Storm of '08

When we first moved to New England, neighbors and friends, noticing our California license plates, regaled us with stories about why we “Californians” would “love” New England winters given the history of “the worst, most miserable winter storms”, with the hurricane of ’38 mentioned the most often.

The “ice storm of ’08”, which occurred a week ago tonight, Thursday, December 11st, will no doubt give ’38 a run for top billing, for at least a few decades to come. The moral of this story isn’t in the details of persevering, but instead, what was learned about being better prepared, when it was all said and done.

trees ice

I’ve experienced hurricanes, the evacuation of hurricanes (more terrifying than hurricanes given the element of human-panic); high-desert forest fires devouring thousands of tinder-dry sage and scrub oak acres; lightening striking our lake cabin, blowing out every small motor, popping nails out of the walls like machine gun fire, before finally grounding itself a foot away from a 1,000 gallon propane tank; and, lived to tell about the hair-raising sounds a tornado makes ripping through a campground of tents and small trailers, slamming old-growth trees to the ground, miraculously only slightly-injuring a few and killing no one.

A week ago Thursday night, huddled with my children under piles of blankets, my husband away on business – hours after the power, heat and water had been knocked out, with hours yet to go before sunrise – the sounds outside were like none I’d ever before experienced. Days later, in comparing notes with others, we all used the words, “like a war zone”, describing the hours spent in the cold dark, listening to the furious sounds made by the nonstop barrage of ice blasting everything in its path, howling winds, and twisting, exploding trees. Holding “all thoughts captive” during those hours, praying for the Lord’s mercy and protection, “ice” and “hail” Bible verses came to mind.

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of distress, for the day of war and battle?” (Job 38:22-23)

Feeling a sense of relief, knowing the fury pounding against the sides of my house was nowhere near what was possible if the Lord decided to remove restraints from his stockpile…

And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe. – Revelation 16:21??

…realizing the ice balls pounding against my roof, walls and windows were nowhere close to 100-pound hailstones. I was calmed by the knowledge that if the Lord had intended for this to be the Final Storm, my house would not have remained standing, sheltering us from His wrath. Holding my thoughts captive, I prayed for a calm attitude and spirit – not one of fear – to deal with what was to come when dawn broke free of night.

kayak fence grass ice

The first glimmer of morning found me outside, entering a bizarre, sparkling, frozen world – plant surfaces, grass blades, kayaks, swing set and chain-link fence covered in a thick, clear coating, like bizarre ice cubes. The circle of forest, surrounding our yard, suffered damage every 10-feet – twisted branches, trees snapped in half, or smaller trees crushed under the weight of a larger mass falling from the forest canopy above. All during the long, sleepless night, I’d listened to the sounds of the destruction – explosions and crashing – and even as I stood in my driveway, I listened as branches in the forest continued to snap and crash to the ground.

An ancient rock wall weaving through my woods – a telltale sign my property was once grazing-land – was covered under a twisted pile of pine branches. I paused, as I often do since moving to New England, reflecting on the people whose hands had built that wall, 150 or 200 years ago, realizing that a similar storm during their lifetime would have found them in far better circumstances than it did me with my modern, worthless conveniences.

The only thing we would have shared on this, the morning after a storm, was they also would have been making notes of damaged trees running along the perimeter of their land, hearing the same limb-crashing sounds. Like me, they would have been momentarily distracted by the sound of animals crunching their way across ice-covered land – their cows, my dogs – but other than that, the panic I felt rising in my chest, making me feel almost over-heated in the near-zero temperatures, was not something they would have experienced.

The loss of modern services – electricity, running water, flushing toilets or hot water – would not have impacted those living on my land so many years ago. Even the downed tree spanning the width of my driveway – blocking me from driving out my 1,400 foot driveway to the main highway – would have been of little consequence to those of yesteryear. If they’d had a need to leave, which I doubt they would (for why should they – it was only an ice storm for them, and not survival as it was for me) their horse would have easily stepped over any obstacle. Of course, the thick layer of ice was another matter….

In my mind, I saw them, all those decades ago, arms loaded with seasoned fire wood, and perhaps a fresh bucket of milk and basket of eggs still warm from the nest, returning to their structure, smoke pouring from its chimney. Leaving them going on about a regular, normal routine, I returned to my place in time, to a house that felt barely warmer than the outdoors.

I knew if I loaded up my fireplace, building a fire – oh, I so desired one, just to feel heat, if only for a short time! – I knew it was foolish, as it would draw out more warm air than it would replenish. Thumping my drip coffeemaker, pronouncing it, “useless”, I turned to see my two wide-eyed children, “I’m hungry”, and “I’m cold”, who I wished were still snuggled and sleeping in my bed, nestled under a mountain of blankets. In their wide-eyed uncertain eyes, I found my backbone, a strength and resolve to give us some direction and put everyone to a task, in order to find a little bit of “normal”. Food, first task, and then I’d consider other needs. Given the number of pets we have, and my son’s Autism, we didn’t make good shelter candidates, so for us, that wasn’t an option and I had a very short window of time to turn my situation around or there were going to be some dire outcomes, beginning with my tropical parrots.

generator candles

After directing everyone, “no flushing the toilets!”, “don’t use the faucets!”, I headed for the kitchen stove, lighter in hand, hoping the manufacturer hadn’t rigged up some type of protect-the-customer-mechanism, prohibiting me from manually lighting the auto-ignite propane-gas burners. Relief surged through me, when a blue-flamed “whoosh” formed a small circle of heat, the first heat source I’d felt in over 12 hours.

Eggs, bacon, hot cocoa and tea soon followed, a good start toward “normal”, all having contributing to making the kitchen a bit warmer. While we ate, I filled a large stainless steel dutch oven with water, letting it gently simmer sending a soothing wave of moist heat into the air. It also provided us with hot water for wash cloths, more tea and washing dishes. Still not yet satisfied, my high-functioning Autistic 8-year-old son continued to scold me, throughout breakfast, “Mommy, we’re in the house and shouldn’t have to wear a coat! This is just not right!” Determined more than ever to figure out how to stay in the house, knowing that a change to a shelter would have been stressed him to the point of anxiety, something common in Autism, I reminded him, “This is just like camping, and, you know how much you love camping”, which calmed him, at least for a few hours.

And so it went, day-after-day, for the better part of a week. A wife alone, 150 years ago, with two children and numerous animals (albeit, mine are pets), would not have faced the struggle I did, stepping into unfamiliar territory and feeling totally incompetent dealing with difficult-to-start generators, chokes, oil, gas, wiring, power extension cords, electrical loads, malfunctioning furnaces, juggling foods from one refrigerator to another, removing trees spanning the driveway before being able to leave in order to first find, then buy more gas, more water, more batteries, and then waiting in long lines to purchase those items.

While the week-long “adventure” was tiring, at times intensely lonely without my husband’s calm manner and handy biceps, I learned a great deal. What I came away with was a deeper resolve to be far less “soft”, not as dependent on the systems of the world, and to be more self-sufficient than what I am. I’m not used to feeling incapable and incompetent, but a generator and furnace, neither of which wanted to work together, and the source of two more nights of going without sleep, was enough to send me weeping into the arms of my husband, when he returned from his trip, telling him over and over, “I’m so glad you’re home. I’m so glad you’re here. I don’t ever want to have to fill another generator as long as I live.” As wonderful as it was to have him say, “It’s okay, I’m here now and I“ll take care of you”, I’m more convicted than ever that whatever back-up plan we have, will have to include a system in which everyone is more prepared, with or without everyone being home. It would serve the children well, to also be better trained in survival.

While I’m “off-grid” when it comes to my food – at least that’s one area that I felt extremely competent with, knowing that our food supply could easily have provided us with meals for months to come – being off-grid with other resources of water, electricity and heat must be as adequate. It’s time to draw up a plan.

Storm Articles:

Storm Paralyzes Parts of New England

Power Still Out for Thousands

Power Won’t Be Back Soon

Recovery is Slow

Ron Paul, Worst-ever ice storm in New England a godsend.

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