuation of low-lying St. George Island, I don’t want to go.

I’ve planned this trip for months! It’s my reward for soldiering through the grueling house dissolution project. Not the parental home this time, but my own. And along comes the Perfect Storm, just in time to derail my get-away. I want to curl up here in this hotel, in my nest of white comforters and pillows, TV remote in hand and watch the river rage from my room, perched high and dry above the waves.

potomac river from st george island md

The wind has slowly built its strength over the last three days, and now is an insistent presence. At first I was disappointed to get a room on the west side of the building, until I visited a friend this morning. There on the sunrise side, with its nice view of bay and dock, what met me was a rude and pushy wind, cold enough to make you want to shut the windows. So now I am glad to be back on my leeward side.

When the storm gets nearer the wind will turn and make a nasty onshore assault, but at the moment I’m enjoying the shelter of the building at my back, hot tea in my hands, while I watch the small trees toss their manes and marsh grasses bow. The arc of each gust pushes a crescent of riffles across the slate gray surface.

I should be packing. I don’t want to go. I like my high perch, a good view and well away from any big trees that might decide to fly around. Somehow I think the hotel will be better at keeping its lights on than my home. And without my dogs, home is cold comfort indeed.

Besides, the gulls seem unconcerned. They sail the wind as if it were a summer breeze, so perfectly formed for gliding, their long tapered wings only moving when they head into the wind. Look: they are busy now diving and fishing. There are hundreds of birds, all over the river. The more I look, the more I see. I want to join them, these small darts hanging on the wind.

I feel a sweet breath of calm between wind gusts, but they are getting shorter. The next blast follows on the heels of the one, nipping, chasing, hurrying to join the storm.

I love bad weather. You can’t scare me, most of the time. Last hurricane, though, it got to me. In the howling night of Irene, at home in the swamp forest, the grinding shriek of the wind came in whirling thrusts and woke me in time to hear a massive oak smack down just outside my bedroom window. I grabbed my big dog in a bear hug and burrowed beneath the quilts, shaking like a leaf.

A storm is an engine: heat and moisture help set it into motion, then its low pressure center becomes a black hole, hoovering everything into itself. This ravening wind churns along ocean currents, sucking sand, devouring islands, hurling trees about like toothpicks. It’s nothing personal; we are but grains of sand to rearrange.

Sandy’s pull is strong now. I see clouds racing to meet her. Leaves are pulled loose and sprayed across the water. They call up from downstairs and want to know when I am leaving. I eye the water, beginning to creep across the road. The pressure is dropping and the pressure is on: I need to leave before it is no longer an option.

The day grows darker and it’s time to go. The thought of setting sail in my car frightens me. Where will I feel this safe again? When I admit that I am afraid, I don’t know who I am.

I pulled up anchor on my life, this year. I walked a path that would have either saved or sold my house, and it sold. Clearing out all my possessions, I felt the ache of loss as I weighed each thing in my hand, as I chose again and again to let go and say goodbye to objects I thought I’d have forever.

I’ve found a new lightness, imagining I’m as free as those gulls gliding on the wind, but now it’s time to leave the earth, to allow my feet to lift, to feel that infinitesimal space between me and solid earth. It feels like an enormous gulf, and I flail wildly for a sense of up and down.

I love bad weather, I tell my self. I want to set sail, ride the wind. But now that the time is here, my heart is in my mouth.

8 thoughts on “Setting Sail into the Storm”

  1. Patrise, this is so descriptive—so beautiful and moving. I wish I could write like you do. I’m still nuts & bolt-sy in my memoir style- (just get it done, Joan–just get it done. Tell the story before you’re dead, Joan!!) Smile but a rueful one. Is there a way of underlining EASILY on your document so I could point out places that grabbed me especially? Joan

  2. So evocative and lovely! I like how the weather becomes a mirror of your personal turmoil. Were you in St. George Island in Florida (the gulf) or is this another St. George Island elsewhere?

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