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.