Monday, December 15, 2008


They say it was the worst storm of its kind in fifty years.
I cannot disagree.
All that dense, lush foliage, thankfully in its dormant winter stage, suddenly encased in dazzling, icy beauty.
But beneath the beauty, there was so much damage and destruction.
Never have I seen such havoc, except in photographs and news footage from places very far away.

Late Thursday night the storm had picked up in intensity. The temperature hovered in the narrow band around the freezing point, which allowed the incremental build up of ice on every leaf, twig, branch and trunk. By 2:00 o’clock Friday morning, we were beginning to hear cracking sounds as the weakest branches gave way under the icy load. Around the same time we lost the electricity. Throughout the night, ominous sounds woke us, leading to a fitful sleep. Come morning, the sleet and freezing rain had slowed and we emerged to survey the damage.

It did not look like our property. It seemed a cruel imitation; an echo of something lovely, relaxed and natural, contorted into something strange and ugly. And the noise; like gunshots or perhaps the sharp report of a shotgun, as thick branches snapped and crashed to the earth, hurtling through lower growth, multiplying the damage.

We wandered about, trying to take it all in. Calling out the names of trees and shrubs as we recognized them in their new humbled forms: the mock orange, the lilacs, the rhododendron, the birches. Everywhere the white birches were bowed to the ground. Through all four seasons they are bright streaks of white shooting up through the dense growth around them. We hated to lose so many, so suddenly.

Our street was drivable, but only as one long, alternating, zig zag lane. Folks drove by slowly in cars and trucks, many stopping to talk, compare notes, share news of how widespread the storm had been and pass on rumors of when the power might be restored. One group of neighbors had taken on the task of making sure our road was clear enough for emergency vehicles. They went along in a big truck until they spotted a downed tree. Then they would hop out, rev up their chainsaws, make quick work of it and move on to the next impediment.

We went back indoors to collect our thoughts and touch base with family members. (Wonderfully, with the exception of about 15 hours, we have had uninterrupted land line phone service. Cell phone service has also been remarkably reliable, periodic overloaded circuits notwithstanding.) As Chuck and I pooled the information we had gleaned from neighbors and our niece Kate who, via the phone, provided us with online news from the utility companies, we came to terms with the notion that this outage would be of unusually long duration. (It was Kate who left the update in the comments of my last post. Thank you Kate!)

Friday went by in a blur. Family members offered to open up their homes to us, but we were determined to stay put. While we had filled the tub with water to be available for flushing the toilet, we were worried about having enough potable water on hand to last us. So we drove over to the high school which was being transformed into a shelter. The folks there were happy to allow us to fill our five gallon jerry can with water. With that and the gallon jugs we had on hand, we felt ready to get through the next day or so.

While I prepared a meal by candlelight and a head lamp, Chuck got our Aladdin lamp fired up. Its classic late nineteenth century design sends out the light of about a 60 watt bulb and, on a cold winter day, a delightful amount of warmth. Come bedtime (an unusually early bedtime!) we left our three season down quilt on the bed and layered our big, poofy winter down quilt on top of that.

The next morning we headed west out to the Pioneer Valley, which had been left unscathed, to pick up a few supplies. Along the way we discussed our options. The comment we had heard from Massachusetts Governor Patrick in which he said having power restored by Monday was “ambitious”, had given us pause. Our biggest fear was having our pipes freeze. We began discussing generators. But because thousands and thousands of citizens were also without power, we figured our chances of finding one were between slim and none - and Slim just left town! As we drove down Route 9 in Hadley, we suddenly saw a brand spankin’ new Home Depot. We sat in the parking lot while Chuck phoned our neighbor Dave who knows a whole lot about a whole lot of things and asked him about generators.

When we went inside the Home Depot, Arthur at the service desk was on the phone with a customer who could have easily been us. We eavesdropped as Arthur shared that there might be a few generators on a truck, driving up from down south, later that afternoon. Arthur advised us to check back around four. We returned at three! By that point they knew there were 100 generators - of unknown size, brand and price arriving between 4:00 and 4:30. If we wanted one, we should get a number from the manager. We became number 6. Whatever the sixth generator off that truck was, it was ours. As we lined up near the back of the store, employees wheeled flatbed carts out with a generator on each one. Numbers were called out and we cheered each one with : “Congratulations! It’s a bouncing baby generator!”

Chuck placed a call to one of our neighbors who is an electrician. We asked if we could hire him to help us get the generator hooked up properly. He agreed. We also asked him what else we should purchase to facilitate that process. List in hand, we completed our purchase and headed home. By 9:00 p.m. Saturday the gasoline fueled generator began to roar and lights came on around the house. Soon our refrigerator was refrigerating, our well was pumping and our furnace was heating! It took several hours to get the indoor temp of about 39 F (4 C) up to our usual overnight of 54 F (12 C), but it worked. We shut the generator down for the night and headed wearily but happily to bed.

Sunday morning we shut off everything except the refrigerator and managed to take showers. Wow! A hot shower and a flushable toilet - bestill my heart! Clean, we then drove down to visit my Mom in Rhode Island and felt as if we were back in college as we walked in with two loads of laundry to wash and dry! Today, with the ice melted by 50 F degree (10 C) temperatures, we spent much of the day pruning and carting off debris. I’m happy to report that a surprising number of trees and shrubs have bounced back up and despite heavy losses, the yard looks a little more like it did before the storm.

We are still without electricity from the grid and still have no date certain for when it might be restored. But we are safe and sound and surprisingly well powered - all of which leaves us grateful. Thank you for your good and very warm wishes. We felt them before we could even read them!

Looking to the woods, over the clothesline

Our road, looking east

Our road, looking west

A birch encased in ice, against Chuck's hand

The damage which lies beneath

Canada Geese on a nearby pond

Sharp contrasts could be seen by the afternoon

Our Aladdin lamp sheds light and warmth

Our own private utility!


dancingmorganmouse said...

Wow those pictures are amazing. I just can't imagine it.
Well done you & Chuck, making do and surviving.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lee & Chuck,

Great reportage and excellent storytelling. Glad your safe, sorry about the damaged trees.

It's been snowing here in Santa Fe; not really heavy, I've only been out twice shoveling. My neighbor's been at it all day - and he has a snowblower! I wish he would knock it off - the accumulation is mostly from the wind blowing.

Oh yes, the pictures are wonderful. I continue to miss the 'visuals' of northeast winters!

"Guide by the Ancestors"

Roo said...

Wow - It's difficult to come to terms with the idea of a tree literally covered in ice, when it looks like it has been hand dipped so many times. I promise, hand on heart, never ever ever, to bitch again, about scraping the less then mm layer of ice off the car windscreen on a morning.

I agree with George, great words, and we are all glad I am sure, that you are both safe and your friends too.

Plus, you have a new toy too - bargain!

All the best, P&A x

dancingmorganmouse said...

I forgot to say, your trees! What terrible damage, I hope what can, recovers come springtime.

Anonymous said...

glad to hear that the generator powered up more than the lights!!!!

Stunning pics by the way, especially the contrasting green grass and the ice that still hadn't melted.


barbie2be said...

i am glad that you are safe and warm. the pictures are scary but beautiful. have a care on all that ice!

Pink Granite said...

Hi DMM (x2) -
Thank you! We enjoy the creativity, problem solving and concentration that coping with the sudden withdrawal of basic services as well as luxuries requires. But the generator has made getting through a crisis of this duration much, much easier!

As for the trees, we are relieved at how many seem to be back to something approaching normal. We await the final verdict in the spring...
- Lee

Hi George -
Thank you so much! I wanted to capture the whole experience without drowning you in extraneous details!

Your photos of Santa Fe have been beautiful.
Chuck has a new snowblower. So despite this current situation, he is not so secretly looking forward to the first significant snowfall so he can take it for a test drive!

I'm happy to keep you in plenty of winter images comparable to upstate New York!
- Lee

Hi Roo -
"Hand dipped" - that's it exactly!
Feel free to bitch and moan as much as you please - just so long as these photos help you keep it all in perspective!

We too are relieved and grateful that nearly everyone is coming through this with flying colors.
Thank you very much for your good wishes and kind words!
- Lee

Hi Gail -
When we last spoke on the phone I had no idea how much we would be able to achieve by carefully managing the load on the generator. It has been fabulous!

I liked the sharp contrasts in that afternoon photo as well. Thank you!
- Lee

Hi B2B -
Thank you!
At the moment the roads and walkways are free from ice. However there is snow and freezing rain predicted for overnight. So we will indeed take good care!
- Lee

purpleronnie said...

Ok so I am very late to comment here but wow! what a scary time you've had. The pictures are nevertheless really beautiful and I'm glad you seem to be managing quite well.

We have power cuts here all the time so our generator is always on standby - it's a godsend.


Sue said...

So good to hear from you and to know that you are both safe (and warming up!). While I'm sure this storm has been devastating to many, your photos are beautiful. Just looking at them has given me goosebumps - I just can't imagine ever being that cold. We're enjoying 28 deg (C) sunshine today with a brisk wind, so I'm sending some added heating your way via that...

Stay warm!!
Sue xxx

PS. Thanks, Kate, for keeping us up-to-date!!