Bermuda: Stranded by Terror

A howling gale surrounds me. I’m looking out through a screened window to Daniel’s Island, a good stone’s throw offshore from Daniel’s Head Village. Evening descends: Hurricane Gabrielle’s gusts cannot, however, drown the voices of the frogs, whose voices remind me of the Pontiac in springtime.

But it’s not springtime, and I’m far away from home. In fact, I’m in Bermuda, the fish-hook shaped island two-hours flying time from Philadelphia, and just over another hour’s flight from Ottawa.

I should have returned home on Wednesday September 12, after attending the 46th annual conference of the Society of American Travel Writers. Now, due to the events of the past week, all flights off the island have been repeatedly cancelled — for well over 250 conference delegates as well as anyone else. I’m due to return to the Pontiac tomorrow… and I hope this time that the flights will leave as scheduled.

Perhaps you heard of the terrorist’s attack while at home or at work. I too was working, but instead of being at my Quyon home, I was on a boat heading to Nonsuch Island. This island, part of the archipelago forming Bermuda, is the subject of a fascinating ecological experiment by world renowned scientist Dr. David Wingate.

It was here that our small knot of intent travel and science writers learned of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Bermuda’s Minister of Tourism, David Allen, broke the news to us. We listened with utter disbelief as Minister Allen quietly hung up his cell phone and told us he had some bad news. His words were something like, “Reports coming in tell me that hijackers have flown a plane into one of the World Trade Center’s towers.”

The idyllic-looking turquoise ocean sank into pale backdrop as we grappled with his words. Struggling, we gaped at him, willing him to be uttering an absurd joke. I remember him saying, “I’m terribly sorry for you, for your country.” Most of my colleagues were Americans. But did it matter? No. We were united, the Minister and all of us, with grief.

All thoughts of exploring Dr. Wingate’s fascinating forty-year project — of reintroducing endemic and native species of flora and fauna to Nonsuch Island — were overtaken by horrified looks. We commenced the slow journey of realization that our world had inextricably changed.

Rallying, we resolved to continue our journey of discovery exploring the island with our two honoured hosts. As we watched green turtles swim in the ocean below us, observed white-tailed tropicbirds (locally called longtails) touch tails as they soared on the wind above — we listened to Dr. Wingate explain how he has dedicated his life to re-establish sustainable numbers of the presumed extinct cahow.

A member of the petrel family of sea birds, it was rediscovered in 1951 — after having been assumed to be extinct for 300 years. Dr. Wingate explained that he started working on the cahow project in 1961, then moved to the island in 1962… where he has remained ever since.

Now Nonsuch and nearby Castle Island are part of a Nature Reserve. More than that, they represent a living museum, whereby Dr. Wingate has reintroduced many species of plants and other living creatures to the island. Included is the Bermudian cedar tree, which once covered the island as well as mainland Bermuda.

As the scientist explained how he has carefully built artificial nests to encourage the cahow to nest and breed in safety, the Minister’s cell phone rang again. It diverted our attention, and, masking his personal horror expertly, he asked for our attention and delivered the news.

Minister Allen spoke quietly and compassionately. He delivered the details of the terrible knowledge we now all know, and colour drained from our faces. A hush fell, as we honoured the dead and as we struggled with other emotions over the terrorists. We learned all planes were grounded, that flights would be cancelled until further notice… and the rumour mill commenced.

And so it happened, ironically, that I heard of these unspeakable acts of terrorism while learning about one man’s dedication to preserving and conserving endangered species.

Here, as I sit at Daniel’s Head Village, Bermuda’s first environmentally friendly ecotourism resort on what will probably be my last day in this friendly, beautiful country, I reflect on the past week.

The week has brought the world to its knees. It has brought dark tragedy to our continent whose ramifications will be felt by all world citizens for years to come. Children have, in an instant, become fatherless, motherless. Husbands and wives have been senselessly lost. The world is a lot less kind a place for us human beings.

Meanwhile, life goes on. Meanwhile, the Dr. David Wingates will continue to strive for the survival of fellow living creatures. Meanwhile, here at Daniel’s Head, General Manager Richard Quinn, environmentalist and photographer Graeme Outerbridge will continue to teach guests about recycling, composting, and take them snorkelling, walking and exploring so as to learn about the Bermudian natural world.

There is goodness, light and kindness in our world. We must endeavour to foster these properties, and to struggle to understand and conquer our inhumanity to others.

As I write, Hurricane Gabrielle’s gusts toss the sea into a white-capped frenzy. The tent-cabin I’m staying in at Daniel’s Head shudders and shakes in the gale.

Shakespeare often used a device called pathetic fallacy in his plays, whereby Nature is in sympathy with the acts of mankind.

And so the hurricane — the second one our group experienced during this visit to Bermuda (Hurricane Erin tossed us about earlier) — underscores the rage we feel, perhaps as well as the sorrow, the tears… and the struggle to forgive the perpetrators of this horrific act. The world seems a smaller, less safe place right now, thanks to the folly of man.


Like you, I feel sure, I wish to express my sympathy to any who have lost friends, colleagues and loved ones during the September 9th terrorist attack in America. Will we ever find a path to peaceful dialogue, I wonder? Will we human beings ever truly be able to celebrate our differences?


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer who usually writes from Quyon, Quebec. Contact her at