O U T   H E R E   I N   T H E   R E A L   W O R L D


Bombogenesis, or not

by Eva Murray


It’ll be some hapless idiot
who thought he was just
shooting at open water.


We are grateful for your kind inquiries as to our safety, over these past few storms, but please don’t worry too much. We who spend the winter offshore are mostly hunkered down making Thai food and painting the dog’s toenails, or watching Brit-coms and eating cake.

Let me assure anybody concerned that I am not making fun of the idea of emergency preparedness. I am not laughing in the face of danger, or ignoring obvious risk, or spitting into the wind—well, no more than anybody living on a remote island does as a matter of course. An offshore islander exists, at least part of the time and depending upon the transportation options, in the back-country, like a mountaineer or a bush Alaskan or a blue-water sailor. An islander is reconciled, if they think about these things at all, to a degree of danger. They don’t call this place “on the edge” just because it’s on the edge of the continent. Anybody could die here. It could happen. It is entirely possible that an individual in trouble could get stuck on this rockpile in bad weather and no rescuer could come and whisk them away to safety. That is true.

But it’ll be a ruptured appendix that’ll most likely get us, or a stroke, or some hapless idiot who thought he was just shooting at open water, or a sudden, heretofore unknown life-threatening allergy to lobster. I don’t think it’ll be the tsunami that gets us, not unless the entire Canary Islands break in half, and then we’ll have bigger fish to fry. It won’t be the ice storm. It won’t be the cold. It will not, dear friends, be the bombogenesis.

My computer does not seem to recognize that as a word, but we have seen and heard that expression quite a bit of late on the weather reports. “Bombogenesis”—bomb reference aside— refers to a set of meteorological conditions much like a cold-weather hurricane, where the barometric pressure plummets and the storm builds fast. From space it appears a most artful cyclone.

But I do not fear the weather.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I believe I have earned the right to say what I like about this business of the dangers of island life. I have already experienced my own particular extremely random and unlikely close call, having been overboard and all. With any luck at all, we are not normally expected to undergo multiples of these things, unless we go looking for trouble. Of course, that is not how it really works, in the world of nature and statistics, but it sounds good.

(On that subject, I have been told I should have been more concerned about the sharks. Sharks incite fear in some people, but those sharks, alleged to be in the area, left me alone even though there was blood in the water. Friends have offered me shark meat, and I have said, “No, thank you.” I owe them at least that courtesy. The sharks, I mean.)

Anyway, during the storm at the end of October, 2017—which, by the way, just received its official disaster declaration so municipalities can hopefully get some reimbursement for some of the expenses—Matinicus Island suffered very little. The Internet was bursting with photos of Brunswick and Portland where mayhem reigned, and trees were down everywhere, and Big Al’s parking lot was full of Canadian bucket trucks. People who lived on the peninsulas were in the dark for a long time. We had various inquiries from friends, relatives, and seasonal homeowners who expected the worst. “No, actually, it wasn’t too bad here. We didn’t lose power…” That hardly seemed believable. Wouldn’t it make sense that a tiny, isolated community without much for resources, without teams of professionals, without a highly organized response service, thoroughly at the mercy of the wind and water—shouldn’t such a place take the hardest beating?


Emergencies, when
the fertilizer hits the
propeller, are a job for
types in sturdy shoes.


Far from it. By the way, we do not have “teams” of professionals, admittedly, but we do have professionals. We have a large corps of people who used to be things, useful things like oil delivery men and paramedics and ski patrollers and linemen, and above all, we have mechanics, furnace men and fix-it guys and folks who can make the truck run even if the parts are on back-order. They are who generally saves the day when the going gets tough. We have parts, yes, good lord, we have parts, parts underfoot everywhere. There have been more than a few occasions when that has made the all the difference.

As the highly official, increasingly credentialed, and hilariously over-schooled Local Emergency Management Director for the Minor Civil Division known as Matinicus Isle Plantation, I am all about emergency preparedness. Here’s what I did during the “bombogenesis” storm in January: I turned on the marine VHF, tuned to channels which are supposedly the popular ones around here according to the gossips, and listened. Thankfully, it remained silent. I turned on the 2-meter ham radio and checked in each hour with the guys on the mainland, both at Knox County Emergency Management and around the area. They all mostly wanted to know whether we were getting a hurricane, except for KB1TCE Steve who inquired about the Hawaiian pizza they supposedly had at the Emergency Operations Center in Rockland. We filled several large containers with water, just in case, and we made sure the Honda generator started, and checked in with the one older fellow on the island right now who lives alone, and put the battery charger on the 12V battery which runs the radios, and took inventory of snow shovels and ice scrapers and headlamps and such, and lugged in some extra firewood. Then, we made crème brulee.

In the winter, nowadays, almost every neighbor is a potential fireman, road crew member, first responder, meal delivery volunteer, communications specialist, wood cutter, snow plow driver, or substitute for somebody else. Nobody is totally alone, nobody is a stranger without someone to turn to if their home is rendered uninhabitable. Nobody will go hungry. Anybody here would water down the stew and feed an extra. Pipes may freeze but people will not, unless they go out of their way to refuse society. Low-speed dirt roads can ice up and send somebody into the ditch, but we will have no forty-car-pileups with oil trucks on fire and commuter traffic backed up all the way to Cleveland.

The bridge will never be out.

Winters can be hard, and violent weather any time of year can change lives. Around the state, large trees fell and smashed homes back in October. We are not ignorant of these things, and I do not pooh-pooh the realities. But emergencies, when the fertilizer hits the propeller, are a job for the linemen and EMTs and people who are dressed for the snow, for weather geeks and radio nerds and neighborhood-volunteer types in sturdy shoes. So yes, bad things can happen--but those things are no more likely here than in Portland, and in some cases, they are considerable less likely. Would an islander be safer living on the mainland? I very much doubt it.