A Real Pinwheel of a Storm

  • The shattered water made a misty din,
  • Great waves looked over others coming in,
  • And thought of doing something to the shore
  • That water never did to land before.

That’s Robert Frost, in” Once By the Pacific” when he saw Nature winding up to deliver a real punch.

I read where the word ‘hurricane’ was all but unknown in our part of the world before the storm in ’38 roared up the eastern seaboard and, in the space of an afternoon, killed over 700 people and injured twice that number. The Before and After pictures from that storm are stunning: a whole village of homes and beach pavilions in this shot, a community as it looked for a hundred years; and in this next shot, nothing, not one stone upon another.

Picture it yourself, your house collapsing under you, you and your family rushing to the roof and then the roof goes too and you’re launched open upon the waters like Huck Finn in his raft. Picture the 50-foot wall of water in 1938. People said they looked in the direction of the bay. What IS that huge thing? What’s that noise? they were all thinking.

And then it was upon them.

My mother and aunt were in the Berkshires with their sister-in-law and her three-month-old baby when it began roaring in their directions. Their immediate thought: get to Naughton’s Market fast for steaks and beers. Well they were young, barely out of their 20s. It’s what you think of at that time of life, how to make a party out of everything.

But boy did that storm do damage. They say that more than any other factor, the Hurricane of ’38 is responsible for the absolute wiping-out of what once made New England look so New Englandy: town commons graced with many examples of the American Elm tree, all shaped like so many wineglasses, like living fountains spouting cascades of green..

That hurricane started what Dutch Elm Disease finished. If you didn’t know about the two phenomena you could scratch your head a long time without figuring out just exactly why every street in America has an Elm Street when the elm tree itself is now so rare.

Let’s hope things don’t get that dire this time. Just in case they do I’m going outside to take a picture of our maple.