Sunday, September 4, 2011

Goodnight Irene

You all may have heard a hurricane swept into New England last weekend. It raised quite a stir, from the frenzied pre-landfall reporting to the unexpected flooding Irene produced in Vermont and upstate New York.

Around here, Irene summoned up some impressive winds and waves, and even gave me a chance to play reporter again for a day. (You can read that story here.) I ventured outside about 1 p.m. on Sunday, about four hours after the most powerful elements of the hurricane had swept through. I was bowled over by what I saw: stately trees snapped in half, innumerable branches strewn in the streets and on sidewalks. In some cases, the leafy debris was so dense it blocked my path, and I had to find another route. A 40- to 50-foot tree had fallen over a few blocks from our house, and it appeared to be lying on some power lines. First responders had blocked passage on the street with yellow caution tape. Not much further away, on the main street that runs through our quaint downtown, at least one massive tree had given up the ghost, taking a pole and several power lines with it. Just up the block was part of a two-by-four, some cables still attached, hanging in a web of wires overhead. It looked as if a projectile had been fired and been ensnared in a web.

Here's a video of what I saw downtown:

Four blocks of the main street had been blocked off because of the downed wires, some of which danced with each gust of wind, like a puppet to a techno beat. I walked on, down toward the water, just a few blocks away. There, I watched the water boil, wave after foaming wave churning their way northward into the town harbor, and splitting their guts against the rock walls. I was awestruck. The bay was angry, impetuous, whipped by the lashes of its slavemaster, the wind. Standing near the water, the droplets washed over me as if I were standing in a summer rain. The marinas were vacant; the boat owners had moored their vessels in open water. I get that now. Why would you subject your craft to slamming against a wooden pier that may come unmoored when you can tie it in open water and let it rise and fall with the current, no matter how strong?

Here's a video from the harbor.

I returned from my walkabout about 2:30, I think, and despite the carnage I had witnessed, all was well chez nous. Michelle had planned well for a power outage; she had filled the bathtub (in case we needed water to flush), she had filled up many containers with drinking water, she had cranked up the cold settings on the refrigerator and freezer, she had stacked the freezer with frozen Tupperware to keep it cold as well, and she had moved some easy eats to a cooler. Thanks to her, we were ready, more or less.

It didn't seem necessary. Irene was dying down by the afternoon, albeit with some gusty last breaths. At one point, Michelle and I looked at each other: We were in the clear, we thought, and we were talking about breaking down our storm preparations when ... the electricity went out.

OK, the power is out. No worries. In fact, it was kind of fun! For the next two days, I'd submit we partook of quite the adventure. Neighbors checked in on neighbors. We dined two consecutive nights with our friends across the street, the St. Angelos. Feasted, really. Pancakes, turkey sausage and fruit salad the first night and spaghetti with meatballs, sausages and grilled zucchini the next. Clearing out your fridge does have some advantages.

Come nightfall, an eerie calm fell over the streets. It was dark (naturally) everywhere you looked, the inkiness spoiled only by darting shafts of beams from flashlights or headlamps. Inside homes, lit candles gave off a charm and warmth that lights fail to deliver. Wandering outside with a glass of red wine in my hand, I looked up and was bowled over by the starry skies above. I saw constellations I didn't even know existed. I even saw the faint wisps of the Milky Way. It's astounding how the ambient glow of even small towns can blot out the night sky, and take us further away from the natural world.

Anyway, for four nights, we were tossed back in time – when simpler things – a book, conversations with family and friends – held sway. Before 9 each night, we were bushed; it felt like midnight, and we headed to bed. I understand now why, before electricity, people rose with the sun and accomplished much of what they needed by nightfall. You simply can't do that much in the dark.

At 3:30 a.m. on Thursday, amidst the roar of generators all around, Michelle nudged me awake. "Notice anything different?" she asked.
On my back, I opened my eyes. Light streamed down on me. Still groggy, I blinked a few times before I made the connection.

Electricity had returned. Hallelujah. I never felt so grateful for something I've taken mostly for granted.

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