Storm Salvage

The smell of ozone lingers in the air.

I sip my cup of coffee from the ancient wooden gliding chair on the screened-in porch, and look out at the water. The rolling cliffs leading down to the beach below are blanketed with grape vines; the light undersides of their leaves are exposed.

The weather stick – a novelty gift item my great grandfather had picked up in a Vermont country store – nailed to the wall next to me, pointed straight down.

These were the three surest signs of an impending storm I had; my family put more credence in them than any meteorologist. Our maritime radio, alongside a pair of high-powered binoculars, sits on the arm of the glider, within reach. The radio is on. Amid the static I hear bits of emergency broadcasts.

“Wind speed up to seven-tee-three knots. Seas ten to fifteen feet. Chance of showers, and thunn-der storms,” the robotic voice of the emergency broadcast warns.

I finish my coffee and step across the warped porch floor boards, damaged from years of exposure to the ocean just down the cliff. About a mile out on the water, I can see a wall of rain moving in. At the rain line, the water abruptly changes from glassy calm, to choppy and dark.

The leaves rustle, and I feel the first gusts of wind from the incoming storm make landfall. I know I don’t have long to prepare for the gale-force storm that’s about to hit.

I quickly zip up my light-weight rain jacket and matching pants, then grab the radio. I drape the binoculars around my neck, and take a long length of rope hanging from a fish scale next to the porch door, then head down to the beach.

The wind pelts the bluff with sand as I arrive at the top of the tall wooden bulkhead, so I shield my face with my hands. I stand at the edge of the wall and look down. Normally there’s about a ten foot drop to the beach, followed by a stretch of sand that slopes down to the ocean. But with the flood tide, the beach has all but disappeared, and the water is rising against the aged boards. Our stairs down to the beach have been carried up in preparation for the storm.

I take the length of rope and tie a quick clove-hitch around a tall post we use for hoisting up the rowboat. With the other end, I make a bowline around my waist. My rule for salvage is simple: stay on the line. The coming waves could easily crash over the bulkhead and sweep me out to sea if I’m careless.

But the risk is worth the thrill. In the past, I’ve found rowboats, an inflatable trampoline, even a small motor boat which I begrudgingly returned to its owner.

The sound of rain pelting the water shakes me from my reminiscing. I look up and watch, as the storm line dashes across the water and slams the beach. Chop springs up on the water, and a downpour beads off my Marmot rain shell.

The expanse of cottages clinging to the cliffsides quickly dissapears in a shroud of mist. All I can see is the edge of the bulkhead, and the swirling water below.

There is a thunderous crash as a huge wave broadsides the wall, spraying foam and mist. As the raindrops roll down my face I look up and down the beach, knowing not a soul is out doors for miles around.

But the lure of unknown keeps bringing me back to the edge – here.

A.H.W.

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