Monthly Archives: October 2011

Michael Rennie Was Ill The Day The Earth Stood Still…

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PTL the power came back on 15 minutes ago, and I’m just going to hope like hell that it doesn’t go back down again.  There’s an emergency response team from North Carolina repairing the lines downtown, where I live, and apparently they really want to go back home where it is warm.  God bless ’em, I say.  Also, thank you Jesus that we bought a house that abuts the commercial district and is one block from Main Street – it apparently puts us in the priority 1 zone for restoring power, because they still don’t have it a block or two away.

I’m going to hit the Rewind button in a second, and take us all back in time several days, but before I do, I want to make the obligatory Bad Language advisory.  In the story that follows, the word “fuck” is going to be used in every part of speech with the exception of conjunctions and prepositions.  It might even get used as a pronoun.  In an effort to avoid getting my post indexed as an Adult Site through sheer repetition of the above term, I’ve decided to substitute it with ***. And, in an effort to save space, because this *** is going to get deployed very heavily due to the circumstances, I’m going to let you know that the *** is exponential.  *** would be one version of f**k.  *** *** would be 4 of them.  *** *** *** would be 9 of them. And so on.

This past weekend was my 6th wedding anniversary.  We went from our wedding directly to a country inn in Vermont, and continue to commemorate the event in this manner through the present.  This year, we were determined to take ourselves and our tourism dollars to the Deerfield Valley, which was an area that was particularly hard-hit by Hurricane Irene.  The Inn we go to is up the road from Wilmington, home of our favorite diner that was washed away in the storm.  People there didn’t have much in the way of flood insurance, because this flood wasn’t even a hundred-year event…the probability of major flooding from a hurricane in Vermont is vanishingly small.  And yet, as with the Discworld, something has to occupy the tails of the probability distribution, and in this case, it was the Irene and Vermont.  I can’t count the dollars I’ve sent to various charitable causes there, but I do know that at least 10 of them went into raffle tickets at the beer festival earlier this month.  I know this because I actually won something.  I never win raffles.  And this wasn’t just something, it was the Grand Prize.  I had no idea what it was, not having paid any attention whatsoever to the objects on the prize table – since I never win raffles, and since the main idea was to shed some more cash into the problem.  I’d have bought tickets even if they were raffling snowmobile maintenance, or barn painting.  I was thunderstruck, therefore, when on the drive back home I got a phone call informing me that I’d won something.  I could tell what it was, due to poor reception in the mountains, but I did make arrangements to pick whatever it was up the next time I was in the area…which was this weekend.

Now, I think, I’ve provided all of the requisite Back Story, so let’s go back to Thursday!

Thursday gave us weird and shitty weather.  It rained.  Then it poured, and then it rained some more.  I had two classes on Thursday: one in late afternoon, one at night.  By the time I moved my car before the night class, it was coming down cats and dogs, and the car thermometer read 36.  And that was in Springfield – when I checked the web for temps at home, they were lower.  Not, I concluded, a Good Night to be roaming about the streets after dark.  I had one person show up to class, and I promised him that if he went home, I’d send everyone else who might show up home, too, so he wouldn’t miss anything.  Ultimately, over the course of the next half-hour, another 4 people trickled through, briefly, and got packed right back off.  By the time I left, snow was starting to mix in with the rain.  “***” I swore, and I buzzed off for home as quickly as possible.  The freeway has been under major construction for ages, and I usually stick to the back roads, but this time, I thought, better the main one.  Good thing, too, because halfway between work and home, the rain completely changed over to snow.  And not just “snow” but “SNOW”.  Visibility: about 300 feet.  “*** ***” I said, making a complete sentence out of a series of four (remember, these are exponential).  At least it was warm enough, still, at 34 degrees that the stuff wasn’t adhering to the pavement, and I made it home at a record hour for a Thursday night, and we celebrated by walking over to the grille and having some ribs and a glass of something called “Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale”, billed by the brewery as ” Pumking is an ode to Púca, a creature of Celtic folklore, who is both feared and respected by those who believe in it. Púca is said to waylay travelers throughout the night, tossing them on its back, and providing them the ride of their lives, from whichthey return forever changed! Brewed in the spirit of All Hallows Eve, a time of year when spirits can make contact with the physical world and when magic is most potent. Pour Pumking into a goblet and allow it’s alluring spirit to overflow. As spicy aromas present themselves, let its deep copper color entrance you as your journey into this mystical brew has just begun. As the first drops touch your tongue a magical spell will bewitch your taste buds making it difficult to escape.”

No truer words ever spoken. Remember this, it turns out to be important.  At the time, however, I simply considered it to be the best, yes, most magical beer I’d ever had. Ha. Ha. Ha.  and again Ha.

Friday dawned clear and bright and stupefyingly gorgeous. A perfect day, in fact, to Go Ride My Horse.  I did notice, as I left town in the direction of the barn, that there were many vehicles making their way into town – presumably for work – that were capped off with a couple of inches of snow.  And at the barn, my attention was arrested by the ground, but it took me a few minutes to understand why:  I had never before seen green grass coated with snow and frost.

You know all that complaining I’ve been doing about the fall?  Well, it’s true.  Not just that I’m complaining, but that there has been something significantly wrong with the entire fall.  And this image of the grass and the snow and frost brought it home.  The grass is supposed to be brown at this time, because it should have frozen long since.  There is no point, I say no point where I ought to be seeing red leaves on top of white snow.  It’s wrong.  However, the ring was free of snow, and I had a great ride on Huey, who – at least at that point – was managing to raise his Plays Well With Others grade from an F to a D+ and didn’t – at that point – have any additional war wounds to sport.

I left the phone number at the Inn with my barn owner, because the cell reception in the Green Mountains is notoriously poor.  Vermont doesn’t have a lot of cell towers, and it really doesn’t have a lot of line-of-sight anything.  The state is known, mainly, for being Attractively Rumpled, and secondarily, for beautiful fall colors and snow, both of which are enhanced by the rumpling of the terrain. It’s also known for being remote.  There are only two towns that are large enough to consider qualifying for city status, and one of those (Brattleboro) is even smaller than Northampton.  The reason why we head up there so often is that we like Rumpled, Scenic Isolation.  It’s conducive to the Romantic Getaway.

We packed our bags and headed north, stopping for lunch in Brattleboro, and taking one of our Secret Ninja Routes over the mountain to the Inn.  It doesn’t matter which mountain.  In Vermont, you are either on this side of the mountain, or the other side of the mountain, or on the mountain, or – rarely – in the valley.  But even then, you’re on one side or the other of the mountain.  Which side you are on (this or the other) depends on the person to whom you are speaking, and why.  Prepositions are a very important part of speech in Vermont.  We headed up the mountain (another preposition, there) and was astonished to see that the foliage – which should have been long gone – was instead, just past Peak, and that there were several inches of snow on the ground and on the trees as well. This would be thanks to the same system that caused me to boot class the night before.

It was remarkable to see this.  Imagine the bright yellow and orange of the leaves, the stark feather black of the branches, all outlined with the crisp whiteness of snow.  I’ve never seen the like.  Nor has Jeff, and he’s lived in this area for 30 years.  It was astonishing in its beauty.  And once in a while, we’d crest a hill and a vista would open up, and we’d see the patchwork of reds, yellows, orange, and the dark greens of the evergreens, all outlined in strokes of the brightest white.

I was looking at it and experiencing it, and I still couldn’t believe it.

We made it to the Inn for tea-time (tea, yes, but also hot apple cider and fresh cookies), and we relaxed in front of the fireplace in our room, and we inspected the view from the picture window, and it was Good.  So was dinner, in fact, it was so good we made reservations for the following night.

And throughout this, I am getting bulletins on my Android e-mail via the Inn’s Wi-Fi from the National Weather Service that indicate that things are going to be on the nasty side come Saturday.  On Friday morning, they’d issued a Winter Weather Watch for Northampton, and one for Vermont as well, suggesting that we could have a storm that would dump up to 4 inches of snow, and that these weather advisories were more to do with the fact that it is very unusual for there to be any accumulating snow in this area at this time of the year than they were to do with the potential severity of the storm.  In light of this information, I decided to park my car in front of the house on the street, because when we get weird snowfalls like this, it causes every bird in town to come roost in the 50′ juniper at my back door, and they spend all night long shitting on my car.  And that nasty stuff then freezes onto the car, which becomes very difficult to clean, and it messes up the paint job too.  The other option is to cover my car – which is what I normally would do – except that I discovered early on that if the cover is on the car and it rains or sleets then freezes, the cover freezes onto the car, which then means I have to wait for a thaw or damage the cover by removing it early.  None of these options is attractive, and I was very happy to see when I came back from the barn that there was a spot open on the street right in front of the house.

However.  By Saturday morning, the NWS had significant ramped up their estimates of the coming storm, and had issued a Winter Storm Warning, with alerts that we could get around 6 inches of snow, and that it would be wet and heavy, and it might bring down some tree branches.  Because, of course, normally the trees do not have leaves on by the time accumulating snows show up.  At the same time, we’re getting alerts for Vermont that it could be up to 15 inches of snow.

“*** ***” I said. At least the predictions of the NWS were totally consistent about how this was going to unfold.  Everywhere it was supposed to start with an extended period of rain (yuk) before changing over slowly to all snow and starting to pile up.  And this changeover was supposed to happen in the early evening at home, and later in VT.

The good news was that 1) this meant we’d have all morning and early afternoon to hike in these fabulously beautiful woods, and 2) we were all set for the evening and weren’t going to need to drive anywhere in the messy weather.  And we’d be able to nap away the late afternoon in front of our cozy fire.  And – in keeping with the celebratory nature of the weekend – I had a fresh bottle of my special Scotch arrive on Friday morning as I was packing.  And the person with the raffle prize showed up while we werre out hiking, and droppped it off: it was a whole painting. The stars were lining up for us!

We hiked, we inspected the ski hill, we had coffees, and we got back to the room all ready to nap.  And then I checked my e-mails one. more. time.

And found there that the City of Northampton had issued a Snow Emergency in preparation for the storm.  Which meant that all street parking privileges were suspended for the duration, and that any car parked in the street would be towed.  Which meant that my car was getting towed.

Now, if there’s one thing I really hate, it’s careless buffoons handling my vehicle.  If there’s one thing that Jeff really hates, it’s tickets and fines for parking violations, including tow charges.

And our house is 1 hour, 17 minutes from the Inn.

And thus, the Fateful Decision, that we’d just zip back right quick to the house before the storm set in and move the car, and whiz back to the Inn and be there in time for tea, cider, and cookies at 4.  I checked the weather map, and it looked like things were right on schedule with the NWS predictions:  it was about to start raining in Northampton, but the snow frontier was still very south (this is how storms here happen: they move from the SW to the NE, so bad weather usually comes up from Connecticut).

We piled into the car, made a short stop for takeout sandwiches, and I flew like a bat with its tail on fire for home.  The roads were totally fine – dry and clear – all the way from the Inn to about 20 miles north of Northampton.  At that point, they were wet and I was starting to get the tiniest pinpricks of water on the windshield.  The thermometer was holding steady at 37, which was cold but not cold enough to be a problem.  Heavily-traveled asphalt doesn’t freeze very easily.   So Jeff, who was the designated driver for the trip back to the Inn, was cheerfully contemplating the hot cider, and whether there would be any of those macadamia nut cookies today.

This happy state lasted until we were about 10 miles north of Northampton.  At this point, I91 traverses rolling hills, and I crested a rise, looked down to a dip and back up the hill to the next rise…

…and couldn’t see it.  Because, draped across the road at the bottom of the hill, was a WALL of snow.  Towards which I was flying at about 80 mph.

“*** ***” I said.  Well, I say “said” but it was much more like “hollered”.

And then we hit it.  The visibility dropped instantly to 1/10 of a mile.

“At least,” I observed to Jeff, “the temperature is holding steady at 37.  This won’t be sticking on the road at that temperature.”

And then I watched the temperature drop one degree for every mile we traveled forward.  This is God’s Truth, too.  I’ve never seen anything like it at all.  After six miles, slightly more than 5 minutes, the temp was into the Danger Zone, and the snow was starting to adhere.  And the visibility was still between 1/10 and 2/10 of a mile.

“*** *** *** ***” I said, using *** as every part of speech in a 16-word sentence.

I had a good sense for where I would lose control of the car, and I pushed it right up to that line but didn’t cross over it, and we made it home.  I flew out, moved the car, collected the mail (which we forgot to have held), cussing the entire time, and took a couple of pictures with my phone.

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This is my house, looking more like mid-December than late October.

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This is my street, with a bunch of other people who were going to get towed. Note that the snow is already piling up on the road.

Aside from the whole Accumulating Snow Before Halloween, the salient item to grasp from these photos is that even though they are from my shitty Android phone cam, you can still see identifiable flakes of snow.  This is because the snow flakes were half the size of my palm.  These were not snowflakes to be measured in microns.  They were to be measured in inches.

No one in the car was happy with this turn of events, because 1) the event was clearly not starting out with an extended period of rain as had been predicted, and 2) it was happening much earlier than predicted.  Both harder and faster than expected, that is.  Still, we’d run into the Wall o’ Snow 10 miles outside of town, and storm systems don’t move that fast, so I had the Highest Hopes that we’d be driving out from it within a half hour.  And then, having Seen The Future,we would fly like the proverbial bat right back to the inn.  “And get the hot cider and cookies,” Jeff added.  I felt that the hot cider and cookies were the least of our issues, but I didn’t say that, since Jeff was driving.

This is what we saw heading north:

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That glowing sign up there is just to let us know that that Route 2, the major east-west artery in the northern part of the state, is STILL washed out from Hurricane Irene.

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This is about the point where we'd run into the Wall o' Snow coming down.

That’s when I realized that the Pumking beer really was magical, and that I’d fallen asleep on October 28 and woken up on January 28. I just hoped it was next January, not January 10 years from now. These pictures above were the best conditions we had coming back north. Those black strips there are where people had been driving, and they are the safest part of the road.  Within another 10 miles, they were gone and the entire road was white.  At that point, we were seeing sport utes and trucks in the ditch.  Every  mile there was someone who’d run off the road.  What was notable in its absence was anything Plow-Like.  This is because major freaking snowstorms before Halloween are virtually unheard of in this area, despite the Old Timers who swear that there was one year they had to go trick-or-treating in the snow.  The NWS hadn’t forecast this and apparently it takes a long time to get the plows hitched up to the plow trucks.

I still had faith that we’d drive out from under this any minute, until it became clear that the conditions were deteriorating rapidly and the snow seemed to have been piling up longer than was possible given a normal speed of movement with the storm.  That’s when I put my smartphone back on and checked the local radar.

“*** *** ***” I said. What the radar showed me was that the entire storm system appeared to have detonated over the region within the last half hour.  Instead of a snow frontier that advances north gradually, like Jesus wanted it, the entire system had started snowing all at once. Which meant that it was already snowing on the Inn, and that we were not going to be driving out from under it at any point.

Here’s where I ought to provide a refresher on that Vermont Preposition thing.  The freeway parallels the Connecticut River, it stays in the Connecticut River Valley, because that is the only flat terrain in the state.  And it’s only “flat” in a Vermonty sense.  “Flattish” would be a better way of putting it.  Our Inn, however, is just down the street from my ski hill.  Not in a “flattish” part of the state.  That means, it is on the other side of the mountain.  Which meant that in order to get there, we were going to have to go over the mountain. In a blizzard.  On unplowed roads.  In a sedan with all-season tires.

“*** *** *** *** ***” I said, once again using the word as every part of speech.

“Euw.” Jeff said. “You shouldn’t use language like that.”

“If you saw what I see, you’d do it too” I said.

“Just tell me what to do.” he said.

We decided that the best route would be to take 9 over the mountain, as that is the main east-west route through the bottom of the state, likely to be traveled, and most likely to have the little black tracks like you see in the pictures.  The ones that are kinda-sorta safe to drive in.  We got caught behind some Epic Slow Pokes on the way out.  “***” I said, again.

“I have to pee.” said Jeff.  He was learning how his body reacts to high-stress situations – and driving in these conditions is about as high-stress as you’re going to get without having someone hold a gun to your head.  So we made a short pit-stop at a diner, and got back on the road.  I’d seen maybe 10, 15 cars whiz by during the pit-stop, so the good news was that the route was getting a substantial amount of travel.  Excellent.

And things continued to be good until we came around a bend and saw a traffic jam in the forest.  No one was moving an inch.  Jeff stopped, leaving a good 50 feet between us and the car in front of us, because he had a hunch we’d want that.  We sat for 15 minutes waiting for something to move, and assuming that an accident had just occurred. Then someone in a pickup truck came cruising, very slowly – because these are snow covered twisty windy steep roads we’re talking about – and Jeff cranked his window down and yelled “WHAT IS GOING ON UP THERE?” at the guy.  Who – because Jeff was not the first one to pose this question, also had his window down and offered the observation that “no one can get up the hill”.

That nice big gap Jeff left came in very handy at that point, because we needed to execute a 180 from a stand-still on the slick snow covered two lane mountain road, with a rocky cliff going up on one side, and a rocky cliff going down on the other.  We headed back to Brattleboro and discussed what to do.  I should also observe that the atmosphere in the car was becoming…tense…as both of us were working really hard not to Go There on the “We shouldn’t have, we should have” thing.  We’re rational individuals, and knew that we’d made the best decisions we could with the available information, and that it was not either one of our faults that the information was incorrect.  It was clear that everyone had been taken by surprise…as evidence the notable lack of Plows in Vermont as well.  Vermont being a hilly, snowy sort of place with an economy that requires that people be able to travel in freely – especially at times of the year that are characterized by snow – typically has the plows out before the snow starts, salting and sanding the roads, and getting ready to clear them at a moment’s notice.  Took them a while to hook up the plows, too.

So things are a bit tense, and Jeff suggested I use his phone to call the Inn and let them know that we’d have trouble making dinner.  I got the Innkeeper and use my prepositions.

“We are on the other side of the mountain,” I said. “The wrong side. And Route 9 is impassable.  I don’t think we’ll be back tonight for dinner, and may not be back tonight at all.”

The Innkeeper suggested the Secret Ninja Route.  He, as have others before him, considers that the SNR is passable even when Route 9 is not.

I relayed this information to Jeff, who had taken the intervening five minutes to completely relinquish his idea of hot cider and cookies.  He bought into the suggestion instantly.

“Let’s do it.” he said.

I observed that there were significant challenges on that route as well, it being more remote, less traveled, nearly as hilly, and, well, more isolated, than the route we’d just tried.

“The Innkeeper said it would work!” he protested.

“The Innkeeper hasn’t been out on the roads in the last hour,” I said.

That’s when Jeff recalled the advice his mother gave him when he asked what her secret to attaining age 92 was: a combination of optimism and denial, she said.  He took this to heart.

“I’m going for optimism and denial!” he said. “We’re going to do it!”

“*** *** ***” I thought. Then again, Jeff has undeniable yet mystical powers of Good Luck that I do not have, and who knows…maybe they’re due to optimism and denial.  Besides, he was driving.  I kept my thoughts to myself, and considered that worst-case, we’d probably be able to hike back to the main road and hitch a ride into Brattleboro and stay at a local hotel there.

Route 30 is also in a river valley and is flattish.  It was also an incredible mess.  The snow was falling harder by the minute, the visibility was sinking, the snow was piling up on the road, there wasn’t a plow in sight…and it was also 4:30 and the light was starting to go as evening came on.

Yep.  Driving in a blizzard on dark country mountain roads at night.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** (that’s 49, in case you forgot).

This is the point at which I stopped cussing and started praying.  I’m not much of a praying person, because I don’t really believe in a personal deity that is going to listen to my requests and comply with them, but there wasn’t anything else I could do, and as long as we were already squarely in the tail of the probability curve, anything was possible.

“Please God Get Us Out Of This Safely” I said silently.

And, as we continued down Route 30 to the real backwater roads, I kept it up, a silent mantra.  I was trying not to move my lips, because I didn’t think it would help Jeff’s mental focus, and he needed everything he could get.

Please God Get Us Out Of This Safely Please God Get Us Out Of This Safely Please God Get Us Out Of This Safely Please God Get Us Out Of This Safely Please God Get Us Out Of This Safely Please God Get Us Out Of This Safely I went.

Then we made the turn off the main road.

PleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGet
UsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThis
SafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafely I went.

We skidded up the hill and back down the other side.

PleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGet
UsOutOfThisSafely

It got darker.  We went up another hill.

PleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafely

And back down the other side, and through a covered bridge.

And back up the hill

PleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafely
PleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafely

And down the other side.

“This is going to work!” Jeff said.

PleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafelyPleaseGodGetUsOutOfThisSafely

The thing is, Jeff’s memory for stuff like maps is best described as “poor”.  He was clearly forgetting that the hilliest part of this trip, the part where we go over the mountain and down the mountain came late in the journey.

Things started to get steeper.  He shifted the automatic from D3 to D2.  I looked at the river that runs right next to the road – this is one of the roads that was washed out in the flood and has mostly been repaired – and I shifted my mantra. “PleaseGodDon’tLetUsDie” I said silently.  At this point, I’d given up on not making my lips move.  Jeff wouldn’t have been able to see anyway.

We started up the hill. It got darker. The river, at this point, is right next to, and 50 feet lower than, the road.  The road is narrow, two lanes is a generous estimate, and the guardrail is still damaged by from the Hurricane. I couldn’t even make a verb, and just went to “PleaseGod”.  PleaseGodPleaseGodPleaseGodPleaseGod

The car started to skid. PleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePlease I went.

He shifted into D1, the lowest gear available.  The engine whined.  The stability indicator, a cheerfully yellow exclamation point with a big triangle around it, had been on constantly for the last 4 miles.

PleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePlease I went.

The car strained to go forward, and started to slide backward, down the twisty, steep, snowy, dark mountain road.

I felt 500 of the hairs on my head turn white.

PleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePlease
PleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePlease

Jeff managed to stop the slide, and somehow PleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePlease got the car turned around and heading back down the hill, and slid it into someone’s driveway.  We stopped for a moment, and he said “I’ll see if there’s help.”

Remember, we’re on our anniversary trip, and this is the day of our anniversary.   And here’s my husband, heading out of our temporarily disabled vehicle, up the driveway to a pinprick light just visible through the remote woods of Vermont.

“You’d better stay warm here while I go for help.” he said.  No, really, he did.

And suddenly all I can think at that moment is “There”s a light…over at the Frankenstein place…” as he wades through the snow, leaving me in the car.

He returns, telling me that the inhabitants “are the Real Vermonters” – lord only knows what he means by that – and they advise us to go back to the last flattish place on the road and try again in D1 all the way.  We find a flattish place, get the car turned around again, and head back.

leasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePleasePlease

only to find ourselves sliding backwards, in the twilight.  Once again, Jeff manages to arrest the slide, and this time, pilots the car into the pullout properly, so it is now off the road under a tree.  Once again, he gets out and wades toward the house.  Once again, I stay in the car, thinking “Oh, Brad, let’s go back! I’m cold and I’m frightened” because he’s saying “I’ll be just a moment.  They probably have a phone. I’ll call the Inn.”

There’s a light…over at the Frankenstein place…

Fifteen minutes elapsed, during which time the snow piled up on the car, and I saw three vehicles roar up the road behind us.  The last one was a pickup truck hauling a recreational camper tricked out with a set of bicycles on the the back, and hauling ass.  Night had fully descended, and I watched the tail-lights disappear up the hill…only to twitch, move in an improbable direction, and come to a halt.  Another one bites the dust, I thought.  Then I was torn between the desire to hike up and render assistance if necessary, the realization that any assistance I could offer would be minimal – since I had no cell reception at all, the realization that my barn coat was not offering substantial waterproofing, the scotchguard notwithstanding, and the thought that if Jeff returned to the car to find it empty, hell would really be breaking loose.  I stayed where I was.

He returned and said “I think we better both go wait inside.”

Oh, my lord.  And so, we found the assistance our plight required.  Jeff offered some insights on the family dynamics of the inhabitants of the cottage, who turned out to be a couple of old-school hard-bitten gay men from Maine.  Who warmed up considerably when I thanked them “You’re too kind!” and asked if they’d been stranded when the hurricane came.  Yes, they had, and I’ll say that if I get a chance to pick which batch of random strangers I need to approach for assistance, I’ll take a group of people who have recently survived a major natural disaster any day of the week. It broadens the horizon, makes a person more public-spirited.

I don’t know if this was the world paying forward the efforts at storm relief I’d made – in this very region – or if I now owe a debt, myself.  Because what happened next was that these guys had a cell tower signal booster in the living room – so they got reception – and the Inn called to say that they were sending someone to come get us and bring us back.  Yes.  And that’s exactly what happened.  40 minutes later, a guy in a huge heavy truck with chains on the tires and a plow hooked on the front showed up, picked us us, introduced himself as “Buck” – which fried Jeff’s mind, where none of the rest of this had done so – and he drove us up the road.  We stopped for the jack-knifed trailer – truck now in the ditch and perilously close to the rock cliff going up – and it turns out that the guy I saw hauling up the hill before that guy had gotten stalled just where we had, thus causing trailer guy to jack-knife, and creating a situation that no one was able to tow them out of.  Trailer guy was local – only a couple miles from home – and had hiked back, brought a couple of sacks of rock salt, and was waiting for it to melt the snow enough for all of them to move.

Five minutes later, Jeff suddenly remembered the rest of the road, and realized how impossible it would have been to go over the mountain in our sedan, and pointed out how lucky we’d been to land next to people who let us in, and close enough for the Inn to send someone to bail us out.

And twenty minutes later, we were standing at the entrance to the Inn, on our own two feet, thanking everyone profusely, slipping a tip to Buck (which he didn’t want to take, but Jeff wasn’t taking “no”) and warming up by the fire and getting ready – incredibly – to sit down for dinner at our originally-scheduled time for the reservation.

Optimism and denial.  It was certainly a recipe for success on Saturday night.

As we dined, we got to watch ten to fifteen other people get stuck, spin out, or just bail out.  And the whole time, we couldn’t say anything other than “I can’t believe we’re here.”

As we sat in front of the fireplace, we couldn’t say anything other than “I can’t believe we’re here.”

And all night, we slept restlessly, thanks to the adrenaline still making its way through the system, and said “I can’t believe we’re here.”

We got up Sunday morning to this:

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That guy is shoveling out the cars, and the snow is up to his KNEES.

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That car on the end is parked in the middle of the driveway. Those guys finished dinner shortly after we sat down, and we got to watch them put the car into this position before bailing out and spending the night at the Inn.

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Fifteen inches of snow.

Over breakfast, I hooked got my voicemail, which included an urgent message from the Mayor of Northampton, stating that our town was in an official State of Emergency, and that the infrastructure had been “badly damaged” by the storm, there was no power to the city at all, it could take four or five days to have power fully restored because there were almost a half-million people in the western part of the state without power.

I did not even know there were a half-million people in this part of the state.

Jeff was all for going snowshoeing right then, but I was for going home ASAP to make sure the house was standing.  I could make any calls into the area – I didn’t even get a ring or voice mail, just dead air and after 90 seconds, a recording that the call couldn’t be completed.  Still, I hoped that we’d be pleasantly surprised and that the power would be on when we got home.  It was supposed to plunge to 19 degrees overnight, and while our furnace burns oil, it requires electricity to tell it when to turn on.  No power = no heat.

But before that, there was the question of our car, which was still on the other side of the mountain.  It was determined that the Innkeeper would drive us there in the AWD Forester, and that we should bring our luggage.  Which, recall, consisted of several bags of bulky winter clothes…and a painting.  It was pure Theater of the Absurd getting this loaded up.  I didn’t even bother trying to explain away the painting.  What could the point of that be?

Fortunately, the guys in the cottage had provided enough information to locate their house again, and there was our car, snow already melting off, and needing only a little shoveling to clear.  I’ve never been so grateful to a pack of strangers in my life.  A hot meal, a hot fire, a comfortable bed, and help getting there and back.

We made it home without further incident, other than shock at the vast number of trees that had come down by the roadside in the last 24 hours.  The lights were out, the cops were in the streets directing traffic.

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Northampton's Finest

And you can see why:

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This is the street next to mine.

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Down the block.

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A quarter-mile away.

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All of those branches were thirty feet up in the air, straight from the trunk, on Saturday morning.

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All of this is from the weight of snow on fresh, healthy trees.  And this was all over the region.  Certainly explains why the power was out, although I was disappointed to find that the wires did not writhe around on the ground emitting sparks like they do in the movies.  Maybe that happened before they powered down the grid.

One of the grocery stores had enough power to run the registers and the credit card scanners, and about half of the lights in the store.  But not enough to run the cooler and freezer cases, which were padlocked. Presumably because the contents were no longer safe to eat.  We hit that place – and a right Mob Scene it was – and scored cans of soup and jars of pasta sauce and granola bars – the stuff we’d have stocked up on if we’d had any idea that a major storm was going to deliver a wallop.

Fortunately, my gas range can be lit with a match – although the gas oven cannot – and our water heater is gas-fired as well.  So we had a cooktop and hot water, but no heat for the house, or lights.  It is surprisingly challenging to cook pasta by candle-light.  Equally fortunately, I have a hand-crank LED flashlight from LL Bean, for exactly this kind of situation, so that made it much easier to tell when the water was actually boiling.  We had company for dinner – if you’ve got hot food in these circumstances, you share it – and enjoyed a walk back through the pitch-dark streets of town.  Lot of stars, there were.

We threw an extra blanket and the cat onto the bed, and went to sleep at 8pm, cause, well, it was dark, and reading by flashlight is more fun when you’re 10 years old. Woke this morning to the sounds of the neighbor’s smoke alarms going off, all of them.  Which was interesting to me as his alarms are wired into the house current.  I figured the batter backup must be dying, or maybe his wife set them off cooking bacon in the murky darkness.  I noted, with approval, that even though it had been super cold and the power had been off for days, our house was still at 50 degrees inside.  An hour or so later, they all went off again, and I thought – hoping against hope – that it might be that they got a pulse from the house current, like, if someone was pumping a little juice into the circuits, and then ten minutes later, I heard our furnace fire up, and Jeff – making instant coffee in the kitchen, shouted “THE OVEN TIMER IS ON!” and that was it.  The power’s been on continuously without interruption, so it looks like our proximity to the business district and Main Street, and the efforts of the Boys From North Carolina have paid off.

Thank heavens that’s over.  Now I’m going to check on Huey the Wonder Horse, and we’re making a huge dinner for a bunch of our friends who still don’t have power tonight, and dishing out hot showers and time in the warm house.  And my phone is charged, and now I’ve told the story.  I’ll never forget this anniversary, for sure.

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That Splendid Moment…

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Every fall there is a moment, a single moment, when New England presents me with something so splendid and magnificent that it takes my breath away.  I would give myself over to the experience anyway, but this moment that I’m talking about is magnificent in its power, and I never have the option of refusing to join it with a whole heart and whole mind and whole soul. Unfortunately, it always seems to happen when I am driving, so there’s an element of terror that coexists with the splendour of the moment.  I think, seriously, that “awestruck” is the word to describe it…I am literally “stricken” – out of my senses – with “awe” – wonder at the grand spectacle before me.

These moments stay with me seemingly forever.  In 2003, it was one of the rare moments that occurred when I wasn’t behind the wheel: instead, we were on a scenery train from Bellows Falls, and we passed through a wood and out the other side and the land simply fell away from us in a carpet of colors.  In 2005 it happened on October 27, two days before my wedding, as I was driving out to the Farm Stand to pick up decorations for the house:  I emerged from a canopy of trees to the perfectly pastoral scene of red farmhouses, a patchwork of land, a bonfire sending a thin trail of smoke curling into the bottomless blue sky, a herd of cattle being driven to towards the barn, and behind it all, rising in an explosion of yellows, the hills.  In 2006, it happened as I was driving down River Road on a day of scattered clouds, and suddenly the sun burst through and set the canopy of leaves over the road to blazing burning fire, the yellow leaves overhead glowing so brightly they seared the vision. Last year it was debating the meaning of art in the cornfield, with the breeze rattling the dried stalks, a gaggle of geese honking their way south, and the smell of roasting corn, punctuated by the rhythmical thunking of the potato cannon.

This year, it happened at 11:45am on October 27.  I was too busy yesterday dealing with thuggish and delinquent behavior of my horse who spent two days bullying the other horses and picking fights on the playground to remember it clearly until this moment.  The forecast for yesterday was dismal – the forecast for today even worse.  The rain held off, though, and I set off for work under lowering skies.  The freeway – the fastest way to work – has been under construction for months, and the delays can be both unpredictable and extensive, and so I have developed a set of Secret Ninja Routes to avoid it.  The one I have been using lately – although not my favorite one (which is also under construction at this time, and is the most  inefficient, time-consuming way possible to go…but also the most sensationally beautiful) – carries me right under and around the base of Mount Tom.  A smallish mountain, which yesterday was capped by grey clouds that occasionally sent out a scudding wisp to cross the face of the hill.  It was at one such moment, with wispy clouds streaming by, that a brief hole opened to let the sunlight through, and the rays fell squarely on the face of the hill, igniting a raving lunacy of colors. The wispy clouds, the burning trees, the grey road winding its lonely way around the base, and the promise of rough weather to come hit me like a silk velvet covered crowbar right between the eyes.  I was utterly lost in the experience…at 45 mph, so it’s just as well that the grey road was lonely.

By the time I passed that way this morning, the clouds had lowered even further, the road was lonelier than ever, and the colors were washing away in the rain.  These ephemeral moments are all the more beautiful because of their transitory nature.  They serve to highlight the important lesson of life:  stay awake! do not miss a single moment!

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From Saturday's hike at Tyringham Cobble.

I Sure Showed Him!

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You remember how Clay made himself the boss of my head by messing with the ties when I was all tied up and getting brushed?  And I told him we’d just wait and see who was really the boss of my head?  Well.

They finally let me out of the round pen where I had to be for ages yesterday with no hay or carrots, and I did not have to go back in the paddock with Elvis.  Which was fine, because stinky old Elvis ate all of my hay when I had to work and then go into the round pen.  I hate Elvis.  Instead, guess what?  Ha ha ha!  I got to go in the paddock with Clay.  That’s right.  It was me, and him, and one other guy, and no one was in the ties, and my rider was gone, and no one was gonna keep me from giving What For to old Clay.  Ha ha ha!  As soon as I got into the paddock, there was some hay, so I ate it, because you know, a horse knows what is really important, and eating is at the top of that list.  But then…when all the hay was gone…there we were, just us guys.

And I said “Clay! All those times you messed with me when I couldn’t do anything about it?” and he said “Yeah! You sucker, Huey!” and I said “Well, now I’m gonna mess with you right back.  I’m coming to get you, Clay!” and he said “You wish!” and I didn’t say anything at all then, I just went for him.  He saw me coming, and he ran away. So I said “You’re one big chicken, Clay!  Running away!” and he said “I am not a chicken!” and I didn’t say anything all then either.  I just went for him again.  Then the other horse got into it, and there we were, all three of us, going for it like anything.  It was wonderful!  I love a good fight.  And I knew I was going to be able to give What For to Clay, I do not care if he is a little bigger than me, I am older than him, and I am smarter.  I saw my opening.  Clay’s butt was right there, and so were my teeth!  I was going to give him the biggest bite ever, right there on his butt.  Only, I guess he saw me coming a little bit, because just as I went in for my Huge Bite, he kicked me.  And he took the skin on my shoulder clear off.  It stung!!!  I said “Clay! You jerk!  That hurts!” and then I saw that Laura was coming and I said “Oooooh, you are going to be in trouble now!”  But Laura did not make Clay in trouble, she looked at my shoulder and said “Huey!” and put some stuff on it.  And that stung too, so I ran away.

All night long my shoulder was stinging like it had been bit by a million bees.  And I could not see Clay, but I knew he could hear me, and I waited until everyone was asleep, and I said “Clay!” and he said “Huuhh” like he was sleeping too, but I know he was just pretending.  So I said “Clay! My shoulder hurts. When I get you back in that paddock, you are really going to pay for that!” and he said “Oooooo I’m scared” like he didn’t mean it. So I just clomped my teeth together and said “That is going to be your butt tomorrow, Clay.  Clomp clomp clomp.”  And then Topaz said “You all be quiet.  I can’t sleep with all this racket.  Stupid boys.”

Well, today, I sure did show Clay.  Every time he came near me, I showed him my teeth and I said “Clomp clomp clomp” and he made the white of his eyes, and he ran away.  And I chased him all over that paddock all day today.  It is a good thing my rider did not want me to work because I was too busy giving Clay What For.  I did not let him go anywhere near the gate.  That showed him, all right.

Then, it was time to go back in the barn, and I chased Clay around some more, that chicken horse.  And then my rider came, and Clay said “Huey! I am going to show you!  I am going to kick your rider.” and I said “You are not, Clay! You watch out for me!” and I chased him away, and I made sure that he did not come anywhere near my rider.  He tried to, a couple of times, too.  And my rider, who is sweet but kind of dumb, did not realize he was going to kick and bite her, and she was going to scratch him, and I had to do some real running to make sure he didn’t come near her.  Then someone came to take Clay to the barn, and my rider made me go in the halter and out of the paddock, but everyone made Clay wait for me to go first.  Because I am the boss that is why!  Clay should eat the dirt from my hoofs.

I went for a walk with my rider, but I tell you, I was still pretty stirred up.  She wanted to walk slow, but I did not, and she made me go in circles a few times.  And then, oops, I stepped on her.  I thought it was just nice squishy mud, but suddenly she was yelling “Get off!  Get off!” over and over and pushing on my shoulder.  It was the shoulder I got kicked on, too, which made it sting some more.  But I guess that was OK because I moved over very quickly!  Then the rider was so funny, she was jumping around on the path going “Oof” and “Owie”.  So then, I guess, we matched. We were like twins.  My shoulder, her foot. It was funny.

It was not as funny when she took my jacket off and saw my Kicked Spot.  She fussed like she had never seen a scrape before.  I told her not to be silly, it was just a stupid kick, and I sure showed Clay not to mess with me any more, but she just told me I had Attitude and I should be more careful in the future.  She is very silly.  Careful.  I am a horse!  What kind of poncy horse would I be if I did not get cuts and scrapes, and get into fights?  Silly person.

She sprayed my Kick Spot and put some stuff on it that stung some more, but then I got some treats, and my fuzzy blanket, and a pile of hay.  Now I am going to spend the night thinking about how I am going to show Clay who is boss tomorrow.

I got a little banged up, but I am proud of it! It shows that I am TOUGH.

I Want More Carrots NOW!

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Hey you people.  I’m cranky.  I want carrots and no one is giving them to me.  I didn’t have carrots for ages and then I had some after that icky bath, and then I had some more on Saturday.  My rider came into my paddock and wanted me to come out of my muddy spot.  I had it all nice and churned up to make water on top.  It feels good on my hoofs!  I did not feel like coming out of my muddy spot, and I laughed at my rider.  Because I am cranky.

She did not come get me, though.  She stood in my paddock and she said “HUEY! Here!” and I laughed again and I said “What do you think I am, a dog? I do not come when you call my name!” and she said, “Oh yeah?” and then she said “HUEY! Here!” and she held something up in her hand.  I thought it might be colored orange, and orange things can be carrots, so I came a little closer, and it was.  It was a carrot! So I came right over and got that carrot!  And then I left again!  Ha ha ha!  I am cranky!

Then my rider went to a different place, and she said “HUEY! Here!” and I said “I am not a dog!” but the last time she said that, there was a carrot, so I thought I should go just in case.  And there was.  Another carrot! What a score!  And then before I could go away again to the mud, the rider walked away.  But I said to myself, I said “Huey, if that rider had two carrots, she might have three.” So I went over and poked her with my nose to see if I could smell carrots.  And I could, but you know what she did?  She pushed my nose away! And she said “No carrots this time!”

Then I figured it out.  She did have carrots, but I could not get them on my own, because she just pushed me away.  I could only get them if I came when she called me.  I guess I am a dog.  But I am cranky so I will not do that again!  I guess I was too cranky, because then the rider put my halter on and made me go in circles on the driveway and walk backwards, and she had the stick, too.  Boo.

I was cranky on Monday too.  I had to work.  I did not want to work, and I made my slowest walk and I said “I do not feel like working!” and the rider said “Too bad.” and made me go faster.  Then I did not want to trot.  I just wanted more carrots.  I did not even get to eat all of my morning hay.  No hay, and no carrots.  That’s what I call a Bad Morning. And it did not get better.  In the afternoon, I had to share my paddock.  I do not like to share my paddock with other horses, because it is mine.  Laura says it is not good for me to be all alone, but she is wrong.  It is good, because then all the other horses know that I am the best.  I am special, and I get my own paddock, and no other horse can eat my hay!  It is like being a king!!

I said so, too.  I said “Do not put any other stinky horse in here” but they did anyway.  And guess who it was?  Topaz.  She is an old lady, and she cannot eat hay and grass because her teeth are too old.  But she tried to anyway, and she put a ton of my hay in her mouth and put cooties all over it, and then she spit it out.  She wasted it!  Because I am not going to eat hay that is covered with Old Lady Cooties! That is gross!!! So I made a face at her and I showed her my teeth and I said “You leave my hay alone, Topaz!” and she went off.  She told me “Huey! Your manners are terrible!” but she went off, so that was good.  I ate the rest of my hay, and then I stood around and thought for a while, and then I remembered that Topaz was still in my paddock, so I went over and told her she should get out of it.  Because I am cranky, and because it is mine.  She said “Huey! You stupid horse! I cannot leave the paddock on my own.  There is a fence.” So I said “I will find a way to make you leave!” And then I scared her so that she ran away and made noise, and then Laura came out and then I was not in the paddock with Topaz any more.  So there!

I thought that was going to be the end of it and I could go back to my paddock without any other horse in it, but then yesterday morning when I went out, Elvis was in my paddock.  And he wanted to eat all of the hay.  So I screamed at him.  I stamped my feet, and I screamed really loud “YOU GET AWAY FROM THAT HAY, ELVIS!” and I thought he would run away from me like Topaz did, but he didn’t.  He screamed back at me! He screamed “YOU DON’T GET TO BULLY ME, HUEY! I AM NO OLD LADY! I WILL GIVE YOU WHAT FOR IF YOU MESS WITH ME!” and he stamped his feet too.  Well, I did not know what to do.  Even Max did not scream at me.  No one screams at me.  So I stood there a minute and thought, and then I decided.  I screamed right back at him “HOW DARE YOU SCREAM AT ME, YOU BAD HORSE!” and he screamed “YOU ARE THE BAD HORSE, HUEY!” and I screamed “I AM NOT, YOU ARE!” and he screamed “NO,  YOU ARE!” and I screamed “NO, YOU ARE!” then my throat was getting tired and I was hungry so I said “I will eat this pile of hay and you have that one.  But if you come over here, I will bite you.” and I showed him my teeth so he knew I would.  I was just going to rest for a minute while I decided what to do about Elvis, but then my rider came to take me away to work.

Someone told my rider about Topaz, and she was mad.  She said “Huey! You bullied an old lady?  What kind of horse are you! I am ashamed.” and then I was sorry, but only a little bit, because I wanted carrots, and Topaz put cooties on my hay, and I did not want to share a paddock with some horse that ruins hay.  So I said “I am not sorry! And I do not want to share a paddock with Elvis, either! So there!”

And then, I did not have to go back to the paddock with Elvis, but that was not good because my hay pile was there.  I had to go in the round pen instead, and there was no hay.  At least there was no other horse, either.  I was mad that there was no hay, and I yelled really loud and I stamped my feet on the ground.  But no one came to give me hay or let me out, and after a while, I stopped yelling.

It is not fair.  I do not want to have to share with any other horse.  And it is not fair that my rider was ashamed.  She said I must have gotten out of bed on the wrong side.  But there is only one door to my stall, so how could I go out the wrong side?  I do not understand.  I cannot help it.  I am cranky, and I do not get enough carrots.

It is not easy being one cranky horse. I should have sympathy, and a massage, and a bunch of carrots.