I had another topic in mind for this post, but the recent ice storm is too present. Our neck of the woods was ambushed by a severe weather event – an ice storm – that seemed to put everything on hold. Forty-eight thousand of the fifty thousand people affected are in the county where I live. A quarter to a half-inch of ice coated branches until trees were too heavy to remain intact; massive self-pruning occurred on each property and roadside. White pines shed limbs accompanied by sounds like gunshots and the glaze of ice made walking hazardous.
And of course, electric power became something you remembered once upon a time. On the day following the storm, wires were down on every road I drove. Service connections were ripped off folks’ homes and it was clear that restoration would not be quick. Boy, I sure wished I had planned for a generator!
Time for an assessment of remaining assets: power- nope, water- nope (we have our own well, reliant on a submersible pump), toilet – nope, heat- nope, food- enough, but no refrigeration, internet or tv- nope, telephone – YES, thank goodness for cell service. How is the battery life? Good thing you got that car starting battery pack with the USB connections. Back to heat – how about the fireplace? Yep, but you never stacked a supply of fireplace wood, since you don’t use the fireplace. Okay, but there is the wood you saved for woodturning – lots of that!
Oy, this is like human sacrifice, choosing which of the fine-grained beauties will go up the chimney. I will draw the line at burning burl wood – that is an apostasy of the highest order. But that beautiful cherry, quilted maple, and figured walnut – oh dear! They could have been bowls or platters of distinction. Now they are warm memories (literally).
Once the immediate safety of the interior is determined, a review of the outside is undertaken. Large pine and maple limbs brush block the driveway on both entrances. The cherry and crab apple have lost half their mass. Days of chainsaw work will be necessary. However, the electric service is still attached to the house. In that respect we fared better than my two sons, who both have live wires laying across their driveways.
Oh, and our restaurant has no power – a weekend without business is a huge hit these days. We all proceed to the restaurant with 5-gallon containers of water (luckily, my son is on municipal supply) to fill the 10-gallon sauce pots on the gas stove in order to keep the place from freezing. We’re already looking at food loss, as well as revenue we counted on. My son calls the lady who has the funeral party booked at our facility, in order to inform her that we cannot host the event. Surprisingly, she does not seem to understand the problem. My son explains that a restaurant cannot legally open without power; there is no heat; that there is a state of emergency and many of the connecting roads have been closed. She says that the funeral director up the line has not called her – it is suggested that perhaps their phone service is out and a call to follow-up would be in order.
On the drive home from the restaurant, our mood is lightened. Without the distraction of tv, appliances, computers, and phones, you notice the beauty all around: sparkling trees and fields. We stop by our local version of buttermilk falls and water is rushing over the rocks. Everything is covered in ice. A willow tree presents its branches as a curtain of glass. The old corn fields look like a shining carpet. We remark how the sunsets have been spectacular lately. It’s great to be alive!
It really is a marvel how there is regeneration in disasters. I stop by my elder friend’s house – he just celebrated his 96th birthday this week. His neighbor has already shared his generator with a 200-foot extension, so that he can have heat-or-water-or-refrigeration (but not all at once!) Our jerry-can of water will allow him some flushing capability. Another friend provided a warm shirt and honey for him. Neighbors are helping neighbors all over. We have gotten offers of water and food, heaters and generators – a friend has dropped off fresh greens for salad and soup. Folks do what they can. It is too bad that it takes a real reversal of fate to showcase how connected we are as a community.
Of course, by day four, the adventure wanes. The daybed by the fireplace has rearranged our spines and hygiene has a whole different meaning. Yet, there are some aspects which strangely stand out: wearing a watch cap to bed, motion-activated battery lights in the hall, how well Doug Collum’s stick candles burned (look up his product – great product, great guy).
When power is finally restored on the evening of day four, it seems almost unbelievable. The crew parked in our driveway comes from Indiana. They are up and down the poles in the dark – day after day, surfing the power grid. Well, it’s twenty-five years and out for them, they tell us. We wish good things in their lives.
The last four days have seemed like two weeks. Everything is topsy-turvey. But the hot shower is calling!
Baby, It’s Cold INside!
The urge struck Friday morning around 2 AM. Immediately upon opening my eyes I just had a sense something was wrong. I have several nightlights around the house so there is always a low glow emanating from the hallway that was missing. A slight chill hit me as I threw the covers off and headed for the bathroom.I caught on real fast that the power was off. No big deal, climbed back into bed, pulled the covers up over my head and figured by morning the power will be back! except it wasn’t…….The chill in the house intensified. Too cold to shower even though I still had hot water. Could only eat a cookie for breakfast as there was no heating anything or making anything. That was the moment the loneliness hit, realizing that there was nobody around to run suggestions by about what to do in this situation. I ran it by the dog just to hear my own voice but he wasn’t much help. Progressively the day got colder, the house got colder, I got colder.
I piled layers of clothing on just to be comfortable in the house. and took my first look outside. My trees were encased in ice, bowing down and touching the ground as if greeting royalty. I may have said “at ease” but the trees didn’t chuckle . The tree limbs were encased in a smooth layer of ice but at the end of each branch was a little ball of ice that would catch the sunlight and make it sparkle. It was a fairy land and wherever I looked it was the same. Many trees had broken with the weight, the street was eerily silent.
The day got lonelier and colder. I didn’t know what to do with myself , FYI pacing is totally unproductive. Luckily my cell phone had a partial charge and I called my daughter hoping she had power and the dog and I could head over there and warm up but no dice.Texting began and soon I realized the entire area/county was affected. Now what. My fingers were freezing…..the CAR! I used my remote start feature and let the car warm up for a few minutes before going out. When I finally slid to the car, my broken foot healing nicely, I was worried about rebreaking it from the crusty uneven ice covering the lawn and sidewalk. My car was humming away, however, I was unable to get into it. The handle was caked in ice and the remote lock wouldn’t work. I was beginning to see how the day was going to roll out. Back in house, back to car, several attempts to get inside no luck. Next attempt I brought a hammer and a chisel, cracked the ice off the lock, got in and cranked the heat up. Headed over to daughter’s house, picked her up and went in search of an open diner. When I got home later that afternoon, the house was cold. Several more visits to the warm car with the dog and then way too early to bed- flannel sheets, comforter, 3 blankets, bed spread. Add to that the heat of a canine body under those flannel sheets with me, covers over my head —it was actually cozy and warm. Surely by tomorrow morning the power would be back on. But it wasn’t!
That’s when all the insecurities came back to haunt me. It was the first time since the power died that I felt fear. Am I going to get through this? The cold was encasing me, hindering my movement, even the dog was shivering. The car became our safe haven. We drove around a little, grabbed some food and returned home…..back to bed! Feeling slightly like a helpless child. All kinds of insecurities surfaced…..I wanted it over. Then I began to worry about what kind of damage had been done to my house- broken pipes, what about the yard and the trees. even my electric toothbrush died- what next?
Honestly, I had trouble seeing the beauty. I was in awe of Mother Nature but no way would I allow myself to be calmed by the beauty as my anger was growing proportionately to the drop in the temperature inside my house. Surely by tomorrow morning the power would return………But it didn’t!
Struggles and Gratitude
Having recently relocated, I was untouched by the recent ice storm and resulting disruptions endured by my colleagues. Several years ago, I found myself in a similar predicament. Due to heavy snowfall and high winds my home was without power from the electric grid for four days. Fortunately, I had a manual generator that needed to be wheeled out of the garage and was fueled by gas but once plugged in, provided me with all of the necessities and then some. I happily housed a friend and his family until power was restored.
I remember some of the feelings Wal described. The community around where I lived, came together to clear a fallen tree that blocked our road and had taken down power and phone lines. We checked in with each other, offered firewood to those who were running low, and warm showers to those who sought to remain in their very cold houses. Despite the hardships for some and inconveniences for others, it was a time of support and caring and selflessness. It was also a time of beauty for the drifting snow created natural sculptures and had muffled the usual din of traffic, chainsaws and distant shouts of children playing to a soft, indistinct decibel hardly noticed above the quiet.
I’m glad my friends are safe and warm and showered! This experience will no doubt be fodder for many stories and tales passed along to those who were not affected and to generations yet to come. And I’m glad that Wal reminds us that in the struggle can be found beauty, community, and gratitude for what we do have that makes our lives so comfortable when the power is on. I can’t help but think that we have embraced technology so fully that we are dependent on it for not only comfort but also for survival. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to build in some back ups for when the systems can’t provide for us and we’re left to our own resources.