Thoughts About Hurricanes

Last week my son and I went down to the ocean. It was the first time since I last visited Bryce Canyon that I found myself standing next to a crowd of people snapping pictures. The hurricane had rearranged our beach, and I’ll admit it looked spectacular. The storm also shut down our electricity, our schools and most of our routines. It was a serious storm, but for most of us here on the East End it’s been a strong dose of disruption rather than destruction. Further west there are people who truly suffered and many of them are still picking up the pieces. As of this morning, there are still 300,000 people on Long Island without power.

My son is sixteen and likes to make movies. At the beach, he filmed a grainy clip of a middle-aged guy walking at the edge of the tide line. The man is wearing a maroon jacket with a broken zipper and his hairline has receded as much as the nearby dunes. Behind him, a white line of breaking surf is coiled up into a froth. The wind drowns out an isolated scrap of conversation (which was a good thing because it was pretty much meaningless anyway).

I liked my son’s film, so there was no need for me to take any pictures of large waves.

I grew up in Florida, a place which can feel a bit like a hurricane nursery. For some reason, we lucked out during those years. The only storm I can recall was a docile one–a mess of clouds and wind that lumbered through the Tarpon Springs area around 1968. Not much happened, but my brother and I had a hankering for some action. We watched the rain fall from our carport and waited for the winds to pick up.  For entertainment there was a transistor radio. The name of the song was 19th Nervous Breakdown but I can no longer remember the name of the hurricane.

In the 80’s, Gloria blew across Long Island shutting off the power and dealing a large blow to suburban trees. For weeks, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing a chainsaw.

At that time, I’d already met the person who would eventually become my mother-in-law. Her name was also Gloria. She was a lovely and quiet woman from Belize who had the sort of respect for hurricanes that most of us here were lacking. As a little girl, she once hid in her attic during a storm and watched as the roof was blown off the house next door. In those days, hurricanes had no names and warnings were scarce.  She later worked as a nurse and lived through storms that took their toll in a way that we can only imagine. A few years ago, she succumbed to the oblivion of Alzheimer’s, but our memories of her are like a refreshing breeze.

One morning in August 2005 I was filling up my gas tank at the old Lodge just outside Bryce Canyon National Park. We’d been camping and hiking for about a week and hadn’t paid any attention to the news. When I went inside to pay for my gas, there was a bulletin on the big TV hanging over the cash register. I stood there for quite some time listening to the tale of unimaginable devastation that was taking place in New Orleans. Our trip continued, but there was a dark cloud following it everywhere. That summer Americans had their second wakeup call in four years.

When I walk the beach, I pick up buoys. The ones I find have untied themselves and floated to our shores from places like Connecticut. Originally, they were attached to fish pounds and lobster traps. I stuff them into the blue daypack which I’ve been dragging along on hikes since I was in my twenties. There were lots of buoys out on the beach after this recent storm.

About a week ago, lengthy lines began to form at our gas stations. As you probably know, this was related to the fuel shortages created by the storm. I had nowhere to go, and so I spent the next four days riding my bike and photographing buoys in my back yard. In a sense, these buoy pictures are my love letter to this hurricane.

Here’s some links and other info relating to Sandy:

–If you planned to attend the show at Ashawagh Hall this coming weekend, it’s been cancelled.

–There was an article in Southampton Patch about the Meadow Lane Boathouse which was destroyed during the storm. The link below also has a link to my pictures of this building:

–Our friend Carl wrote a thought-provoking piece for CNN about Hurricane Sandy and climate change denial:

I’ll be publishing my buoy pics in the next post.

15 thoughts on “Thoughts About Hurricanes

  1. That Florida Hurricane was probably Gladys. Looks like it’s track was right over Largo. October 1968? Aint the internet grand?


  2. Reading these posts in reverse order – thanks for sharing the back story. I love the idea of your circling around on your bike photographing buoys. It’s like time is forced to slow down.


  3. You and yours were really close to this devastating hurricane, weren’t you ? A great piece of writing, John. Makes you think a lot about Nature, its power, respect, being aware and responsible and so much more. I liked the Safina’s editorial too. Thanks a lot.


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