If you’ve lived in a place for a while, you have a pretty good idea what its weather looks like. On Martha’s Vineyard you can count on summers being very warm and often humid, with some crystal-clear sunny days and several good thunderstorms. Some years are drier than others, but that summer in the early 2000s when it didn’t rain from June 1 to September 1 and the brown grass crunched underfoot was unusual. Three consecutive weeks with the temps above 90 is unusual, and so was the summer that didn’t happen three or four years ago: memory says the temps never got out of the 60s, but memory probably exaggerates.
In winter we get enough snow to shovel and complain about, but the year in the mid-2000s that two and a half feet fell in one weekend was unusual, and so was Travvy’s first full winter, 2008/09, when the road I live on was glare ice for six consecutive weeks and horses couldn’t be turned out in their paddocks for fear they would fall.
So with Hurricane Irene meandering in this general direction and “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” heard on every airwave, I’ve been thinking about hurricanes I have known. Gloria in 1985, the summer I moved here, was a bust.
Bob six years later, in 1991, certainly was not. Bob arrived in mid-August, when the summer crowds were still here. Panic seems to increase exponentially with the size of the population, and it was compounded by the fact that I was then features editor at the Martha’s Vineyard Times. I filed seven stories that week (OK, a couple of them were mostly pictures, like the one about the fair), a personal record.
Until Bob showed up, the Vineyard hadn’t had a really big blow since Carol in ’54. What this meant was that lots of weak or dead trees were ripe for the falling, and fall they did, blocking roads and taking down electric lines everywhere. Enough trees came down that the landscape was transformed. Because Bob was a high-wind-very-little-rain storm, salt blasted the surviving deciduous trees. Almost overnight their leaves went from mid-August green to late-November brown.
I was living on a very minor dirt road off State Road near the West Tisbury–Chilmark line. A couple of huge and several not-so-huge trees fell across the road, but a nurse at the hospital lived off the same road, so a volunteer team of firefighters and other townsfolk came out with chain saws to clear the road. She got to her next shift on time, and all her neighbors got out a day or so before we would have otherwise.
We didn’t have electricity, however, for almost ten days. The stretch of State Road near us got it back in five. Bob taught me a lot about the island’s electric grid. The Times, then located at Woodland Marketplace about a mile outside of Vineyard Haven, was on the same trunk line as M.V. Hospital almost two miles away. So the paper had its power back PDQ and its production schedule wasn’t seriously affected.
I also washed my hair in the MVT sink a few times before power was restored at my house. If I drove two miles down a dirt road to my family’s off-the-grid camp, I could shower under propane-heated water. This was good. The fire station on the Edgartown Road made water available by hose. Schlepping down there once or twice a day made me think about the many women of the world whose daily chores revolve around carrying water. My pickup carried the containers; all I had to do was drive. And I knew that one of these days we’d have power back.
Within a few weeks, forsythia, lilacs, and other spring shrubs were flowering again. Salt-blasted trees, waning light — and bright yellow, purple, and pink everywhere you looked? We had several seasons going on at once that fall.
The end of October brought what’s known locally as the “no-name nor’easter,” which in some ways was more disruptive than Bob. The M. V. Times was about to move into the building it now occupies at Five Corners, on Vineyard Haven harbor. The water rose several inches up the walls on the first floor, and our move had to be postponed till the wood floor was replaced.
I’ve done storm prep plenty of times since then, while living and working in a variety of places. I never know what exactly is going to happen, but I do have a pretty good idea of what to expect, and absolute certainty that I can’t control the storm.
Stop your squawking, Chicken Little. I want to listen to the rain.