Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Family in a hurricane

We lived through hurricane Irene.  We'll post about different aspects of the experience here.  
Owain by the river, downtown
What was it like, as a family?  Quick notes:

The women - Ceredwyn and Gwynneth - are emergency services volunteers, medical and firefighting respectively.  They were "toned out" (summoned by radio) several times, night and morning, then just stayed away.  They pumped basements of houses by the Middlebury river, ones where electrical systems were in danger of being immersed.  They staffed the firehouse, as a community relief and information site.  With little sleep and enormous stress, they worked hard and for many hours.

All of us suffered internet deprivation.  Once the power went out, all kinds of devices died.  Since Vermont has poor cell phone coverage, we couldn't hit that network.  So back to the 19th century we plunged, heading out to find people and learn news.  Owain in particular fretted, as he wanted - very conscientiously - to finish a summer writing assignment for school.  (His sister advised longhand; he demurred)

The children disliked the lack of electrical light, while we adults were fine with it.  Owain wrangled flashlights with grim determination, fearing the dark (which is dark indeed here in the country, especially without moon or stars), wanting to sleep in the firehouse (more appropriate for emergencies).  Gwynneth hated reading by oil lamp.  I think all four of us felt our internal clocks shift back to pre-electrical times, feeling sleepy with the dark, and rising with the sun. 

I (Bryan) was grimly focused on my family's safety.  Each scrap of news struck deeply into the brain, shaping the things needing to be done to keep us dry, warm, fed, lit, unharmed.  I sawed off tree limbs with martial glee, seeing each as a potential enemy.

I also felt two simultaneous hungers.  My work became an imaginary creature, perched on my shoulder, whispering in my ear about the many many things needing to be done.  Papers, books, white board loomed large for me, when we couldn't drive to another town for access.  But I also felt a deeper attachment to the pre-industrial homestead work, a hunger to haul wood and stones, to walk among the various plants, to weed, chop, saw, pull.  Homestead and work: dual harvests, pleading to be done.

And winter crept closer, as some leaves turned, and post-Irene temperatures settled.  The fans didn't restart with the electricity's return.  We welcomed the sun to dry things out, but also as the last solar bit of fading summer. I protected unstacked wood with tarps, and stacked what I could in rain or even in the dark.

More thoughts on Irene:


pumpkiny said...

Great post. When camping/out of normal electrical/internet connectivity range, it's amazing how fast one reverts to the light/dark awake/sleep/manual work cycle. It underscores how "artificial" modern life is...

Bernie said...

Thanks for this, Bryan. I am hugely comforted to learn that you weathered the weather, that the women were engaged so closely with the community, that there was no damage (you didn't mention any) to your property, that you took this whole, awful, painfully extended moment to rediscover yourself, family, neighborhood. And that you wrote about it so clearly and so well. You are such a gift. It is great to have you back.