Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 22:

Yesterday I sat on the front steps watching a thunderstorm with big lightning strikes move toward us from the northwest. When I was a kid at the Jersey shore we used to do that, stand in the door onto the upstairs deck attached to our little cottage and watch the line storms come in from the west. The air would be disturbed, but not blowing hard; then you'd see the wall of rain coming across the water, and right after that the wind would hit, huge gusts of cool air that would lift boats off their racks if they weren't tied down, the wind was so strong, and then a great tropical deluge that would last maybe fifteen or twenty minutes; then it was over. We lived right next door to the harbormaster, old Captain Brown, and my brother and I worked for him, Charles more seriously than I (I was under ten; Charles was three and a half years older), and sometimes we had to row out and tow some of the lighter, more vulnerable sailboats to shore and beach them, so they wouldn't blow over at anchor. Once Capt. Brown woke us up at two in the morning to row out in the darkness, lightning illuminating the sky to the west, and rescue the boats. That my mother let us do that still amazes me, and delights me. Ever after I have loved storms.

We used to sail everywhere. How many times, in my little Barnegat Bay sneakbox, which was maybe twelve feet long, did I sail to the mainland, four miles away, and up one of the creeks that flowed out of the pines and the marshes, the water tanned as brown as a wood floor. I did it all alone, without supervision, when I was eleven and twelve years old. My mother would watch the sail from the deck, but often I was out of sight, and she was a nervous person. But she seemed to understand, this is what kids have to do, and should be allowed to do, with all the risks. In most places, at low tide, you could stand up in that big bay if you were in the water. The bottom was all eel grass and bay muck, and we clammed in it. When he was a little older Charles made quite a bit of money clamming, up to $20 a day, which was substantial in the late 1940s. I was much dreamier, not interested in making money; I read a lot, played alone a lot, and sailed. I have three little sterling silver sailing cups I won as a kid.

Sounds idyllic, and it was. Now I work as much as I physically and mentally can and haven't sailed in many years. But I still love storms. A few years ago we drove down to Long Wharf here in Sag Harbor to watch a line storm come across the water, and it was the same thing, the air a kind of shuffle of little breezes before it hit us, then the wall of rain, lightning everywhere and the great peals of thunder overhead, the wind gusts rocking our little light car back and forth. I was elated. We saw some people caught in a small boat in the harbor try to ride it out, then capsize; somebody in a power boat went out and got them. It's a mistake to grow up completely.