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Come wind, come rain

But who is this, what thing of sea or land? Female of sex it seems ...

- John Milton, Samson Agonistes

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ISABEL, IT SEEMS. She was a frisky girl, though the poet Milton wouldn't know, his verse referring to a more seductive, sinister creature. Our girl Isabel crept into town with less rain than we might have expected. Deceptively so, for though many of us in parts of Baltimore and Essex and Crisfield woke to water water everywhere, it was the wind by which we will remember her so.

Shifting winds - they were Steve Marshall's concerns. Mr. Marshall, Somerset County's emergency management director, had seen what a wind shift could do. He lived through Hurricane Floyd. And sure enough, the shift came, winds gusting up to 70 miles an hour, pushing water right up onto the streets of Crisfield until it swirled 4 feet high, forcing hospital workers in town to get to and from work in the trucks of the National Guard.

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It was that same sustained wind that gave Isabel her pucker power. Not its speed as much as its duration and direction. Blowing for four and five hours, out of the southeast to the northwest, it pushed the water of the Chesapeake Bay up and out, surging over river banks and seawalls and city streets. Tree limbs whipped and snapped. Down came the power lines. Out went the lights. On went the candles and flashlights and lanterns.

The heft and fetch of the wind made the towering spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge a dangerous piece of steel and concrete for anything moving across it and over the churning gray waters below. So they shut it down for the first time in 50 years. Not even Hurricane Gloria did that.

In the wind-driven surge of water, streets of asphalt swam like streams. Street signs tipped in a ballet dancer's attitude. Rain hammered on an urban skylight, roaring like a timpani.

The tops of tulip poplars swirled around, propelled by their thousands of leaves catching the bluster like many, many little sails. And yet, a large dying willow, no longer given to producing shoots, stood absolutely still, the wind finding no sails to catch it here.

At 3 in morning, Tom French returned home from his shift as a dispatcher for Pocomoke City to find a backyard littered with tree limbs. A pruning this good he couldn't pay for.

But for the oaks and silver maples of Roland Park, the wind of Isabel blew like Shelley's trumpet of a prophecy. Or are we speaking of Ozymandias here, Shelley's "colossal wreck," once the King of Kings? No longer the stately towers of shade they had been for a century, several upended, their roots splayed in the moist air like a tangle of coarse hair.

And the mystery lies in why one old tree was chosen and not another.

Call off the botanists and meteorologists. This is a matter for philosophers and poets.

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Yesterday morning, the old trees lay quietly in the lawn-level stillness, in the lee finally of their lesser neighbors. Overhead, the wind sped the gray clouds silently but relentlessly northward.

Not everyone experiencing Isabel's stomp and dance much cared for the vagaries of wind and rain. They preferred the sound of their beer glasses clinking or the score of the Orioles game on the local tavern's overhead TV (it was that rarity, a tie), or the click of their cameras photographing submerged streets.

But at least one lone soul decided to brave both wind and rain to experience a hurricane up close.

It reportedly took the threat of arrest for a windsurfer on the Eastern Shore to bring in his board and bid Isabel adieu.


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