Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: NE-E 20-25 knots, thunderstorms and rain all afternoon

We’re really beginning to feel like part of the community around here. I know that’s kind of ludicrous, considering we haven’t even been here a month yet, but we’ve already seen things that none of the sandpeople ever see. I asked Nappy last night if any of the people who live down by Pittstown ever come out to Barbara and Don’s for Friday night dinner, and he looked bewildered for a minute and then just shook his head no. We’ve been to Blackjack’s and Cop’s and the Hideout, and we’re falling into the traditional workmen’s Friday-night styrofoam-takeout meal, and I already feel surprised if I see someone when I’m driving around town or at the store that I haven’t met before. Although the answer we get when we ask people how many people live on Crooked Island varies, it generally hovers around 250. It doesn’t take very long to get to know by sight 250 people. Especially because a lot of people are visiting the States right now, in the off-season.

Today Nappy drove us all around the island as Dean approached from the east. I’ve been studying the clouds as the hurricane bands pass us by to the south, just to get an idea of what the approach of a hurricane looks like, and I’ve been rereading all of the hurricane sections in my navigation books, trying to find the most precise description of weather phenomena in areas surrounding a major hurricane. One of my books, the Pardeys’ Storm Tactics Handbook has Bowditch’s description of tropical cyclones, which is the best I’ve encountered. (Bowditch was a brilliant nineteenth-century navigator--his encyclopedic text is still the standard by which all others are judged. Unfortunately, we don’t have a copy on board as each Bowditch weighs about two tons.) He also clarified for me the difference between a cyclone, a hurricane, and a typhoon, something that’s been troubling me since my high-school years in the Philippines. All major storms are called cyclones, although they’re classified as tropical or extra-tropical depending on their location, and clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on whethere they’re in the northern or southern hemisphere. (That darn coriolus effect! I keep wanting to call it the Coriolanus effect. That’s what happens when a Shakespeare scholar turns mariner.) Hurricanes are specific to the North Atlantic summer, although how they get over to Hawaii I still have no idea. Typhoons are specific to the North Pacific, and everything else is just a regular cyclone. At least that’s what I’ve figured out so far. I’m sure you were all dying to hear that explanation.

So, the clouds. According to Bowditch, the clouds at the approach of a hurricane are long, thin stratus clouds made of ice crystals in the upper hemisphere, what are commonly called mares’ tails. They’re generally a sign of overall good weather, but the ones surrounding a hurricane are supposed to be particularly well defined, like carefully drawn feathers, and especially visible at dawn and dusk. If you watch them carefully for several days, they should point in the direction the hurricane is moving, and you can figure out whether or not you need to get out of its way without the benefit of a weather radio. I’ve been surveying them off of the deck, and although I have seen a lot of mares’ tails, as well as some other crazy clouds that I’ve never noticed before, I haven’t exactly been able to figure out where they’re radiating from. I’m hoping that that’s because the hurricane’s not headed our direction, as the forecast indicates.

Still, the bands of thunderstorms and squalls that have been making their way past us the last couple of days have been beautiful and ferocious. Nappy drove us today down to the Cove, the narrow strip of water that separates Acklins from Crooked Island, and as we stood there surveying the heaps of abandoned conch shells and lobster bodies, I watched a black line of rain sweep towards us across the water. First a few fat drops of water burst on our pants and shoes, and then, within seconds, we had to make a run for the truck. The storm swept over us while we drove down the rutted coast roads, past coves of beach and abandoned fishing huts set among mangroves. Nappy drove us down to Hamilton, a ghost town with a little church, where a community had been living up until several years ago. “Why’d they leave?” we asked Nappy. He said he didn’t know, they just left. The church still had its sign for services up, and down among the abandoned houses was one lit streetlight, set among the overgrown paths and empty wells.

On the way home, I was sitting, cramped, in the back of the truck while Karl and Nappy ran into a little corner store for juices, and I was watching the palm tree fronds wave back and forth in the wind before another squall. They’re aerodynamic, palm fronds, which is why they can grow so tall and survive the tropical wind, and each leaf wove back and forth in an intricate pattern, weaving the wind past. I was overcome, slowly, by a feeling of peace that I haven’t felt since I was a child, watching those palms in the wind. I knew the palms, I knew them, from a time before I had memory, from a time before I had language. “I’m home now,” I thought. “This is where I belong. I belong where palms shrug off wind. This is where I’m from.”

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was overcome, slowly, by a feeling of peace that I haven’t felt since I was a child, watching those palms in the wind. I knew the palms, I knew them, from a time before I had memory, from a time before I had language. “I’m home now,” I thought. “This is where I belong. I belong where palms shrug off wind. This is where I’m from.”

Wow, I really like this paragraph. It reminds me of the time you came out of the bedroom crying, saying that you had drampt a bad dream. "I drempt that we had to move back to America."

The unexpected results of moving a family overseas.

Dad

Melissa said...

Dad,
Glad to see that you're reading... I thought about the same dream when I wrote this. I've been wanting to tell that story for a while. My problem is that Karl feels the same way you do about Michigan deciduous and evergreens... I may be forever torn between two places.

Love,
Melissa