|The Whole Manner of the Sea.|
Perhaps the stage is now set for the sea to reclaim the role of the devil it has previously held in the minds of people as it demonstrates the part it plays as the hereditary foe of humanity. The romantic spirit of this age in which ruins, ghosts, lunatics, werewolves, and vampires are dreamed of amidst stormy nights, roiling conflicting passions left moribund by more intellectual pursuits like politics and the dull minutiae of daily existence, could now be dashed against the rocky shores of reality as even the most sanguine individuals awaken to the dangers of the eternal wildness of the coast and the open seas.
Ladies and gentlemen of wealth, whose forebears generations ago abandoned the shade of parks and riparian esplanades, to come and walk upon the bleak shores and watch the untameable waves crash onto vast stretches of unblemished sand and unalterable rock, see their fate intermingled with those whom they deigned unfit to share a sidewalk.
The Jersey shores, named, unknown to most of the population that people them, after one of the Channel Islands about which Victor Hugo wrote in "Toilers of the Sea", sprang up and were inhabited by ladies with small feet and fine cars tolling along sandy roads whose occupants sported veils and chenilles that blew about them in the fresh sea breeze as they alighted in front of little hotels and cottages. Here was a promenade, a club, and a pavilion, the rendezvous in the long evening of many sweet colors and sounds.
Ladies with marriageable daughters, often watched fruitful courtships ripen on the sunny summertime beaches, and modern dandies manage their motors where heretofore steeds had promenaded leaving horseshoe tracks in golden sands. Old gentlemen argue political and dynastic heredity in the clubs, their glasses of Scotch at their elbows, while their young wives walk, cashmeres on their arms, to a lonely hollow in the dunes, still sun-baked from the long summer-like day, to become one with nature and the dune grass and tarry long enough to become bewitched by the full moon in the pale autumnal sky.
In this atmosphere of harvest-time splendor the more Gothic trapping of windblown leaves turned crimson and orange rattled down from branches to rustle down streets and collect in gutters and yards, while a thing that happens only once in a hundred years was gathering in the mass of ocean to the southeast. A tremendous mass of water was being driven up by a storm whose fury was to break over dikes, causing them to fail as it rushed back to sea, taking with it barriers built to withstand pressure from water pushing inland, but totally incapable of standing against it when being sucked seaward. They gave way and through the opening the sea rushed in.
Structures were downed by the hundreds, as houses and cottages came down like cardboard castles before the advancing waters, and many human lives were lost even as far as Long Island and Connecticut.
It began with an evening of extraordinary heavenly calm, but of stifling air and a strange, luminous, sulfurous dimness. There was no distinguishable line of division between the sky and the sea, The sun went down in a confusion of light, itself a dull red like a damask cushion sinking behind a divan of watered silk. The waves seemed of a curious substance, like jellyfish washing up on the shore. It was a highly inspiring evening, with many things happening along the entire Eastern Seaboard. That night the people who were not kept awake by the beating of their own hearts woke up, terrified, by a new, swiftly approaching roar. Could this be their same sea singing in this deep, ominous voice?
In the morning the world was changed, but none knew into what. In this noise nobody could talk, or even think. What the sea was saying, you could not tell. Your clothes were already ripped off you before you got in sight of the sand, and the salt foam whirled sky high. Long and towering waves came in behind it, each more powerful than the last. The air was bitter, and full of menace.
Those who had ignored the order to evacuate pressed their faces against their apartment windows, wild to catch a glimpse of the wild beatings as the everyday was turned freakish by the wind. The less fortunate, swinging their feet out of bed, found them submerged in cold, muddy water. It was salt. It was the same water that had rolled, out to the east, over the island of Haiti, and stripped the sand from the beaches of the Bahamas. The Atlantic Ocean had come to visit them. It was rising quickly. In an hour the movables of the lower houses were floating on the water, knocking against the walls. As the dawn came , the people, from the roofs of their houses, watched the land around them change. Trees and bushes were swaying in a moving gray ground, and thick churning foam was washing over the stretches of everything that had been familiar a scant twelve hours earlier.
Now, as the fear and turbulence of that day subsides, as a normality that whispers it's a new normality in hearts that still quaver from the internal storm still raging, recriminations begin to fly, accusations get hurled and outrages long buried are allowed to surface, like nitrogen bubbles escaping into the blood of a too-rapidly rising deep-ocean diver, they inflict pain and threaten ones very survival.
But there have been such floods before in which people had been snatched from their beds and hurled onto rafts by their pale mothers, from where they saw collapsing houses, struggling cattle go under in high waters, and breadwinners perish as their entire household disappears into the dark waters of a pitiless sea, everything ruined and lost. The ocean does such things from time to time. Still, this storm will live in the memory of coastal dwellers for a long time, as its scoffed-at description of yet another perfect storm, now assumes the character of a terrible, grim joke.