Disaster is in the air, swirling like a tempest, and I am about to enter the storm, or so I'm told. I am about to tour Bermuda on a motor scooter. The forecast: probable scrapes and scratches, with the likelihood of a sprain and a chance of broken bones.
Before I leave home, I mention my assignment to a few friends.
"I'm sorry," says one.
"Brave soul," says another.
One wiseacre, a betting man, takes out his wallet and places a wager: "Five to 1, scraped knees; 10 to 1, knees and elbows; 20 to 1, hard cast." Now the pressure is on. If I return in anything less than a body cast, it will be a major achievement. As a former soccer, basketball and Softball player, I have broken all my fingers (but not my thumbs), fractured my nose twice, torn the anterior cruciate ligament and some cartilage in my right knee and ruptured a disk in my neck. My body is marked with small scars from my right heel (my foot got caught in the spokes of a bike—it's a long story) to my forehead (a collision with a piano—don't ask) and back down to my left shin (a trip over second base while coaching a Little League team—embarrassing, I know).
Considering my medical history, the consensus recommendation is, "Ditch the scooter and take a cab."
Just what is it about Bermuda, a tiny archipelago 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina, that evokes such an admonition? For starters, Christopher Columbus sailed past the uncharted islands on his voyage to the New World in 1492, and in his log he wrote of "a great flame of fire" (a shooting star, most likely), not to mention the strange movement of the needle on his compass.
Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez is credited with discovering the islands around 1503, but, perhaps frightened, he decided not to land there. Later in the 16th century visiting conquistadores warned that evil spirits and wild hogs inhabited Bermuda, which at the time was also known as "The Devills Islands."
Bermuda's first settlers arrived by accident in 1609 when the British vessel Sea Venture, which was on its way to Jamestown, Va., was caught in a tempest and crashed on a craggy reef. One passenger described the islands in his diary as an area "so terrible to all that ever touched on them—such tempests, thunders, and other fearful objects are seen and heard about those islands that they are called The Devills Islands, feared and avoided by all sea travellers above any place in the world."
A few years later, after having read about the shipwreck, William Shakespeare wrote of the "still-vexed Bermoothes" in The Tempest, and the island, a "fearful country," served in part as the setting for the play.