by Harriet Worrell
The Prophesies of Christopher Robin, Pooh and Friends seem to walk along many paths to keep generations of us company. In past weeks, the Pooh responses have seemed even more comforting than usual. Written for children, they are not childish. Their simple honesty snuggles up beside you like a blanket. All ages of us have needed their unadorned reminders and reflections, and so it began because “ When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.”
First came the days of Dire Predictions concerning the travels of Irene, the Hurricane.
The storm would veer east to New Hampshire and Maine, said the weathermen, anchormen, and prognosticators throughout the land. Vermont? Oh, they’ll get a little rain. Then they said Vermont might get wind. Trees could fall — right on top of you — particularly old friend trees around your house. But the talk often left out Vermont. It was more about New York, Boston and even New Jersey.
Accompanying Dire Predictions were lists of emergency preparations on every television channel. Fill your gas tank. Check. And the Rains came down. Pack an emergency bag. Check. And the Rains came down. Flashlights. Check. Drinking water. Check. Food. Check. With Sunday’s deluge we were reminded that we needed an escape plan. And there we were sunk. The waters were rising all around us and the only place to escape to higher ground was on foot. Waters were pouring like waterfalls down the side of Green Mountains and there was a silent crushing realization that finding higher ground for ourselves and our neighbors was not easy.
Waters wildly rushed around or across or beside our precious homes and businesses. The River took its treasures ranging from a floating kitchen ripped from a house to gardens, gas tanks, beer kegs and cars. It went looking in basements and then to first floors for refrigerators and bedcovers, irreplaceable photographs, toys, art, music, and memories. Not satisfied with those, its urges became orgiastic and ripped at whole structures, giant banks of earth, boulders, trucks, full grown trees and bridges that crumpled like aluminum foil.
There were frightening stories of barely making it out, pulling large animals to safety, fending off rain, and madly building diversionary moats. Some stood in shock and mud to watch a business deconstruct and float away in splinters. Brown waters whipped at the walls of buildings from wood to brick like the wolf who cried “Let me in, let me in” and then with a huge heave the waters took the buildings or parts of buildings away. Barns and sheds were pushed and shoved from foundations and fell into the watery entanglements iced with floating brush, logs, and fallen fences. Mud slithered down mountains carrying trees that popped and sputtered before they surrounded houses leaving only house top peeking out. Boulders washed down mountains like the bowling balls of the giants.
The elders stood in the rain and fought the storm by chaining equipment so that it wouldn’t wash down the mountain into a newly water created ravine. Children sloshed and fell through knee-deep waters in an effort to save small animals that were too frightened and confused to distinguish the children as their saviors. There were horrifying separations: parent from children, house from driveway, owner from animals, but the able came to help the less able from watery compromise. The skilled came with historical experience in Vermont’s Nature to prioritize actions. Those whose lives were pummeled by Rain but whose homes did not shudder and shift into the watery highways stayed with sturdy spirit inside to await the Morning Light and the after sights of a battle with a raging, torrential, natural power of almost mythical proportions.
The Morning showed our roads buckled and split and farther down buckled and split again and on and on. Where once there were roads and bridges and passageways, now there were bent railings and twisted metal, large broken pieces of road top, impassable cracks and
crevices. Riverbanks were pushed back and back, and enormous clods of Earth that had broken away now belonged to the River. It had the appearance of an earthquake.
We crept from our homes and looked. Now we were grateful for Evacuations and Caring Neighbors who had taken care of those who were vulnerable. After slowly accessing damages and looking for ways to travel, a community began to silently grasp the gravity of the situation. Phones were dead. Cell phones weren’t effective. Power was off for most. Gasoline couldn’t be pumped because electricity was off. Supplies would not be able to get in the near future. Repairs to create normalcy could be dangerously slow in happening. Emergency health care would have to be by air. Some had lost their belonging bearings. They were cut off completely from community.
That’s when it got interesting. Large equipment began to emerge from the mountains and valleys with citizen engineers banding together their skill to make improvements for passable travel. Those few with power offered water to those who were without. Businesses that could cook food served it up free of charge. Some offered ice and water. Lodging was found for out-of-town travelers who could not leave. Firemen ran the show.
Bands of neighbors began to check the survival of those around them walking from house to house to check on safety and survival means. There were smiles, reassurances, hugs, exchanges of stories, and the tribal way of spreading the news. In days that followed, people cleared their ice boxes of food that might not last and gave grilling parties for anyone who needed a meal. Just as they had diverted with motes, they now diverted from no electricity, no running water, no flushing toilets, for many no way to cook, flooded basements, flooded first floors, and being able to reach new supplies by spending time with new and old neighbors.
Some biked into Woodstock and brought back descriptions of problems there. The word from Killington was bad, but all around us generosity outweighed sorrow, and we just didn’t have the gall to talk much about inconveniences. Not lost in TV screens or having to constantly be somewhere else, we talked to each other.
In a single day, word got around where cell coverage could happen. A couple of days later landlines were turned on. It was amazing how good it felt just to be able to hear what was happening. The gathering of information was as vital as food and water. “It’s always useful to know where friend-and-relation is, whether you want him or whether you don’t.” Finally, a day later, (let us throw rose petals in their paths) the power began to come back on. And then ever so slowly the roads were beefed up for mild travel. Many homes were intact, but not everyone of us was so lucky. Many had no home, part of a home, or a damaged home to deal with. Insurance was the talk of the days. Now some of us could now see about Vermont on television. We were the talk of the air waves, but that wasn’t as important as getting news of other communities in despair and finding ways to help our neighbors who still felt removed from community.
One day—without power, with no phone, and unable to travel– I took some time to catch my emotional breath and sat in the quiet sunshine of my upstairs window. “Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you.” I could hear neighbors voices. Business did not prevail. There was no computer to deal with, no telephone. There was no gotta-go gotta-go gotta-go. For a short while it was a time I remembered from years passed, a time I miss–a time when you could hear people shuffling dominoes on the porch or strumming a guitar or just sitting. “Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”It was a time when you listened to the stars in the dark or heard someone reading in the next room. A car driving up the long road of a driveway to your house was exciting. Who was coming and how long would they stay?
We will each have well deserved thanks and praise for our communities that pulled together to be Vermont. 2011 will, like 1927 and 1973, be years famous for facing the crisis of powerful flood. You will hear wonderful tales of help, aid, and magnanimous assistance amid villages in various states of recovery—all laudable and comforting. We will ever be grateful for the state and federal help that joined our local forces to so quickly bring recovery to acceptable levels. There are faces we do not have names for but that we will always remember as they stood beside equipment that would stop the flow of the river, give us a passageway to our friends and loved ones, find electricity, bring food and fresh water, and exchange information and strategies with our citizen helpers.
It is my pleasure to thank Bridgewater for sharing whatever they had when many of their neighbors had nothing. They calmed fears in the midst of a storm. They literally walked great distances to help others. They put themselves in harms way to reach out. They laughed to reassure. Their grills were tiny bonfires of good faith as they cooked up meals for folks who had no way to prepare food. They cared for visitors and old friends alike. They did not take time to whine; instead they were shining evidence of Selflessness and Neighborliness from day one. I thank them for being neighbors helping neighbors as they have proved to be over and over again. We in Bridgewater are all parts of a better whole. This is community that only arrives through the best of humanity. “A little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference.”
by Harriet Worrell