A formidable northeaster blew through earlier this week. I’m pretty sure it’s passed because the leaves are barely rustling and there’s enough sunlight to cast shadows on the road. But it was a big one.
When I went to bed (very) early Wednesday morning, the white lights on my modem/router were glowing. When I woke up, the digital clock on the shelf above my bed stared blankly back at me. The wind was howling, rain was pelting the skylights, and the electricity was out.
I padded across the apartment to the battery-powered travel clock next to my workspace: 6:49, which is about when I’ve been waking up as the dark closes in on daylight. Standard time (“fall back”) returns on November 7, and though the early dark is disconcerting, I love the earlier light. I wake with the light coming through the windows, and if I’m not awake by six, I feel as though I’ve lost half the day.
Tam got his breakfast, but I couldn’t brush my teeth or make my morning tea. No biggie. I pulled on my foul-weather gear, including my rain boots. They aren’t that great for long walks, but when Tam and I went out the night before, most of the paths were already underwater. Tam does not like getting his paws wet so he does his best to stay on the high ground, even when there isn’t any.
My deck chair and a folded-up chaise had blown across the door, but they weren’t hard to push out of the way. (In winter it doesn’t take much snow to block the door, whereupon I have to go out through the downstairs door, come around, and shovel myself out.) It was windy all right. The tall oaks were waving their arms dramatically, their leafy limbs like skirts swirling overhead. A few twigs and very small branches had fallen to the deck.
Out in the woods the damage was noticeable. Lots of small stuff down, a few big branches, and next to Old County Road in front of the school a humongous oak limb had come most of the way down, fortunately not in the road. Along the bike path and around Misty Meadows, the changes weren’t obvious — the state forest comes up to the edge of the bike path, but our route took us around the edge of the big field, where the long grass and wildflowers were holding up fine. The birches and other trees that had turned color already had lost most of their leaves, but the oaks, still green, were holding on to theirs.
The sky didn’t look like eight in the morning or whatever it was, that’s for sure, and the wind was wild. There was no one else on the bike path. That’s unusual these days. I did toss or drag a few branches off the path, so cyclists wouldn’t have to detour around them.
Once we re-crossed Old County onto Pine Hill Road, which is basically a wide path through the woods, the storm was in our faces again, windy and wet. The driveable part of the road, which serves two houses, one seasonal and one year-round, was in pretty good shape, though again I tossed or dragged off some debris that might have slowed people down.
Some people with four-wheel drive and strong suspensions brave the non-driveable part of Pine Hill, but many a non-Vineyarder and delivery driver navigating by GPS turns back, shocked to find that what Google Maps thinks is a through road really isn’t. The damage here was more obvious: one tree down whose branches Tam and I had to climb through; a huge limb broken off another, caught and half-suspended by a lower branch; and a few yards off the track trees no longer upright propped up by those still standing.
Back at home, the power was still out. The travel clock said 8:40. I had a strong hunch that my 9:00 Zoom meeting wasn’t going to happen, but there was no way to find out for sure. I couldn’t make tea or my morning oatmeal; I made do with a banana.
Gazing at all my inert devices, appliances, and lights, I thought I was looking at the relics of a lost civilization: How did these things work? What did people do with them? Or, more to the point, How did people do without them?
I could work on my laptop for a couple of hours before the battery ran out, but instead I fired up a fountain pen and started drafting a new post for The T-Shirt Chronicles.
The power came back on around 9:45. I was lucky: four of the five of us made it to our 1:30 Zoom meeting, but the fifth still didn’t have internet, and some people I know didn’t get power back till the next day, or they got power but no internet. Having lost power for almost 10 days during Hurricane Bob 30 years ago, I think Eversource and Comcast did a pretty good job this time around.
Speaking of 30 years ago — this storm arrived 30 years almost to the day after the No-Name Nor’easter of 1991. Some people refer to it as the Perfect Storm, after Sebastian Junger’s book of that title which was about that storm but came out six years later, by which time it was indelibly the No-Name Nor’easter in my memory and so it remains. As was noted at the time, for plenty of non-rhotic New Englanders it was the No-Name No’theaster, so that too.
The No-Name Nor’easter didn’t take out nearly as many trees as this week’s storm, but that was because Hurricane Bob had done such an astonishing job remaking the landscape only two and a half months earlier. The island hadn’t had a blow like that in decades. It took out everything that was ready to fall, and plenty that wasn’t; almost everything that survived Bob made it through the No-Name Nor’easter.
Which isn’t to say that No-Name didn’t leave a deep imprint in my memory, because it did. Earlier this week the Martha’s Vineyard Times asked for reminiscences about that storm, and I wrote this:
Do I remember the No-Name Nor’easter of 1991? You bet I do. The M.V. Times — whose Calendar editor I was at the time — was all set to move from our digs in the old Spaghetti Pot building behind Woodland Market to our newly refurbished quarters at Five Corners. But the waters rose, and rose, and rose, and pretty soon the newsroom-to-be was underwater. Turned out it had been a good idea to put the electrical outlets a foot above the floor, but the floor itself was ruined and had to be redone. Around the corner, Wintertide Coffeehouse, where I was a regular volunteer, had become a wading pool. Manager Tony Lombardi fished a Wintertide T-shirt out of the water, wrung it out, and gave it to me. The Spaghetti Pot building and Wintertide Coffeehouse are long gone, Tony passed in 2017, but I’ve still got the T-shirt — and the Times is still at Five Corners.