Wan­ton weather ar­ro­gance


With hind­sight, I never should have done it, but two weeks ago I wrote in a col­umn: “The weather this fall has been en­tirely ab­nor­mal. Au­gust stretched gen­tly into Septem­ber and then came Igor. On the north­east coast, we haven’t seen any weather worth talk­ing about since. It’s as though Igor tired out the gi­ant lungs that in­hale and ex­hale for the uni­verse. There was noth­ing more to give.

“There has been less rain, more sun and higher tem­per­a­tures than nor­mal. Call-in ra­dio shows have made the strange­ness of the cli­mate a topic, urg­ing the pub­lic to call in and talk about it.”

Well, I shouldn’t have talked or writ­ten about it. I was guilty of hubris, an an­cient Greek word mean­ing “wan­ton ar­ro­gance aris­ing from over­bear­ing pride or pas­sion.” Guilty as charged, your hon­our. The over­bear­ing pride was the gid­di­ness of fear re­lieved.

Post-Igor, I jumped to the con­clu­sion that I had seen as bad as it could get. Wrong. Wan­ton ar­ro­gance for sure.

It never would have hap­pened if I had got the right mes­sage all the thou­sands of times I looked at the Gren­fell hooked mat that hung on the wall of my child­hood home. The mat is a map. It de­picts the is­land of New­found­land and part of South­ern Labrador. The deep blue of the sea is dot­ted with steam­ers and schooners and even a spout­ing whale. The land is brown with a wide black border me­an­der­ing in and out of all the in­lets along the coast­lines.

The de­tail whose im­por­tance I truly failed to grasp is in the up­per right hand corner of the mat, about half way to Green­land ac­cord­ing to the scale. Out of a gray and white cloud a head emerges, a car­toon-like face framed by a crown of mussed black hair. It is the wind. Mr. N.E. Wind.

His eye­brows are an­gled down­ward to­ward the nose, ei­ther in anger or ef­fort, or both. His cheeks are swelled to ex­pel a gust of wind in a south­west­erly di­rec­tion to­ward the north­east coast and the wide open mouth of Bon­av­ista Bay.

Lit­tle swirling white lines emerg­ing from Mr. Wind’s mouth in­di­cate ex­haled air. Trou­ble is the wind gust is no big­ger in size than the puff of the spout­ing whale nearby. It doesn’t seem the least bit dan­ger­ous. False ad­ver­tis­ing, I call it.

Noth­ing at all like what hap­pened on Christ­mas eve. I would have been bet­ter pre­pared had I paid less at­ten­tion to my child­hood me­mory of the mat, and more to the huge white swirl on the TV weather fore­cast. The vast spin­ning oval with the crim­son “L” at its cen­tre dis­ap­peared off the right hand side of the screen.

The weath­er­man said it was not a deep low pres­sure area, but an enor­mous one, stretch­ing far out into the At­lantic, and it wasn’t mov­ing. The winds it was gen­er­at­ing weren’t mon­strous but they were steady and unre- lent­ing. And they blew in the same di­rec­tion for over a week.

That meant the wa­ter was be­ing sucked out of the midAt­lantic and heaped up in a pile, pushed, as if by a gi­ant, in­vis­i­ble snow­plow, di­rectly at the north­east coast of the is­land.

Just three short days af­ter the high­est wa­ter of the full moon springes, it ar­rived on the morn­ing be­fore Christ­mas. Three tall waves, very closely spaced, fun­nelled into Bon­av­ista Bay and col­lided with the East­port Penin­sula, Sal­vage at its tip, stretch­ing east­ward to meet them.

We were out of town when the waves hit be­tween nine and ten in the morn­ing but ar­rived home about an hour af­ter the event. The roads around the har­bour were lit­tered with flot­sam. Wharves were de­stroyed in Bishop’s Har­bour and in the main har­bour of Sal­vage.

One store, with wharf and all gone, was con­verted to masses of float­ing kin­dling. We had to wait for a break in the 20-foot waves gush­ing over the sea wall to make a dash across the isth­mus to our house. We weaved down the road among dozens of rocks as big as a five-year-old’s head, hurled over the break­wa­ter by the mas­sive force of the sea.

A 20-foot sec­tion of our wharf was washed away. The pa­tio we had paved with Bur­goyne’s Cove slate was torn up en­tirely. Half the tan­dem load of 50-pound rocks we used to re­in­force the beach next to our house was washed away. The waves pounded hard enough against the base­ment door to bend it, al­low­ing a wash of mud and wa­ter to en­ter, cov­er­ing the floor within.

Our her­itage out­house on the point was lifted into the air, wharf crib­bing, walk­way and all, and was float­ing in the cove by the fish plant when we got home.

I can let you in on a New Year’s res­o­lu­tion, though. I may talk, and even write about weather in the fu­ture, but I prom­ise never to take it for granted in 2011, or ever again.

That would be wan­ton ar­ro­gance. Hubris.

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