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Chesapeake Bay, Not Summer

I worked for the Baltimore News-American at the time of the blizzard of '66. I had a blue-and-white 4-place airplane. The News-American asked me to take a photographer up for pictures. We took off the back door. He sat back there, hanging way out to get pictures. The bay was frozen. Eastern Shore communities were cut off from food, medicine, other necessities. My friend Hirsch Krieger, the man I was hurt with the winter of 1960, when we were on his Vespa and a drunk came down the steep, winding Ruxton hill and hit us. Now, Hirsch and I sat in front, gloved, not directly in the cold-as-hell blast. We kept checking with the photographer, who was operating a press camera bare-handed. The plane had a heater, about as aggressive as VW heaters in those days—(not). The photographer, older than us, was exhilarated, he kept assuring us he was fine, clicking away at snowbound farmhouses, stuck cars—almost all blemishes on the plain of white signified something amiss. Cold! When we landed, Hirsch and I laughed that our fingers were frozen into claws the shape of the steering wheels of the plane. Meanwhile, the photographer was in a hot rush to get back to the paper and develop his pictures. He shoulda been dead. I was living north of the city then, and the wind blew the snow into drifts along the highway like the ones you see in the Rockies and the Sierra, snow cliffs shoved and carved at the edges of highways.

Chesapeake Bay

The worst hit Ocean City took in my life was in winter. It was a nor'easter, winds of 50, 60, maybe 70. They kept blowing for the better part of a week, holding the Chincoteague-Assateague waters in the bays with big waves in the inlets and wind pushing the water away from the natural exits, and levels rose until the waves washed over the beach and boardwalk, all the way to the bay. I was in the airplane again. Some of the new, big hotels had no east-facing side, them having collapsed from wave action. Many of the wooden buildings I'd seen all my life were floated off their piers and cinderblocks, moved blocks away. The streets were covered with sand and water. There was a lot of destruction, but it looked more like natural vandalism, stuff moved around and dumped over. By the next summer, houses had been dragged back to their correct street numbers and most of the mess was cleaned up, which was remarkable, given how disordered everything was after the storm.

Linda and I visited OC in winter, once. I heard Bocaccio-type stories of what it was like there among the locals in winter. They lived up to it. We went to a hotel basement bar (like a bunker protected from the winter) where many of the faces were familiar and many women were in bikinis and everybody was rollicking down. The stories were true.

Here, now, El Nino has dumped rain until the ground sinks and water runs into your shoes. We're on a hill, above tsunamis and floods. All the same, every slight depression is a pond. The state's depleted reservoirs are filling. They still have a long way to go. I'm betting they'll make it. That's one of the things I like about weather (though I'm tired of the rain) is how it shrinks mankind to a more modest size. Storms are bigger than us. Droughts are. Instead of going up the hill with the dog tonight, I'll take him to the headlands. There's a full moon. Maybe it's out. There's a lull. Even if there's cloud cover, a full moon makes enough light that we won't fall off. I want to see. They've been warning about big waves. Big waves here are a show. Mendocino Bay's a dent in the coastline, but it lets you stand high & dry and watch mountains roll by, crash and disappear. There are seastacks offshore. Waves hit them. A geyser of water might shoot 100 feet into the air. Noise like cannon. If there's a person standing out on the headlands, they look black and tiny as pissants, standing there when an upside-down waterfall happens. The spectacle defies gravity. The water blasts up and seems to pause & hold as it changes direction from up to down. And the waves get sharp and pointy. At the crests, spindrift detaches and blows back in the direction the wave comes from, this graceful, dangerous-looking scimitar of white water. I love it. My complaints, my most serious, death-dealing complaints shrink and shrink before this production. The world cares nothing, not a jot, for my troubles.

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