Devon Miller-Duggan Survives Hurricane Irene

I wish I hadn’t gone to to check on the business of keeping a window in your house cracked during a hurricane. It was one of the bits of wisdom I grew up with–I think most everybody who grew up on the east coast knew that rule. It turns out that it isn’t true–in fact it’s one of the worst things you can do. It increases the chances that your roof will blow off. I went to snopes because my daughter, an inveterate checker-of-facts, had emphatically dismissed this and several other bits of receive, I checked and it turns out that not only should you not leave a window cracked, but taping your windows doesn’t do squat, and plywood is not actually a very good covering for windows since you don’t anchor it into the frame of the building, as is the case with proper storm shutters. Furthermore, snopes acquainted me with the very uncomfortable fact that hurricane winds can drive a 2×4 through a concrete block wall. So while, it was good to know we needed to shut all our windows, I ended up spending a lot of time taking possible projectiles out of my yard, perhaps to an excessive degree. None of which would have mattered if the tornadoes that we were warned about had materialized. One did form and touch down ruinously in the southern half of the state. So maybe it wasn’t entirely irrational that I stayed up all night watching local hurricane coverage until the tornado watch was over at 5 a.m., holding my breath and waiting to lose power (we were luckyluckylucky).

But I didn’t worry like this when I was younger. Once when my husband and I were living for the summer in the ground floor of my father’s oceanfront apartment building along with our three-year old daughter (the checker-of-facts–she was a skeptic even then, though the skepticism mostly manifested itself in questioning parental authority). A hurricane was coming up the coast and, though it wasn’t supposed to actually hit as far north as Delaware, we were supposed to get some big surf and big winds. We did. The winds actually hit 70 mph in gusts (chair rental sheds rolled down the beach) and the surf was very heavy. The authorities called a voluntary evacuation. We didn’t go. When my father showed up and asked somewhat frustratedly why we hadn’t gone, I explained that the building had survived the infamous ‘62 Nor’easter (the local standard for scary storms). He said that yes, indeed, the beachfront building had survived the ‘62 storm, but that it had been on the second block (Dewey Beach is now a 2-block wide strip of land between the Atlantic and Rehoboth Bay–I hadn’t known until then that it had been 3 blocks wide when I was little). We left.

I like weather. And I used to be reckless–rejoicing every August in swimming in hurricane-season surf off of the beaches of Rehoboth and Dewey, which are already fairly treacherous swimming–prone to nasty undertow and rip-tides. I used to be a strong, confident swimmer and had grown up swimming from Delaware beaches, and I suppose that heavy-surf-swimming was my version of an extreme sport. I was still doing it as recently as 12 years ago–swimming in storm seas off of the National Seashore on Cape Cod. And I still love to walk in my neighborhood without an umbrella in a heavy (lightning-free) rainstorm. And I love snow. And wind.

But something has shifted. I don’t think it’s age so much as the past 10 years’ sort of nasty confrontations with the fragility of things–my husband has survived a catastrophic staph infection and a really scary bout with feral appendicitis, and I’ve had 3 major surgeries (2 knee replacements and one I won’t go into here). And we’ve had a grandchild. Somehow the combination of facing the breakdown of our bodies and watching the bloodline continue in the tiny-yet-immense person of our grandson Oliver (aka ShortRound, The Schmuffin, The Tribble) has either made the world feel fragile to me or made me care about its fragility more than I used to. Or maybe I just need to adjust my meds… In any event, something has turned me into a worrywort. I don’t like it.

But no one we know sustained any serious damage (August had seen a record rainfall and we live in a neighborhood full of old trees, so there was real worry). Mostly the whole of the middle Atlantic suffered much less damage than we worried about. or prepared for (for which we are grateful–and my house is now properly supplied with re-chargeable flashlights). And I did make close to 200 pairs of earrings for the annual church bazaar while I was up all night guarding my family from tornadoes. But I also learned that tornadoes often form in the northeast quadrants of hurricanes and that with ocean temps of 80 degrees off much of the Atlantic coast, Irene may not be our last windy visitor for 2011. And I haven’t even mentioned the 5.9 earthquake from last week.