Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Then and Now

While I was looking for an article via Google, I stumbled across a web site I made back in 1999 when I was living off St. Thomas in False Entrance, aboard the good ship Elinor Louise. This was titled Summer in Paradox...Deja Voo Doo. I thought I'd let my old self speak for today as we end September with great thanks for such quiet so far...(shhhhh).

Summer isn't called summer here. It's called Hurricane season, off season, the dead season, and not uncoincidentally, rock fever season. This is not like tick fever, but can feel almost as deadly.

Here we live from year to year under the stories of past hurricanes. For years, hurricanes didn't touch the islands, but that no longer matters. In fact, having weathered a hurricane is an unspoken sort of badge of really living here. Not many will come right out and say it, but there are enough who believe it. I am not among them. But when you look around St. Croix and St. Thomas, it isn't difficult to understand. Buildings still in ruins, old flapping Fema tarps the only roof some still have, leaking buildings crumbling slowly, until the next storm finishes them off for good.

If you sit in the marina bars long enough, you will hear stories of so and so, or a particular boat, as if they had just pulled in or just pulled off their exploit yesterday. But when you ask, "Who is that?" or "Where is that boat?" the bar goes quiet and someone shrugs and says, Hugo, or Marilyn, and that is how you know that this person, this boat, disappeared, or washed ashore, no longer living. Then the coversation picks up again, a little faster, a little funnier stories. Because, it could have been them. It could be you. It is another way of people leaving here.

So you listen. Where is the best hurricane hole for a boat? If you live on land, how secure is your place, and if not, and you can't afford to make it that way (and despite federal money, there is never enough, and many homes are not secure), where will you go when the radio and television tell you to go to a place of safety. You gauge the depth of your keel, you have paid to have a particular mooring spot, you deal with a marina, hoping it won't price gouge you to pull your boat out. You buy plywood for your windows, if you can, or make sure your shutters close tightly. And mentally calculate how long it takes to put away, stow away, throw out anything that can fly, pierce, crash into, or otherwise destroy or be destroyed that is part of your life outside, part of the island way of having lots of things outside. You listen to people who sail to Venezuela, or Grenada, or Trinidad every summer, where hurricanes don't bite with the same power or so they hope. You listen to plans to go to the mainland for the season. And you listen some more to those who will stay and hope all the predictions are wrong, that this won't be the worst season on record for named hurricanes. And you know...it's so hot. They may be right, they may be wrong. We'll see.

You can't drive 200 miles here to get away from Nature's threats. There isn't anyplace close that will be safer. And if the worst happens, all efforts to bring back sanity must come over the water, the very water that has churned and turned island life upside down. People get strange about this time, especially if they have survived a bad storm. But as a good friend of mine says, all there is to do is get ready, have good food around and plenty to drink and a good scrabble board.

The off season part is that many fewer tourists are here in summer. There are a lot of reasons, the biggest being that it is summer in the states as well, right alongside the hurricane factor. Though I know of two couples in particular who were here on holiday during hurricanes and moved down a few months later., lock stock and barrel. Literally. But that is another story. Off season means the streets can be empty, the bars are full of locals, and if you can afford to leave for a holiday home, you go now. Because rock fever sets in hard in these months. The islands seems smaller, people are bitchier, the pace, already slow, crawls. Businesses get weird hours; when you go to dinner, the place is closed, the store that is the only store that might have what you want or need has gone to three days a week or the shelves are just not stocked as regularly, because the business owner can't afford it. You sigh, take a deep breath and start looking at catalogs, or call relatives and friends in the states for minor items. They comply and ask how you can stand it. You drone on again about it being the price to live in the Caribbean and wish you had a Home Depot. Just for an hour or so.

In the meantime, we watch the internet weather channels, make plans, hope for the best. And count the days. June has an official holiday here; a day of prayer where people go to church and pray for the islands to be spared. At the end of the season is Hurricane Thanksgiving Day, for if we have been spared, or if we haven't, but are still around to talk about it. It seems a long time in between those two days. Stay tuned.

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