If you prepare for the worst and the worst doesn’t happen, does that mean your preparations were unnecessary? I don’t know. But that’s our Superstorm Sandy story.
When Hurricane Irene came through Rhode Island last year, the silver maple beside our driveway lost a major limb, and our power was out for days. We wrapped quilts and blankets around our freezer, and eventually dropped in a box of dry ice we bought from a welding supply company. We played Scrabble by candle light and drove to David’s office to plug in our lap tops and charge our phones.
This year, as Hurricane Sandy was churning up the Caribbean, we filled our bathtub, and stocked up on gallon containers of drinking water. We put away our porch furniture and harvested the last of our tomatoes. We bought canned fish and beans, and sturdy produce like apples and carrots. We brought out our boom box and flashlight and bought an extra box of candles. We pulled down the storm windows and plugged a leaky door frame with cellophane and rags. We did everything we could think of doing. And then we waited, braced for the worst.
Here at our house, the worst turned out to be not so bad. While our family and friends in New Jersey and New York lost power and tree limbs and worse, and flooding from the tidal surge forced neighbors just a few blocks away to evacuate, we lost one tile from our roof, and some leaves from our trees. Somebody’s take-out coffee cup blew into our yard. Our electricity blinked twice, just long enough to force us to reset our clocks.
The rain and wind were supposed to continue through today. But the sun is out and the breeze is gentle. I took a walk, to see how the tiny corner of the world beyond our yard had fared.
At Stillhouse Cove, the ducks and swans grazed as if nothing unusual had happened. Never mind the orange construction drum that bobbed in the water, the fire extinguisher and tiki torch that had washed up—wittily—onto the same rock. The shell of a horseshoe crab lay in the middle of the street. A saw horse and caution tape warned passersby away from someone’s broken fence. And all along the shore, an undulating swath of debris showed how high the tide had risen.
I started taking pictures, as I always do. And that’s when I really saw what the storm had left us.
Marsh reeds and plastic drinking straws and scraps of wood were laid out together in perfect waves. The shape of the line recalled the flow of the watery waves that sloshed up and left them there, and revealed the contours of the land. Depending on the force and direction of that final wave, the obstacles it met and the topography beneath it, the line widened or narrowed, hugged rocks, formed piles, or snaked over the grass. Within the line, organic and plastic matter commingled autumn leaves and cigarette box cellophane paired and positioned according to their shape and weight, and random happenstance.
Once I started looking, I could hardly tear myself away.
With schools closed and many offices shuttered, lots of families were out, doing the same. There was a quiet, holiday atmosphere—our gratitude for the unexpected day off, and for the fate the storm had spared us, tempered by our awareness of what so many other people are going through. Everyone was chatting, in the way people will—even strangers—when they have been through (or averted) a disaster together.
“How’d you do?”
“Not so bad.”
“Guess we lucked out.”
“Finding anything good?” one guy asked me as I brought my camera close to a blade of grass wrapped around a tampon applicator.
“I’m just enjoying the way everything got left,” I told him. “Look at how that line squiggles over the grass.”
“Uh-huh,” he said. “I should come back with my metal detector.”