When I was younger, I used to go out to Baker Island with my family in the summer to hike across the island and to see the waves pounding against the “dance floor,” as the southern-facing beach comprised of jumbled boulders is known. I remember going out on the rocks near the crashing surf so I would get wet from the spray that flew across the rocks.
These days, unless there’s a sandy beach where I can wade in, I tend to stay back away from the water’s edge.
Maybe I’ve mellowed with age. Part of it, I am sure, are the news stories I have read or written about people who have gotten too close to the water and have been sucked in by the waves, often with fatal results.
In September 1999, a Charleston couple drowned when a wave crashed into them as they posed for a photo at Schoodic Point and pulled them into the ocean.
In June 2007, a woman from Michigan died after she slipped on rocks at Schoodic Point while holding up a cell phone so a friend she was talking to could hear the pounding surf. She slid into the water while clutching her small white dog, who also drowned.
And in August 2009, as Hurricane Bill blew past Maine far out to sea, a 7-year old girl from New York perished after a large wave crashed along the shore where thousands of sightseers had gathered to see the large waves generated by the storm. The wave crashed over 20 people near Thunder Hole and pulled three of them out into the water away from shore. The girl’s father and a 12 year-old girl from Belfast were rescued from the churning waves by the Coast Guard more than an hour after they were swept in.
There may be more examples, but three is enough for me.
As beautiful as the shore can be when it is calm out, it attracts people when conditions are awful. The sight of churning waves smashing into the rocks, catapulting spray into the air and resonating with a dull ‘boom,’ is invigorating to many, myself included. Local residents and tourists alike are drawn to the fierce beauty of a roiling grey sea.
I was reminded of all this today when I drove to Thunder Hole to see what the gale-force winds were whipping up. Given the time of year, it was not crowded but there were a few dozen people who were there for the same reason I was.
Some, either more confident or ignorant than me, went out on the rocks to be closer to the pounding surf. I held my tongue, not sure that anybody was taking too great a risk to warrant a verbal warning from an amateur like myself, even as some of them were hit by trace droplets of leaping spray and took a laughing step or two backwards. I felt more at ease after a park ranger showed up, took a brief walk along the high end of the shore, and departed without dispensing any stern lectures.
I left soon thereafter, grateful for the display of pounding waves and for having nothing tragic to tell my bosses about. Whenever you are within the ocean’s reach, you know you’ve had a good day when either the best or worst thing that happens to you is getting wet.
Here’s a video I pieced together of some of the scenes I came across today on MDI while checking out the weather.