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!