Extreme weather brings out the best in animals. It allows us to see the unique adaptations that they posses in action; doing what they are made to do. Other places have tornados, tsunamis or volcanoes, but here in Bermuda we have the humble hurricane. Hurricanes are wildly unpredictable, ranging from category 1-5 and can escalate into a tempest just as fast as they can peter out. Organisms here have learned to adapt over time to the fierce wind and rain associated with hurricane season – from June to November.
All is silent the day prior to the storm. It’s as if the hurricane is nonexistent since storms never ‘warm up’; they stay invisible until the very second they hit. The island holds it’s breath and braces itself for the hurricane, not daring to exhale. There are few cars on the road, but the animals have nowhere to hide in the storm.
Shark oil is a tried and true way to tell if a hurricane is coming. It is a small bottle of oil obtained from the liver of a shark mounted on the wall, which, when it fogs up, indicates a storm is sure to follow. Cows lie down where they stand, keeping a dry spot for the impending rain. I recite in my mind ‘red sky at morning, sailors take warning, red sky at night, sailors delight!’ over and over. The sky was a dark grey that night as the clouds began to roll in. The chirping of birds is subdued, but their nests are lower than normal, amplifying the sound. Dogs raise their noses to the air, and out at sea the boiler reefs are washed over with much more water than usual, and then much more water than usual is removed. Their brown tops are exposed in the swell, and the tide is the highest its been in days.
The spiders are aware of it too, they can feel the heat in the air. One particular type, the Golden-Orb Weaver Spider, our largest, can sense it better than the others. The six inch, bright yellow females are the first to move, abandoning their high up webs to search for low roosts, away from the wind. By many locals she is affectionately renamed the hurricane spider.
We all wait in anticipation. The storm is set to strike early in the morning. Usually a slow moving hurricane like Leslie will stay with us for hours, even days, but when we wake it is just like a weak summer squall. We wonder if we’ll ever get the majesty of a storm only Bermuda can host. Will we ever get the thrill of waking up to a house without power, where each opening is whistling with the chorus of the howling wind as we eat hurricane comfort chocolate and play board games?
The day is restless, but also uneventful. The hurricane has passed us, to the triumph of many, but to the dismay of many more. The next day, and in a small window of the few days that follow, is a wealth of zoological discovery. All the spiders have migrated to the inverse side of the island facing the wind and now they are close enough to photograph with precision. Some of them are entangled and crumpled, dead, in their own webs, while others have survived gloriously.