In the warm tropical late summer sun, she lay resting, just off the Ivory Coast. It was hot and she grew tired of it, so she rose, took a deep draft of tropical air and fanned herself. She cried and her tears brought panic. She started to spin, to cool herself, but the effort made her warmer still. She wept and spun faster. She lost all sense of direction, spinning, dizzy. She tried to remain in place, but drifted unsteadily north as the world moved east beneath her. They named her Edna.
On the coast of Massachusetts, a young woman, not yet twenty, was pregnant with her second child. She feared that she would bear another thirty children before her change of life. Her labor began with the drop in barometric pressure. On the trip to the hospital, they dodged the fallen trees. Rain did not fall - it came at them sideways. The child was born in the hallway of the maternity ward, safe from glass. The doctors used a flashlight. Edna found an open window, blew out a door, and doused the naked boy.
Four years passed before Donna rose up and pirouetted into the North Atlantic. She was not as angry as had been Edna. The meteorologists were sure she would exhaust herself mid-ocean, but instead, in a stunning feint, she sprinted north with the warm Gulf Stream, slowed to gather strength, and tiptoed into Maine.
The boy was there. His father had taken a new job and moved the family. A neighbor reported enormous waves at the South Portland headlight, though the man on the radio said the storm had gone off to sea. Mother protested, but father took the boy. As they approached the headland, Donna met them and danced with the car, drummed the windows with rain and rapped the sheet metal with hail. At the headlight, father and boy each donned a yellow slicker and rubber boots. Father held the excited boy as Donna whipped the ocean into a white froth that skipped from crest to crest and piled up on shore like snow. Her enormous waves drove the sea sixty feet up onto the rocks. Neither father’s nor boy’s loudest screams could penetrate the cacophony.
The family was now five. Mother had just given birth to a joyful third child. (She didn't yet know that this would be her last.) That summer, father took a job tutoring the wealthy children of Cape Cod at the Day School in Brewster. The family rented an old cottage in Truro. On weekends, father worked as a bartender at The Moors in Provincetown and would take the boy with him. While father poured drinks and lit cigarettes, the boy would go to the pier to swim and dive for loose change thrown by the ferryboat passengers from Boston who arrived twice a day. He added the money to father’s tips, their secret, as this diving was not something mother would appreciate.
Fitful Gerda finally turned and rose up from Mauritius. She was powerful, but skittish and shy and never came ashore. She did, however, stir up the Massachusetts Bay, and the ferryboat was forced to remain in port. Gerda’s rolling surf scared away the younger, local boys, so the boy had few competitors that afternoon along the pier. Both father and boy enjoyed their most profitable day of the summer. That was Gerda’s gift.
Father, with the phone company now, worked in Boston commuting by train from Cape Ann. The boy grew into a young man and took a summer job as a lifeguard. The Cape Ann sea was generally very cold and this kept people from actually swimming, which made his job quite easy. The young man was really more a dispenser of band aids than a saver of lives. Summer nearly passed uneventfully when Candice flirted with the Caribbean, lurched north and came rumbling up the eastern seaboard. She was small, but fierce and furious, so furious that they closed the beaches and sent the people and lifeguards away. The audacious young man and four of his fellows drove to Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester to meet and challenge hurricane Candice full on. Good Harbor had been abandoned except for some intrepid surfers near the point. The water was warm as Candice had pushed the Gulf Stream 1500 miles northwest. The young men dove into the waves and embraced her, riding and emerging from the waves waist up in advance of the heavy surf. Driving rains came and the gale grew stronger. Candice drove the sea to the highest water mark as the tide turned, causing huge rooster-tails to spray across the length of the beach. In an instant, the waves lost form and grew into pyramids. The sea and air converged as both became one churning mix of rain, spray, foam, wind and wave. Candice tossed the young men and repeatedly ground them into the sandy sea floor. Police on shore whistled, but their entreaties were no match for the wind. One by one the young men struggled ashore, where they laughed and joked, relishing their defiance. The police shook their heads, but let them be.
A few years passed and the young man married. The new couple had been warned that Bermuda was perhaps a bad choice for a honeymoon in late summer, but the weatherman insisted that tropical storm Emily was moving doggedly west and unless she abruptly changed course, an unlikely event in his mind, she was only a threat to the Lesser Antilles. The young couple was relieved. Emily was well south of Bermuda and she was only a tropical storm. On the fourth day, with a bottle of wine and a sumptuous box lunch of black forest ham, Edam cheese, croissants and fruit, they set off on a motor scooter to Elbow Beach, a short, white sand beach that bent inward tracing the dark, imposing, lava-rock shore. There they met a determined wind along with an occasional gust that might be considered a gale. The surf was six feet and it broke with surprising consistency. The young wife was delighted at the spectacle of her new, athletic husband, now emerging wholly out of the water when riding the waves, waving at her with both hands, blowing her kisses. Neither she nor the husband noticed that their fellow beachgoers had fled, that the lifeguard had left his post and that the red gale flag had been raised at the entrance to the beach.
The young husband did notice however, that the sound of the wind had risen three pitches, from groan to howl to screech, whipping the tips of the breaking waves into foam. To catch his rides, he now had to swim ever further out and soon he found himself in deep water some one hundred yards from shore. His young wife was up now and waving, calling him in. Swell after swell pulled him back into its vortex and then rolled him like flotsam. He would float briefly in a trough, catch his breath and a new wave would threaten to pound him into the grit. He tried to relax – it would do no good to panic – but soon realized that he had been pulled another fifty yards out to sea. He was also drifting north at an alarming rate. If he didn't find a seam in the undercurrent soon, he’d be pulled beyond the beach and past a rocky knob ahead. He decided not to fight the currents but swam with them, edging toward shore. He felt a break in the undertow and quickly caught a mighty wave that he rode nearly one hundred yards toward the beach. When the ride ended, he felt the sand beneath his feet and knew he was safe. He rode one more breaking wave and reached shore. His wife met him and they embraced. He showed no fear and she pretended to believe him. Later that day Emily drove into Bermuda full force. The young couple spent the remainder of their honeymoon in their hotel. Though it was unnecessary, Emily had further inspired their passion.
Gloria, much ballyhooed by the news channels, came, but the young couple’s home, near Boston, was well inland and Gloria was weak. Still, she split the hundred-year-old maple in front of their house and sent it careening off the roof and onto their car. Now a young father, the man fixed the roof and gutter himself, pounded out the dents in the car, and pocketed the insurance settlement.
He then took a job in Miami and the company expected him to start immediately. His wife, now pregnant with their second child, would stay behind to supervise the move. Mother and born and unborn daughters would fly to Miami in a week. The man would drive. Tropical storm Hugo was stubbornly intensifying just east of the Bahamas. In the morning, a hurricane warning was posted for the mid-Atlantic. She scolded him. She told him to wait, but he was stubborn and unafraid. She cried when he left.
Though the rain poured from the sky in New York City and the gale winds turned this precipitation into opaque sheets when he reached the outskirts of Philadelphia, the roads remained surprisingly free of any floods, accidents or tie-ups. He pressed on. He stopped and called his wife in the late afternoon from Virginia. There was a light rain falling. She informed him that they said the storm had broken up over New Jersey. Hugo no longer qualified as even a tropical depression. He told her that he was making good time and would press on. She told him once again that he was foolish and pretended to laugh. Her baby was kicking and she felt very alone.
As he drove through North Carolina, his was the lone car on the interstate. As he approached the South Carolina border, he started to see signs of Hugo. Billboard signs were twisted or down. Leaves and small branches littered the road. It grew dark – too dark, and he realized that the entire area had lost power. He spied an oasis of light ahead, pulled off the interstate and refilled his tank at a station powered by generator. He was very tired, but the nearby Holiday Inn’s rooms were reserved for police and utility workers. In the dim oasis light, he could see the real aftermath of Hugo. Trees lay fallen in great parallel swipes as if the woods had been trampled by a giant. Only instinct and luck directed him to the interstate, as all the road signs were blown away.
He drove through South Carolina, darkness blanketing the destruction around him. He drove past great caravans of Bell South and Southern Power utility trucks. Well past Atlanta, after midnight, he stopped at a Red Roof Inn. He rose early, called his wife, stopped at a Waffle House for coffee and a sausage biscuit and resumed his trip. Hugo was not done with him yet. On the long straight stretch down the center of Florida, Hugo left bands of moisture wafting in the heat. Great unrelenting torrents dropped from the clouds and turned highway into river. The man had to stop and wait for the rain to subside and for the water to clear from the road before he could continue his journey. With those downpours, Hugo washed the greasy remains of tens of thousands of love-bugs, their copulation ended by windshield and grill, from his vehicle.
The family settled in sultry Miami. Off the coast of Senegal, a large tropical depression began slowly rotating, inhaling hot Sahara air, drinking equatorial moisture, sweeping away the doldrums, gaining strength. As the earth turned, the storm marched directly west, using the turn of the earth like an enormous slingshot to consolidate its strength and gain momentum. By the time the storm reached the Caribbean, it had formed a tight cyclone, small in girth but packing amazing strength. Everyone in Miami watched this compact storm. It looked like Andrew would make a direct landfall on Brickell Avenue. People emptied the grocery stores of food and supplies and boarded up windows. They braced themselves. Andrew backtracked and, instead of Miami, struck south.
The man, his wife, their four- and one-year-old daughters huddled together in the small laundry room in the center of their house. They listened to the incredible pitch of the storm, the howl of a million beasts, while debris crashed randomly, ominously against the structure. After one very large bang, despite his wife’s protests, the man left the laundry to inspect. Most windows were broken and rain was being driven into their home through gaps in the storm shutters. The front door, made of sturdy spruce, was bowed with the force of the wind. A line of water, as if shot from a hose, streamed from the keyhole. He returned to his family.
Their concrete-block home fared well compared to those of their neighbors. Still, the storm’s fury pushed his wife beyond her limits and she promptly announced that she was moving back to New England and taking the children with her. He could come or stay -- his choice. She remained for two more weeks, just long enough to salvage what she could of their belongings. He stayed behind, collected the insurance money, and repaired the house. Neighbors fled north to Broward and Palm Beach counties even though the risk of a hurricane in those counties was statistically identical to the risk in Miami-Dade. The move made them feel safe. He found a tenant for the house, a local contractor and his family. He was soon living with his in-laws in Connecticut with his wife and children.
Four years passed and there were hints of storms – one downed the old pear tree in the in-laws’ back yard and still another dropped a record amount of snow. The husband and wife both worked and saved and sold their house in Florida. A good job opportunity arose in San Francisco, but she vetoed the move -- earthquakes. A better job arose in Norfolk, Virginia, but she vetoed the move -- storms. Finally, a job was offered in Phoenix. It was hot there but there were no storms, except for the occasional thunderstorm. She said they would go. They would start over in Phoenix.
He traveled in his new job, to New York, Baltimore, Richmond, Sarasota, Palm Beach. These were prime storm locations. Once, a flight from New York to Richmond was cancelled because Hurricane Bonnie threatened the Virginia coast. He rented an SUV and drove through the storm. The following year, while in Baltimore, Hurricane Floyd threatened. They closed the plant he was visiting and he and the general manager drove to the Delaware coast to meet the storm. The water under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge churned. In the backwoods of Delaware, rain and wind tore at trees. Several time he buried the rented Chrysler's headlamps in the floodwaters but the car did not falter.
Much to his dismay and his wife's delight, a promotion curtails his travel. His oldest daughter is now off at college; his second daughter will soon be off as well. Before long the baby will take her leave and husband and wife will be alone. He sits in his chair and rereads Patrick O’Brian novels. He reminds himself that his ancestors were masters and captains and Navy men. In the meantime, he watches the weather channel to see if perhaps the monsoon is expected from Mexico. The desert, he knows, desiccates storms, eats their guts, pounds them into the dirt, sucks them into the stratosphere. He decides that when the baby leaves, so will he. The shrieking wind, the chaotic sea and the stinging rain, he needs these things. She can come or stay – her choice.