As I write this item, the winds are raging, and the rains are pelting away at the house. Maggie, our Welsh corgi, is pacing the floors, concerned that times are not normal. I look out into the yard and see the stately willow oak that I planted in 1982, a specimen tree in every respect except one. I planted it too close to the house. Back then I took the position that it would be years until it matured. I was wrong in that assumption.
In that regard, I have not learned from similar mistakes made by my father, who frequently tended to plant trees in too close proximity to each other, also thinking he would have lots of time to handle the problems that ensued. In my case, today the willow oak is shedding all of its dead limbs, and some others as well. As a result, we shall have ample kindling for this coming winter’s wood stove.
Hurricane behavior is impossible to fathom. In 2003, shortly before the onset of Isabel, I had set a teacup and saucer on the porch. We subsequently left for a trip to Maine, arriving home as the storm was hitting. We lost two 126-year-old pecan trees which took the brunt of the gale force winds coming up our hill from the Chesapeake Bay, but fortunately, only one window pane was broken in the house.
The morning after Isabel had passed, I ventured out onto the porch, only to find the teacup and saucer exactly as I had left them two weeks earlier, with the yard and all of the vegetation in disarray. The storm had been able to disrupt the two ancient trees, bring their roots out of the ground, while not budging the simple teacup and saucer, which did not move a smidgen of an inch.
When I was growing up, older Northern Neck residents judged every storm in comparison with the Great Hurricane of 1933. At that time, hurricanes were not given names, thus it stood on its own as far as a category went. I listened to tales of people having left their homes in rowboats, and not returning for days with the water having no place to subside.
Two decades later, with the new practice of giving the storms female names, the Northern Neck standard became Hurricane Hazel that went straight up the Neck to Washington on October 15, 1954. Most of its damage occurred on the Potomac side, particularly at Colonial Beach where dozens of boats were destroyed in the marinas.
Cap’n H. C. Parker alone lost 20 of his own rowboats that he rented to customers at his marina, but he proudly announced that he had saved every boat that the owners had moored with him. He had built the wooden boats that he rented, an especially impressive feat given that, as a young man, he had lost all of the fingers on his right hand in a sawmill accident. By the time Hazel did her damage, he was in his 70s, and he did not attempt to make any more rowboats or skiffs.
He is remembered most for having founded with his wife Parker’s Crab Shore on the banks of Monroe Bay. There for three generations, his family served wonderful seafood until the restaurant was sold—and later demolished a few years ago.
In the lower Northern Neck, massive hurricanes tend to hit us about every couple of decades. Ironically, they often seem to come in sequence with the arrival of the 17-year locusts. If that omen has any validity, we should be awake for the coming year, as the locusts are set to emerge next May.