On Saturday, the line of cars heading west from eastern Long Island was steady ahead of Irene. Many vehicles had bicycles or boogie boards strapped to them. Summer vacation in reverse.
I looked at dear Irene on many weather sites including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's site and determined it was ok to stay. The consensus was the storm would be mostly a tropical storm versus a hurricane where I would be standing.
Hurricane-type gusts were possible but only possible. The velocity of the wind expected was capable of knocking dead limbs off trees and maybe taking a few loose roof shingles. I would be sure to not park under any trees.
Of course the ocean would be wild and I was excited to see that from a safe distance. But that would not happen until early Sunday morning, so there was still time to play.
I took my longboard out to a popular surfing beach in Montauk but it was too foggy to really see the water. I drove further out to the lighthouse, to a well-known cove. The fog was nowhere and the surfing was great.
I saw many guys getting after it in the big waves. The waves were steep and big, a little too big for me. After dumping myself into a few waves and tumbling around in the wash-machine like a knucklehead, I sat on my board bobbing in the swells and enjoying the up-close view of guys making it look easy.
Further out, huge, muscular swells moved across the water like the humps of mythical leviathans. The lighthouse foghorn sounded steadily. People lined the overlook road above and stood on the wood guard rail to watch the surfers and gaze at the ocean.
Shortly thereafter, the police closed down the area. They came through with their mobile megaphone telling us cars would be ticketed and towed. Stormy weather and challenging water we could take, but not parking tickets and towing fees.
Much later that night, when Irene finally arrived, I went down to the ocean. The rain was whipping sideways and the wind made me avert my face.
As the sky grew lighter and lighter toward daybreak, the ocean was simply awesome -- a white, frothy, roiling monster. Waves and currents were smashing into each other and dancing around frantically. Wave after wave crumbled and crashed and exploded in the surf.
Any views to farther out to sea were blocked by an opaque wall of white. The entire beach was covered in water. The expected surge though was mild as the water only pushed its way up to the edge of the dunes. I had thought the dunes would have been breached and the area inundated.
Nevertheless, the water had a dangerous snarl to it. I consider myself a strong swimmer but there was no way I wanted to go into that water. It is startling and psychically shocking to be standing there looking at something natural from fairly close up that you know could quickly and easily end you. Long, awed stares transfixed my face. The dawn sky as gray-white as the sea adding to the surreal intensity also helped slack my jaw.
The power remained out as the afternoon actually cleared and the rain disappeared and people began to emerge.
The power was still out as the sun shone on Monday revealing debris scattered about in clumps and branches and the occasional massive old tree giving itself over to the ages. The surfing was still good but not as big and clean as before Irene showed herself.
The novelty of the power outage ran out by about the third day as food went officially bad and showers were cold and it just got to be old walking around in the dark.