Before darkness had blackened the island I made sure to be ready for night. There was little enough to do: tie the flap covers over my screened windows, retrieve anything from the beach that rain might damage, brush my teeth. Having nothing to read I had little use for the lantern. It was good to fall asleep with the day, full of sun and salt air, tired from the heat and exercise, troubled by no great thoughts and feeling no need to apologize that I had none.
In contrast to such sweet lethargy, Wreck Island was the scene of evidences of the natural world's power that I shall never forget. There were three storms. Each came at night. The first was Monday, my second night on the island, and it blew my umbrella inside out. The second came on Friday, the third on Saturday. Fortunately none was a true nor'easter, and none came at high tide. The sea never reached my tent.
Yet each was worse in its raging intensity than the preceding one. I had never before been distracted by lightning and thunder, and I thought the wind a concern only for sailors. On Wreck I came to cope with these things more directly than I had imagined myself doing. For a time I was aware of nothing in the world but storm.
Saturday's storm awoke me with a far rumble of thunder. It was 10:45 p.m. and my last night on the island. For 15 minutes I lay in the darkness listening to these rolling cadences of thunder grow more frequent as they moved toward me from the north. Bursts of sheet lightning stretched across 180� of sky from west to east, rising from the horizon's rim to the very center of the heavens, that far-off apex toward which this turmoil that tore and splintered the darkness seemed to aim. By 11 o'clock the rain and wind broke open. My tent leaked a fine, incessant mist. The walls pressed in as if a thousand tons of sand were heaped against them.
The lightning came and surrounded me. I lived in the heart of it. Time after time I saw through the tent's torn-open door the lightning bolt into the sea. For 10 or 12 unbroken minutes the sheets of flash were so rapidly overlapping that I could have read by their light. Noises roared out of the wind that were indescribable. Finally I was drenched, and all I had in the tent was drenched except for a single parcel wrapped in plastic.
I sat in this violence, helpless on my little sand heap, wet as rain is wet, buffeted by the snarling wind, deafened by it, wondering what the lightning would feel like if it came to where I was. The terror did not pass until after 3 a.m. My vigil had lasted more than four hours. I heard the skimmers begin to talk it over. Then I fell asleep, exhausted from nothing more ennobling than fear itself.
With dawn I was awake again and on my feet. I gathered the soaked gear together for transfer to the boat when it arrived. The wind was strong, but the sky was clearing. There were patches of blue overhead. It was cold. I put on my wet sweat shirt. The storm had left a froth of whitecaps on the sea. My first glimpse of the boat coming down the coast—it had just turned south from Sand Shoal Inlet—was like the sight of a chariot swinging low.
I had lost four pounds and gained a deep suntan. I had several hundred photographs, a first-rate collection of the region's shells and more than a speaking acquaintance with terns. Frank plummeted down on me one last time as the boat pushed off. His scream was a farewell. We had both survived. Warden John W. Crumb took me to his home in Oyster for a hot shower.
It was good to be back. I had endured myself. I had lived very close to the rhythm of the natural world, setting aside for a week the affairs and concerns of men. To generalize beyond that would be idle talk. This one thing seems sure, though: most likely I will never return. There seems no need.