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Hurricane Irene

Sandy and the Bald Eagles

During the last major storm, Hurricane Irene, a group of us hunkered down on this small mountaintop in Hudson, New York and were transfixed by a sailboat that had moored in the inlet near Roger Island, a tiny spit of land just a stone’s — or piece of railroad ballast — throw from the Amtrak tracks heading north to Albany and south to Manhattan.

Today, a year later, a new storm bears down on us. The sailboat has found another port of safety but we are again transfixed by Roger Island. A bald eagle and its mate are hopping from nest to tree, surveying the landscape, perhaps assessing the changes that are coming our way. The river has tossed up a slew of whitecaps and the wind is getting stronger. With my telescope I can see the feathers on the eagle’s tail blowing in the wind. In the photo above, taken with a telephoto lens, you can just make out a tiny white head in the tree, 2,500 feet to the west, and the massive nest just to the south (left).

What does the eagle see? What does he know about the oncoming storm? Will his nest hold up in 75 mile per hour winds?

I think about a villanelle by W.H. Auden.

Time can nothing but I told you so.
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you, I would let you know.

Good luck, Eagles.

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Goodnight, Irene

HUDSON, N.Y.

Yesterday afternoon, apparently in preparation for the hurricane, a sailboat laid anchor just below us in a cove near Roger Island. All morning a parade of boats — small and medium-sized yachts — motored up the Hudson River, probably on their way to the St. Lawrence Seaway. They were getting out of New York Harbor before the storm arrived.

But not this boat. At dusk we we went out to the porch to grill fish, and stood there for a while with our glasses of wine and stared down at the river, speculating . Why here? we wondered. Why this particular spot? As lights winked on across the river the sailboat remained completely dark; even the running lights were off. We figured maybe they were sleeping while they could, before the storm hit. They had pulled in the dinghy, battened down the hatches, and apparently were tucked away, waiting for the worst of it.

Early this morning I went out into the teeth of the storm to take a photo through the pounding rain. Incredibly, the sailboat was in the exact same position, still facing north, buffeted by small whitecaps but otherwise rather peaceful.  A few hours later it shifted 90 degrees and now faces west, towards the Catskills. The storm rages on, the Internet has come and gone and come again, and the sailboat rocks in the waves, anchored three times in the silt. The bow again faces north.Those people will have a story to tell about this night in the land of Rip Van Winkle.

And when they finally emerge from below deck and look around them, the sailors will be forgiven if they come to believe that Hurricane Irene magically transported their sailboat to the muddy Mississippi River.

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