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.

We’ve Been Hit!

We left our little vacation week for 26 short hours and came back to find our little rowboat gone. “Stolen!” we automatically thought. When we were in our 20s our car got stolen four times. Then ten years later, our whole house got stolen practically, all those wedding gifts my God what a mess. So we just assumed the boat got boosted – until our nice neighbor told us there’d been a sudden microburst kind of a thing the night we were gone with winds clocked at 70 mph just down the road. More likely those winds just picked her our little boat and headed across the cove with her. Also, no offense, she all but said, but who’d take her?

It’s true. She’s just a little cork of a thing made of recycled Pepsi cans or whatever  they use these days, a thing so light oars hardly work which is why she also has a little trolling engine: to give her some heft. This nice neighbor even toured the cove herself  on her jet-ski, to see if she was caught in the underbrush somewhere out there. We went out ourselves in a canoe a few hours later. I was l but calling her name ‘til I remembered I had never thought to name her. What kind of boat people would we ever be? And would I do without her and her sweet little motor like a dragonfly perched on the back?

Then, just when we got back from our search, here was word from Marine Patrol. A nice neighbor on the other side of  the cove saw the little thing bumping against the boat-ramp on the beach near his house. He pulled it to his own place, garaged the motor and the next morning when we went over to meet him, offered to run it back to our place on his truck.

We didn’t need that though. Old Dave and I we just lifted her onto the top of my trusty little car and drove her home, leaving me to say two things here:

  • God bless good all neighbors, and
  • It’s Mother Nature who’s the most light-fingered one of all, known to toss bigger crafts than ours around, that’s for sure. 



I let my lawn almost die this summer. Or David did, I’ll blame him. His position: lawns are meant to be brown in summer. “But this brown?” I say to him. We have an 1860s loveseat that, when I went to reupholster it, turned out to be stuffed with barn straw. That’s how our grass looks: like straw from the 1860s – heck, like straw from the cradle of the Baby Jesus. Even our new Japanese Dogwood which the nursery said was as tough as shoe leather started to wilt this summer.

“Water it, fool!” they told me when I called for advice, and so I did and began watering the grass too, a project that shot riot-hose blasts of water right INTO my nasal passages every time I went to move the sprinklers. It’s those snaky hoses the sprinklers are attached to, which are not inanimate at all but twist and squirm and fight you like a wildcat – all before spraying you square in the face, like that lion did to Aunt Eleanor at the zoo that time.

The result of all this irrigating? Crabgrass, which I am simply thrilled about but which David hates. “It’s the one thing I can’t stand,” he said the other day, though we wouldn’t HAVE crabgrass if he wasn’t in the complete thrall of our eco-Nazi daughter Carrie who is Against All Chemicals and keeps us from laying down any of that nice Agent Orange that they sell. Because I say What’s wrong with crabgrass? It’s tough, it’s nice and  green, and I happen to KNOW that Texans pay serious money to have their lawns seeded with something exactly like it.

It’s a puzzler. And another way of saying that a column on this same subject (only without the jokes and the lion pee) is up on my “This Week’s Column” page –  until Labor Day weekend, anyway. After that it can be found orbiting the deep space of the Internet at one of any of 50 or 60 places like this one, now and forever Per Omnia Saecula Saeculorum.


Here are the streets of Winchester today. Just kidding ha ha. This really is Venice but Winchester is hot on Venice’s heels with the waters rising and rising, hiding entirely the eyebrow-shaped arch of the bridge by the Post Office, coursing fast toward our Upper Mystic Lake and on out to the insatiable ocean.

When the floods of two weeks ago receded, they left a sorry sight: a thousand plastic bag parts clinging to tree branches even ten and twelve feet off the ground. The improvised neighborhoods outside Tijuana are strewn with this same harvest. So are many barren hillsides in Israel where Palestinian people have set up their woefully inadequate tents and lean-tos. If extra-terrestrials touched down for a quick tour of the planet they’d report us as a strange and warlike people drowning in our own waste.

We’re spoiled of course as Americans. When word went out last night that the people in certain communities should not flush their toilets for at least 12 hours they stood saucer-eyed reporting this fact to the TV reporters. We never think of what we leave behind; we’ve never really had to, with the services that have come to feel like ours by right.

I took the above picture just a month before Venice was once again flooded and in the days after saw an account of that most recent event in a British newspaper. In reporting the story, it described two American women, suitcases on their heads, trudging across St. Mark’s Square in knee-high water and – what else? – sobbing loudly.

Euthanizing the Weak?

Last week I wrote a column where I maybe came off like the Mother Teresa of house plants, like I’ve never thrown away a pot of sickly violets in my life. The truth is, my mate says he’s afraid to get sick around here for fear he too will get carted to the dump. So OK at one point in my life I did throw sick plants away, but it was years ago when I first started following the teachings of Thalassa Cruso, here pictured, who out and out recommended such measures: “Your gardenia will only disappoint past their bloomtime,” she’d say. “Treat the plant as cut flowers and toss it.”

So I did toss my gardenia plant, and other plants too. But now I can’t throw anything alive away. These days my sick houseplants come to what I call the ‘infirmary,’ which is any place in the house I walk by often, so I can see them and tend to them.

Last week all 30 plants came in from the porch for the winter. Two of the palms have spider mites and the gardenia plant, which by the way is is almost three years old and blossoms every spring is experiencing ‘leaf drop’ as it pines for the humid outdoors.  I’m keeping it in the bathroom where I see it five times a day. As for the palms, they’re right here in the kitchen until I can take soap and water to every last inch of each little frond. Who knows though? They make the place look pretty cool right? Maybe they’ll stay here til spring! Anyway here are the sick palms as they look today just waiting for me and some Thursday night TV! (just out of sight to the left) plant infirmary