Gas in the car. Water, lots of it: drinking water and water in buckets ready for washing dishes and flushing the toilet. Food-yes, lots. Flashlights batteried-up and waiting, along with candles and matches. Cell-phones charged. Laundry done. Dishes done. Wood-stove fired up. Waiting for "Frankenstorm"...
To answer the most obvious questions: no, I am neither an organizational freak or a harbinger of the apocalypse. Quite the opposite on both counts. In fact, I have quite the history of turning my face to the wind and laughing uproariously at sensational weather forecasts. I was the girl who would drive three hours through a blinding blizzard to make it to a New Year's Eve party. I was the girl who boarded myself up in a house on Key West (evacuate--what?) with a group of people I barely knew and a keg of beer during Hurricane Georges. HA! Weather--do you see me? I stand without fear! I laugh in the face of danger!
Right. Notice that I was the girl. I was also stupid (although "adventurous" has quite a nicer ring, doesn't it?). In fact, I was stupid right up until...hmm...could it be? Looking at my photos, I see that it's true: exactly one year ago..to the day..to the hour even. Last year at this time, I was still laughing, still shaking my finger at the sky. Snow in October? This is New England! Who cares? Bring. It. On.
October 29, 2011:
Halloween was coming, and to get in the spirit of the spooks and the darkness, Matty and I had rented Stephen King's Creepshow, which neither of us had seen since junior-high. The next night, I was busy recounting the hilarity of Leslie Neilson's adventures in 80's video-technology and Ed Harris's tight jeans and awesome dance moves to my coworkers when the lights went out, and our millennial-technology slowed to a halt. As the chef finished cooking dinners he had already started (in the dark), the rest of us milled around, finishing up whatever tasks we could manage, sneaking up on each other and making ridiculous junior-high age jokes the entire time.
Earlier that afternoon it had started snowing.
Everyone was talking about how this would be a travesty, what with all the leaves still on the trees, but I, of course, wasn't listening. Matty, the girls and I had just returned from a day of errands, and we had just finished our last one--stopping by a consignment sale to grab a jack-o-lantern costume for Ophelia that I had seen the day before--when the snow started falling. We felt lucky that the costume was still there, that we would soon have a wood-stove to warm our home (another errand was choosing tiles), and that we could sit in our cozy living room and enjoy the view of white outside. We felt ready. Ready for Halloween...not a storm. Because really, who needs water or gasoline when you have a three-dollar jack-o-lantern costume in just the right size?
By the time it was time for me to head to work, the snow had accumulated a little bit. Matt suggested that I take my car and that the roads would probably be bad on my way home. Roads, schmoads. I took his car--front-wheel-drive, no snow tires. I mean, really...it's October! This is only a flurry...
When I finally left work, I felt lucky, not worried. Lucky that the power went out and that I could go home and be with my family (I had called Matt, and the power was on at our house). Lucky that I didn't have to work a full shift, and excited, as I always am, about the first snow of the year. With snow this early, just think of all the skiing, sledding, snowshoeing we will do! (Oh the cruel, cruel joke...) As I stepped out the door to my car, my coworker told me, good-naturedly, to drive safely, and I left with a smile on my face and a spring in my step...
...until I reached my car (Matt's, really) across the street and realized it was partially buried and that I would have to dig my way out...in clogs. But with a little wiping and a little digging, and a little slipping and sliding, I was on my way, still with a smile on my face (crisis averted!)...at least for a few blocks.
It didn't take me very long to realize that yes, I should have in fact taken my car. I was sliding all over the place, missing turns and barely keeping myself on the road. By the time I was half-way home, I had nearly collided with at least three other vehicles and easily as many ditches. Adrenaline was pumping through my body, and I was nearly in tears, not to mention the cracks and booms of trees all around me, echoing in the eerie silence. Slowly, slowly, I made it to my road, unsure if I would make it around the curves and up our hill, but happy to be so close.
So close. I could see my house through the trees, glowing with a beckoning light so safe and warm, when crack, CRACK!--a tree fell just in front of my car, pulling a live electrical wire into the road in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and skidded sideways into the middle of the road. At first, I thought about just leaving the car like that--no one could pass the wire anyway--but the image of more trees coming down, other people trying to reach home, a snowplow t-boning Matt's shiny, red car, caused me to move. Or try to... After a few starting, stopping, reverse, forward, I realized that I was not in control of the car, and that in the road was where it needed to stay. I got out, and started walking through the trees and branches, in my clogs, in the dark (of course I did not have a flashlight...of course) with the, by now, oh-so-familiar sound of crack, crack, crack. Heavy branches were falling all around me, and I think at this point I may have actually been crying (at least internally), when I saw a flashlight shining across the street.
I ran back out of the woods screaming, thinking that the man across the street might not know about the felled wire, knowing myself--as I looked at my house, still alit--that the wire was still live. I was screaming at him about the wire, he was screaming at me about the wire...there was a lot of screaming and yelling, and cracking, and slipping, until somehow he was driving my car under the live wire to the edge of our driveway. We parted ways, and I all but ran into my house, shaking and crying (inside) and found Matty, whistling a tune, asking "where did you come from? I didn't see even see the car pull up..."
And then it was Matty's turn to be blase about the storm. No matter how hard I tried to describe all that cracking everywhere, it was hard for him to hear through the crackling of the fire in the fireplace and jazz on the record player. The power did go out moments after my arrival, but by then it was time for bed, and although Matty did humor me by moving the bed away from the windows, he slept easily through all the cracks, CRACKS!, and one big KA-BOOM! I on the other hand...
We woke up to silence. Dead silence. And cold. And this...
October 30, 2011:
After everything is all said and done, and your house and bodies are in one piece, it's fun to walk around in awe at the destruction nature can cause. And the beauty. The tawny colors of fall leaves still clinging onto trees, covered with snow, with the backdrop of a perfectly blue sky, is an image I will not soon forget. The tops of trees curved over looked like a scene from a Dr. Suess book. There was a humor and lightness to it all. Our power was still out (of course...we live in the woods, our power always goes out), and there were downed trees and branches everywhere (See the one in the photo, behind my car? That is where Matty's car would have been, had it made it all the way up the driveway. Small miracles...), but we were all okay, and now all we had to do was wait.
Quite often, when our street looks like World War III, and we are convinced that the entire surrounding area has been shut down, we need only venture past our neighborhood, and everything is going on as normal. So wait...yes. That's what we would do. We would get out Christmas books and pretend it was winter, start a fire in the fireplace, lie a wool blanket on the floor in front of it, play some games, and wait. The power would surely be back soon, and if it weren't, we would just go into town and hang around somewhere until it did. And besides, we can live without lights for a while. And running water? We can get water from the stream in the back to flush the toilet, and we'll go down to the store when the road clears and get some to drink...
You surely know where this is going. You do. We didn't.
After a couple of hours of playing and reading next to a fireplace that looks nice (sort of) but really doesn't kick off any heat, the power still hadn't come back on. Looking at a cold night ahead without any running water, we decided that maybe we would head to Matt's dad's house for the night. But first we would go into town and see what everyone was up to. Besides, we needed to fill up our cars, which were both close to empty, with gas.
As we drve out of our neighborhood, we immediately noticed that things did not look better, and that life was not going on as usual beyond the boudries of the woods. There were no lights in store windows, no people milling to and fro, no cars pulling in and out of parking lots...just people driving, like us, seemingly without direction, mouths agape. I made a few phone calls to some friends, all of whom confirmed the loss of power--region wide--and rumors that it would not be turned back on for days.
Luckily, when we pulled into the gas station, it was business as usual. Busier, actually. It looked like everyone had the same idea as us--get out of town for a while. There was a line out into the street to get onto the gas island, but it was moving quickly...very quickly in fact...and soon we were idling in front of a gas pump ourselves, just long enough to read the sign that everyone in front of us had also taken just a short time to read. Out Of Order.
For a moment, I started to panic a little, for the first time since the night before, but my rational side quickly took over. The power is out at this intersection. We'll just drive a little farther and find gas there. I was really that optimistic (stupid). Really.
After driving farther and farther from our house and being fooled by many crowded "Out Of Order" gas oasises, we realized that all we were accomplishing was upping our odds of running out of gas and being stranded someplace far from home. In the cold. With wires lying all over the ground. So we went home. Because at least at home we were...well...home. With no water, and no heat, and no chance of either of them coming back any time soon.
We just made it home on the gas we had left in the tank, and after going through our zero options for a short time, we decided to take what gas we had left for the chainsaw, put it into the gas tank of our car, and hope it would get us (well...get Matty) someplace where gas was still flowing. Surely there was gas in some of the bigger towns. Surely the weather had noticed that these towns were bigger and spared them. This is where logic leads you sometimes...
As it turns out, there was one gas station open in the valley (Matt stopped at a local gas station and asked around), and luckily, Matty was able to get there--about 20 minutes from our house--on the small amount of gas he had put in the car before he left...almost. He ran out of gas on the off-ramp of the highway, and had no choice but to leave his car there and walk the rest of the way, cheered on by shouts of profanity from drivers and passengers of surrounding automobiles. (Disaster can really bring out the best in people, can't it?) At the gas station, Matt had to wait in line for over an hour to fill his gas can. Then, he returned to the car (again, to the profanity), put the gas in, and return to the gas station line for another hour to fill up the car.
Meanwhile, the girls and I were waiting at home, snuggled under a blanket reading lots and lots of books, pretending the fireplace really was making the house warm. After a couple of hours, I really started to worry, wondering what Matt's fate was, and whether or not he would come home at all, but sure enough, after a few hours, he came tearing into the driveway, harried, nearly screaming at us to get in the car. Hooray!
After that, we were lucky, I must say. Although there was no power on the way to Matt's dad's house (an hour and a half away), there were also no major lines or trees down, blocking our way. We got to Matt's dad's without incident, but were a bit disgruntled to see no houses lit up, no streetlights, no traffic lights... But we knew that after the ice storm two years prior, Matt's dad had set up a generator for his heat, hot water and kitchen. The question was: would it work?
We didn't have to ask that question for very long, because as we turned to corner to Matt's dad's street, we saw lights in all the houses. Although the entire region was dark, for some reason this street already had their power restored--only twelve hours later. Halleluijah!
October 31-November 3, 2011:
In case you were wondering, yes...I did think that Halloween would be salvaged. In the last minute grabs before leaving our house, I threw costumes, trick-or-treat bags, candy apples, and a bunch of halloween books into a bag for transport, and on Halloween night, I had the girls in their costumes, ready to go. Yes, by that point I had heard rumors that Halloween had been "postponed" (heresy), but I thought that since this neighborhood (this street, at least) had power) that people would be open for business. Wrong, and wrong again.
A sad day for a little princess and a little pumpkin, but at least they got to trick-or-treat at one house.
And all the rest...
We were lucky, and believe me, we knew it.
Another blessing we discovered during the following days: snow which is heavy and sticky enough to take down enough trees to leave entire states without power for days is also perfect for making snowmen.
So after four days in the warm, bright interior of Matt's dad's house, we decided to get back to our life. We packed up the car once more, hopeful, but not wholy optimistic...and with good reason.
November 4-November 7, 2011:
We arrived home to a cold dark house, of course. Our cat was happy to see us though, and she immediately curled up in the pile of blankets and bodies we set up for ourselves. Over the next four days, the only time we spent at home was at night, when we scrambled into our 30-degree house, bumping into each other in the dark trying to find our bed of blankets. In the morning, we would do the reverse. Grab the kids out of bed in their pajamas and head the the breakfast place near Emerson's school where we would get dressed, eat, and brush our teeth/wash our faces in the bathroom. During the day while Emerson was at school (that lucky, lucky girl!) the rest of us would wander around town, visiting friends, findind errands to do in warm places. After school we would head to another restaurant for dinner and another teeth brushing/face washing session before we returned to the cave of our house. By the end of it all we were a mess--dirty and disgruntled, Emerson having eaten restaurant left-overs in her lunchbox for days. I was not a pleasant person to be around, and after three days, had made plans to sleep at people's houses over the weekend.
But low-and-behold, just as I had settled down for dinner with friends on our first family sleepover, the phone rang. At first our host was confused as to why the caller ID had my name on it when I was sitting right next to her. Maybe Matt had my cell phone? Wait a minute...it couldn't be... It's Matt! And he's calling from your home phone!
As generous as our friends' offer was, after a quick dinner, we sped home in time to see the parade of trucks pulling out of our neighborhood. I waved and honked my horn emphatically, wanting, really, to jump out of the car and throw my arms around them. Our saviors!
The rest, as they say, is history.
November 3, 2012:
As we now know, Hurricane Sandy didn't affect us at all. We only lost power for about a minute. Sadly, it did affect millions in a much more devastating manner than we, personally, were affected by last year's "Frankenstorm." My heart goes out to those who still don't have power, and even more to those who have lost homes and businesses.
Through all of it, I wonder at how dependent we are on electricity to fufill our most basic needs. I also wonder at our ability in these times of chaos to bring aide to ourselves and others. (We recieved offers from people we barely knew, inviting our entire family to sleep at their house, even though they were without power themselves, because at least they had the warmth of a wood stove.) I wonder at the stregnths of humanity. I wonder at our weaknesses.
But change begins at home, as a wise man once said, and this year we smartened up. We can laugh at our story now, but it wouldn't be so funny if Matt's dad hadn't had power, or if the gas stations and restaurants weren't up and running in a few days. So laugh all you want at my rations of food and water, my batteries and our wood stove. We can't be ready for everything, but we've learned. Oh, we've learned...
(Side note: one of our favorite stories of the night of the storm was that an enormous tree came down behind our house in the middle of the night, and Emerson just happened to be in the hallway when it happened. When she told us the next morning how frightened she had been by the big "KABOOM!", we told her that she could have come into our room, to which she replied, "well, I really had to go to the bathroom, and after I went to the bathroom, I wasn't scared anymore." Only Emerson. And that one tree alone probably gave us enough wood for the entire winter...)