On the west coast we don’t get hurricanes. I grew up in Oregonwhere the weather is so predictable that it is almost boring. It rains. The rain begins in September and ends in June. It rains slow, drizzly drops that come and come and come, gradually and with persistence. The weather never bursts or surprises. It is not intense. The climate moves like a snail, like a banana slug, and I am pretty sure no one has ever been frightened by a banana slug. So, when I signed my contract to teach at The Island School last summer, it honestly never occurred to me that something like a hurricane could happen here. Though, yes I knew intellectually—factually—that hurricanes hit this part of the world, but I never really connected that fact to my own reality until, well, about a week ago. When I signed that contract, just before the Oregon spring rains were about to relent, just over a year ago, there were many things that I did not know, anticipate, or expect to be a part of my reality here. This place is full of firsts. I saw a ray here, in the ocean, for the first time. I saw a ray breech with its flat planed body expanding like a parachute, five feet above the water, twenty feet in front of me. I ate guava duff and conch fritters for the first time. I drove on the left hand side of the road for the first time. I took my first freestyle stroke, with my face in the water, instead of inefficiently, like a dog paddling. I sprained my ankle, worked for eighteen continuous hours, and made proud parents cry… and all for the first time.
And this week, I was shut up inside a storm-shuttered, candlelit home, stuffed with seven of my faculty friends for almost 24 continuous hours. I experienced my first ever hurricane. Another unanticipated first.
At times, the hurricane itself was just as boring as any winter day in Oregon. Locked inside, we looked around at each other thinking: what are we going to do next? Play scrabble again? Watch a movie (though our laptops are starting to run low on batteries…) Is it time to eat again? (I was lucky to be locked into the house of our new sustainable chef, Emery, who spent Hurricane Irene preparing incredibly delicious feasts for our boarded-up crew). Does anyone want to play backgammon? Or maybe, just sit and listen… which was always my favorite option.
The sound of a hurricane is like a freight train turning in circles on your roof like a 20 ton ballerina. It’s The Nutcracker, gone nuts. It is loud and intense and scary in a really exciting and kind of really terrifying way. Sometimes, the gusts, booms, and breaks become background noise; you can’t see what’s going on out there. It’s just a mess of loudness. The peak of the hurricane approached overnight as we slept, or tried to sleep. Between the stuffiness of the boarded up house, holding eight sweating and respirating bodies, and the intensity of trying to sleep under a theater of boxcar ballet, sleep was broken and forced. Then, as the eye of the hurricane passed it was QUIET. The loudest quiet imaginable. It was so quiet, it woke me up. Then, it reversed on itself. The winds picked up from the opposite direction and Irene almost unwinded herself. Then the winds and rains slowly faded, over hours and hours, just like they came. Peaking out of the backdoor, hours after the eye passed, I saw sheet metal siding bent sideways off of a nearby garage roof, debris everywhere of every kind, a child’s shoe next to the fallen clothesline in the backyard, palm trees down and coconuts dotting the ground in all directions. We stayed inside until it was safe to leave, waiting for the winds to die down to manageable gusts.
I immerged grateful to find that everyone was safe and okay. We weathered Irene as well as could be hoped for. Some homes in Deep Creek lost roofs; some only lost shingles. The Island School was peppered with shrubbery. We spent days preparing and stabilizing the campus for Irene’s arrival: everything from taking down the wind turbine to packing classrooms full of plants from the nursery. And, we have spent the days following tidying up after her departure.
Now we shift our attention to preparing for another storm, of sorts. Starting this Monday we will be receiving a flood of new students for our fall 2011 semester. My perspective shifts away from my own experience, looking forward to all of the firsts that await them here at school: from the first step they take off the plane at the Rocksound Airport to, to the first pull of a paddle on Kayak, to the last night they will spend here together this December. Let me be the first to tell you (F.11) there are some incredible, unexpected surprises in store for you here. So, we are ready for you F.11, and welcome to a community of individuals, ready and willing to work together, and prepared to handle the many firsts to come.