The Island, Part 3: House of Sand and Fog

Weather men can rarely be taken seriously. How many times have we each heard that “today will be a sunny day” only to wish later on that we had taken an umbrella? And what does “There is a 50% chance of rain today” mean? It sounds like an intelligent way of saying, “We have no clue what the weather will be like today, so let’s cover out butts and sound intelligent while saying nothing significant at all.” This mindset gave birth to the popular phrase “Blame it on the weatherman” – yes, like the hit song by B*Witched.

I, too, used to blame the weatherman.

Ok, I still do.

But at least now I have a greater appreciation for how unpredictable the weather can be. (Depending on the place in question, of course. Naturally, I expect the weather man to pick up on a rainfall in Israel in the middle of August.)

The reason I can now sympathize with the weatherman: My Island.

My Island can show a mix of sunshine, clouds, light showers, thunder storms and fog all over the course of one day, any/all day(s) of the week. Here’s an example:

I’d wake up one morning to find a very thick fog outside my window. Deciding that it is not ideal weather for a day spent outside, I’d sleep in, only to wake up a few hours later to discover that it has turned into a beautiful, sunny day, perfect for all outdoor activities. I’ll quickly get dressed, daven, eat a late breakfast and head out to start a nice hike around the island. Halfway through the hike, the heavens will open and drench me. I’ll find the closest path, branching off and leading me through the woods into town for my quickest route back home. By the time I hit “Main Street,” the rain is falling so intensely that each drop on my arm stings and burns. I’ll dry off at home and curl up with a book for the rest of the afternoon, watching the storm pass over the island. By dinner time the storm has passed and all that remains of it is a scattering of clouds, causing one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. By the time I curl up in bed and turn out my gas lamp, the clouds have all dispersed and I have the most exquisite view of the stars in the sky.

Of course, there are some days of pure sunshine and others that are the classic rainy day, but for the most part each day is a mix of two or more weather patterns. Sometimes an entire week will be overcast, whereas the week leading up to it will have been the most beautiful week the island has ever seen. This creates a problem for day trippers and people who stay overnight. Should they bring hiking clothes, planning to be outdoors most of the time? Or an umbrella and rain boots so they can move freely around town and the artists’ studios in the rain? During the three weeks that my family stays on the island we like to invite family friends to stay by us for at least one of those weeks. If someone were to invite me for only one week, I’m not sure I’d accept. You could get stuck indoors the whole time. At least with three weeks you’re likely to get at least one full day of each weather type. I wouldn’t want to pass any of them up. Here’s why:

Sunny Day

The Sunny day allows you to do anything you might want to do outside. Some things are necessary to do outside, such as hanging up freshly laundered clothes to dry and food shopping. On a sunny day we’ll likely do a BBQ for dinner. And depending on your mood you can either chase the sun across the sky in a reclining lawn chair on the house’s wrap around deck, or you can venture forth into town and beyond. On some sunny days I’ll want to stay closer to home – maybe build sand sculptures on the tiny beach, watch artists on “Main Street” painting, go up to the island’s museum and lighthouse for the best view of the whole island, watch people fishing at the dock, or climb down onto the rocks in front of our house and watch the tides come and go.

Other sunny days I’ll leave the house in the morning and return in time for dinner, spending the entire day hiking in the forests and on the cliffs, taking an occasional break to eat the sandwiches I packed for lunch, read a book, photograph the beauty around me or play my recorder while surrounded by nature. If I feel the need to get farther away, I can always take the ferry tour around the island, or row a boat to the smaller island, adjacent to the harbor and trek around there for a few hours. Clear skies make for pretty average sunsets, but also the best stargazing at nights.

Cloudy Day
Cloudy days are most likely to have a short sun shower, but they are also good days for doing outdoorsy things. I might be less inclined to do activities that are meant for soaking up the sun, such as spending time on the beach or going out on the water. Cloudy days are actually great days for either sitting on the deck and reading while enjoying a great breeze, or hiking out to the cliffs for a nice place to sit and think or read or play a recorder without it being too hot. The evenings where the clouds are present but not thick make for the best sunsets.

Rainy Day
Days with light showers are probably the most annoying (and some summers can be the most frequent). Since it generally won’t be raining all day long, it’s enough to make you wary about leaving the house, and if you are already out of the house it will leave you looking for shelter elsewhere. Once, while out on a hike along the cliffs, I found shelter in a dense part of the forest inland a bit, where the humidity from the rain locked in about a million mosquitoes with me. Yeah, a bit unpleasant. But if I’m fortunate enough to still be at home when it starts raining, I’m in for some real treats. Since I’ve lived in cities all my life, rain clouds were never particularly special, but on this island they are a source of true beauty. The best way I can think to describe it is by quoting a verse from Sefer Bereishit (Genesis) about the second day of creation:

G-d said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, that it may separate water from water.” G-d made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse. And it was so. G-d called the expanse Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. (Translation taken from the JPS Tanach)

When the rain clouds hang low enough, you can see the wisps of rain as extensions of the clouds as they touch the ocean. True beauty indeed. Additionally, unless the rain clouds are very dense, there will likely be a beautiful sunset, perhaps even an exceptional one with the rain-cloud-touching-ocean phenomenon.

Light rain at sunset

Stormy Day
Stormy days on My Island are probably the most exciting kind of day to have, although too many in one summer can be a bit bumming. On stormy days you don’t venture outside for the most part. You may, in the morning, venture out to the deck to either bring in or tie down the lawn chairs, plastic chairs and plastic table, because if you were to leave them as they are, you will most likely find that they have either been blown into your neighbor’s lawn or blown out to sea. Right now it must seem horrifying, so what makes it so exciting? Everything else. The waves during a storm can reach huge heights, and as our house is located on the ocean front, the view of the waves is superb. Another reason why storms are super-exciting is due to the view. You can see a storm coming in when it is still miles away, with no buildings or gigantic trees blocking your view. And once it hits, there’s no better place to have a front row seat to a crazy lightning show than sitting on the couch in the living room in our house on My Island, looking out of one of the two large picture windows that the living room boasts.

View of a serious storm approaching from the front deck at sunset

A slightly less severe storm approaching late afternoon

During the height of the storm, the glass window panes rattle as the wind shrieks by, and the wooden house shakes. During the eye of the storm, the world is eerily calm. Still, there are dull moments – after all, the storm generally doesn’t last all day. The rest of the day could be cloudy, rainy, windy, or even sunny (albeit less likely). So a stormy day requires indoor, rainy day activities. Since for most of our summers there we had no electricity, we didn’t have to worry about the storm short-circuiting our computers and such, but it also meant that we couldn’t spend the whole rainy day inside watching TV. So what do you do? To each their own. My mom, for one, preferred to paint and work on various crafts projects that she’d bring up with her to the island from year to year. My dad would read all day, getting up periodically to watch the storm. Me? I’m a puzzle person. Each summer I’d bring up a 1,000 piece puzzle to complete over those three weeks either during indoor days or in the evenings. (Although, like my dad, I’d also takes break to read and just gaze out the windows.)

Our dog never liked storms much. He’d whine and hide under the table or desk in whichever room had more family members in it. When the storm would get really bad, we’d all gather in the living room to watch it, and our poor, frightened dog would get a headband placed over his floppy ears to block out the sound of the thunder (it just goes to show how scared he was that he never tried to force it off his head), and be fed a spoonful of peanut butter to glue his mouth shut so he’d whimper less (peanut butter also seemed to soothe him a lot). If we happened to have guests over for a week during which time we had a storm, we’d likely spend the evening hours watching the storm with a fire in the fireplace, playing a fun party game such as Taboo or Cranium (and occasionally Scrabble). All in all, a fun, cozy, exciting and yet relaxing day.

“Fist of G-d” cloud about to pound us with stormy weather

Foggy Day
On a foggy day, my dad will never fail to mention the famous British newspaper headline from G-d knows when stating “Fog in Channel, Continent Cut Off,” and rightfully so. The fog on my island can be extremely odd and quite amusing at times. The first time I encountered it was my first summer on the island when I was nine years old. I went on a hike not far from the house with some assortment of family members, venturing forth into a fog so thick that you could only see a few feet ahead of you. We were hoping to see the famous shipwreck beached on one tip of the island. I’ll never forget the way the fog parted as we approached it, revealing out of nowhere this rusted over ghost ship. First thought that entered into my overactive mind: Eek, pirates! We’re all gonna die! (This was, after all, pre-Johnny-Depp-as-a-pirate era.) The ship was nothing more than a medium-sized fishing vessel, but I was tiny at the time and the ship seemed huge. I have since taken to going down there with my camera on foggy days, hoping to capture the eeriness of it all, but the fog never cooperates, acting a different way each time.

From the deck of our house, we have a perfect view of the smaller island across from us. On really clear days you can see as far as the mainland. On foggy days, however, you sometimes can’t even see past the front yard. Other times, the fog is really low hanging, so it looks as if the island opposite us is floating on a cloud of mist. And yet other times, when the fog isn’t hanging as low, only the base of the island across from us is visible. Sometimes the fog is so dense that it’s hard to breathe, and yet other times it will be so light as to wisp away at your merest breath. Sounds magical, doesn’t it?

Fog creeping in

No matter what weather the island experiences, there’s always what to enjoy about it (although it can be rather upsetting when you plan the day before to go hiking, only to wake up to mud and rain). As always, too much of anything is undesirable, but thankfully three weeks each summer is generally enough time to enjoy at least one day of each type of weather.

And in the end, who can blame the weatherman with weather as unpredictable as that?

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