I will be one of the first to say that Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene was overhyped. We were on vacation in rural Maine, almost completely cut off from technology other than sketchy cell phone service, and even we knew that a hurricane was brewing. The random Twitter or Facebook update informed us that we better get home, get ready, and prepare for the worst. Being a lifelong New England girl, I have experienced my share of hurricanes. They absolutely do not intimidate me. Having seen wildfires burn in the distance from my home in San Diego, with soot and ash literally raining on my classroom, I scoff at an extreme weather warning up here. New Englanders know how to prepare, we know what to expect, and we can handle almost anything. Plus, we get a heck of a lot of warning. So the little itty bitty rainstorm that showed up on Sunday night, with absolutely no wind, caused me nothing but intrigue, not fear. We didn’t even lose power.
I get the feeling Mother Nature doesn’t appreciate my general disregard for her prowess. Yes, that’s a Jeep. Under a tree, roots and all, in a culvert of a parking lot. Water is not supposed to be in that equation. Actually, I don’t think the tree is, either.
As every media outlet has pronounced, Vermont got the brunt of the drama from Irene. We had plenty of rain this summer, and got plenty more in an extremely short period of time. Add a lot of dirt roads to the mix and a landscape that encourages waterfalls, valleys, creeks, and gorges, and you get the perfect recipe for unbelievable flooding. And, being New Englanders, we didn’t really think it was going to happen until it was. But even then, we knew we could handle it.
Take me and JDubbs, for example. We turned on the Weather Channel Sunday and we heard hurricane, flash floods, and winds up to 85 mph. We shrugged, turned it off, and went on our merry way. We packed our bags with enough gear for us and the kids for one night away, certain we’d be back the next morning. The only reason we went to my in-laws’ in the first place (other than the yummy food and babysitters) is that there was a reasonable chance a tree could fall on our house. We live in the woods. It happens.
The storm started just as the kids went down for their nap, so what did we zany New Englanders do? Jumped in the car and headed toward the river. Suddenly storm chasers didn’t seem so outrageous to me; it was exhilerating! We took videos of the waterfall at the Quechee covered bridge that we know so well, marveling at the vibration under our feet, the literal roar of the river charging beneath us. Only once a massive tree hurtled over the falls, only to shoot back up in a collision with the rocks below, did we realize maybe this wasn’t the smartest thing we’ve ever done. Not interested in orphaning my children today, thank you very much, especially over something so stupid. Back in the car, back home.
Put the kids to bed, back in the car, back to the river. Harder to get there now because the river had taken on a mind of its own and decided that these measly banks and roads that encompass it were really cramping its style. The laws of physics were suspended. Where the river usually rushed thirty feet below the bridge, now it was actually passing through it and over it. Through a bridge that was unbeliveably high, where teenagers idiotically jump to enjoy the freefall. A bridge that used to look like this, from the river’s point of view before the waterfall:
over the falls, that usually looked like that:
Yesterday, the bridge looked like this and this:
The river devoured the road. That’s all there is to it. You can look down where concrete used to be and now see running water. The back of that real estate office is gone, their paperwork and office supplies littering Main Street. Simon Pearce, the restaurant and glassworks shop that you know I love so much from this post, was underwater. Remember how I took Jax to go see the glassblowers and how awestruck he was by their art?
Well, that workshop is a mangled heap of metal because the river knocked down the wall and made that space its very own playground. And that glassblower, I’m sure, is now out of a job. At least, until Simon Pearce rebuilds, which we all very much hope it will.
After the storm, JDubbs and I returned to our street only to be met with a less-than-friendly neighbor. Meet Mr. Giant Sinkhole, Esquire, and admire my cell phone photography skills.
He ran the width of the street from end to end. And climbing through him wasn’t a piece of cake, either. He was deceptively deep and unstable. Although I’d take that over our driveway any day.
Those are the pipes that the quaint little brook that flows through our property uses to make its way downstream and follow its destiny to join the big river, which will later merge with that same aforementioned waterfall. Except usually, you can’t see the pipes. Seeing them is bad. Makes it hard for the mini-van to navigate, to be honest. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the town had it fixed that very day. Why we were high up on the priority list, I’m not sure. Maybe because it’s a dirt road so it only took a dump truck and a grader ten minutes to accomplish. Maybe because the road was completely inoperable. Maybe they went in alphabetical order or pulled a name out of a hat. I don’t care; I’m just glad to be back home, with electricity and running water. Not everyone up here can say the same.
On the way home we passed by the Quechee Green, where we admired the propane tank now resting beside my favorite willow tree and the swamp that was once a soccer field.
You are familiar with this park if you’ve been around here long enough. This is where the Balloon Festival is held, where we took family photos on Father’s Day (same willow tree), where we play in the evenings and run the dog around, where I held my first professional photo shoot. Needless to say, I am fond of this place; now we have to bring our rainboots.
That night I once again put the kids to bed, jumped in the car, and headed to the river.
Remember the fabulous red door beneath The Parker House?
Here’s what I found:
Those photos are somewhat misleading in their devastation because the main restaurant and inn are ten feet above this scene. Luckily for them (and us), the water only got into their storage area (or so I hear).
Surprising myself, Mending Wall by Robert Frost rose unbidden to my thoughts when I came across this new landscape and this now unfamiliar spot.
”Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”
Ah, Frost. No one does New England like Frost.
The sun set upon another photographer, capturing mood and light as best he could, just like me. At least the colorful sky made the scene less bleak and we marveled together at the transformation before us.
Again, I was inspired to recall a line of poetry, dragged from the recesses of my mind by the somber tone and some strange need to make order out of chaos. I am not being romantic here; I literally thought these words as I stood there. Another New Englander, Henry Wadworth Longfellow, from his poem The Rainy Day:
“Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.”
I’ll interpret those words at that moment like this. Life is not going to be easy every day. There will be rain and there will be clouds, but most of the time, there is glorious sunshine. I’ll try to remember that on those rainy days, and watch with pride as the people around me band together to begin rebuilding their homes and communities. Times like these remind me of the good in people and the strength in groups, and how we always seem to come together during difficulties. We have our home, we have our family, and even our belongings. We have to work to regain the beauty of our communities and to help support local businesses, but in the spirit of the people I’ve already seen out there, picking up debris and filling in holes, I know this transformation can only lead to growth. And my kids will be out there playing in their rainboots, having just as much fun as before, making mud pies.