At Large: High tide at The Times

At Large: High tide at The Times

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For nearly 30 years, The Times has believed that your business is our business. Birth to death, diplomas, degrees, achievements, lapses, budgets, criminality, athletics, business, health, the weather — what you do and what happens to you are what we discover and report. You are our undiluted focus. And, we always want to do more, although you — some of you, at least — prefer that we do less.

For about 20 years, we’ve conducted our intrusive interest in you from this ancient Beach Road office of ours, and we’ve enjoyed being here. The accessibility, the spaciousness, the history, the homeliness — oh, and the view — all wonderful.

Of course, nothing is perfect. It’s an old building that has issues, and we’ve worked hard to address them. It’s like a septuagenarian with two new knees, a new hip, and a pacemaker — he’s getting along as he’s getting on, a patch here and there, but the shell betrays his age.

During the distant 20th century, dairy, beef, and sheep operations flourished here (well, flourished may not be the right word) and there were truck farmers, cranberry growers, orchards, even a co-operative market, begun in the war years by some summer residents. Their aim was to improve the availability and distribution of groceries on the home front for their families that had left the city to spend the war years where they had spent their summers and where they knew they would be safe and among friends. Indeed, in its first incarnation, The Times office was that market building, selling wholesome products, but naturally of a different sort from the wholesome ones we sell out of the same front door today.

Anyhow, apart from your business, which we treat as our business, the other thing we Times-ites concern ourselves with is the state of the tide. During Sandy and the northeasters that traipsed along during the couple of weeks after, readers were astonished by the heights of the high and low tides. Not us. Keeping track of the tide and its astronomical variations is a foundational concern for The Times congregation.

Hurricane Bob in 1991 welcomed us to the Times office building. As the National Weather Service described it, “Hurricane Bob caused a storm surge of 5 to 8 feet along the Rhode Island shore, but drove a surge of 10 to 15 feet into Buzzards Bay. The Buzzards Bay shore east to Cape Cod was hardest hit. The highest surges, of 12 to 15 feet, were observed in Onset, Bourne, Mashpee and Wareham, at the head of Buzzard’s Bay. Cove Road, in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts had 29 of 37 homes destroyed, while Angelica Point, Massachusetts lost 32 of 35 homes along the shore. Boat damage was significant, as many boats were torn from their moorings. Extensive beach erosion occurred along the shore from Westerly, Rhode Island eastward. Some south facing beach locations on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket islands lost up to 50 feet of beach to erosion.”

There were five or six inches of salt water over the floor in The Times office, thanks to Bob. (Sandy was the next occasion for such an invasion, though slight by comparison.) But, in the office design, we had been clever. The power supply and the heating registers, even the furnace and boiler, had been raised a couple of feet above the grade before we moved in, so that the harbor could roll through without compromising the building basics. And, instead of carpeting or varnishing the yellow pine floors, we merely oiled them and ventilated the space beneath the floor so the wood dried out evenly, didn’t buckle and, happily, endured. Built in the ancient and honored tradition of Vineyard craftsmen, the floor joists had been placed in troughs scraped out of the beach sand where the building was to be set, and consequently The Times office is kind of low slung, and under floor, over sand ventilation is key to its servicability.

That’s the only time in the 20 years-plus that we’ve been here that there’s been signficant flooding inside the building. Outside, the story is different. So, in addition to snooping in all your business, we pay vigilant attention to the tide, especially when it combines with a storm, and particularly a storm whose most villainous characteristic is gale force wind from the northeast quadrant, driving Nantucket Sound into Vineyard Haven Harbor and on into Five Corners and Beach Road, in front of the office. We had no doubt that the easterlies accompanying Sandy and its following storms would cause flooding at higher than normal high tides. I use a software program (free) called JTides to determine precisely when we’ll need to drive or wear waders to walk to the office through 10 inches of salt water in Beach Road out front. And then to forecast when the tide will begin to fall, when the flooding will begin to abate, and when the waders will no longer be needed to get to work.

As I said, we are parochial, interested only in you and your antics. There are not many un-Island phenomena to which we pay attention, with the occasional exception of the anticipated arrivals of high tide. With regard to the tide, the cosmos and the climatologists say 3:09 pm tomorrow, and we say, How high?