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The Ice Storm | Mary's Farm

The Ice Storm | Mary’s Farm
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Sunday morning, December 14, 2008. Across New Hampshire's Dublin Lake, Mount Monadnock rises over an otherworldly, frozen landscape.
Photo/Art by Michael Miller
Sunday morning, December 14, 2008. Across New Hampshire’s Dublin Lake, Mount Monadnock rises over an otherworldly, frozen landscape.

At one o’clock in the morning on December 12, 2008, I woke to a still darkness and the instinctual knowledge that the power was out.

I stoked the stove and returned to bed. In the morning, still dark, I lit candles and brought my hand-cranked radio down off the shelf. The radio reported that 400,000 New Hampshire households were without power, virtually the entire state.

A power company official used the apt analogy of a tree to relay the news of when we could expect our power to be restored: “There’s the trunk, the branches, the limbs, and then the twigs. If you live in an outlying area, you’re a twig.” I knew it would be a long wait.

Morning light revealed my car, every tree, every branch, every blade of grass imprisoned in ice. Icicles hung from branches and power lines like prisms from a chandelier. The power and phone lines that connected my house to the utility pole on the road lay on the ground across my driveway.

I pulled on my ice creepers and set forth across the newly Arctic landscape, everything coated in ice-white. I traveled about on my tundra, every step resounding, careful to avoid the wooded areas, where trees were falling, the sound of gunshots filling the air.

It was a completely new world. Trees bowed, trees broken. Limbs lay about as if felled by a tornado. On the icy sheath I crept out onto the road. I could see tree after tree lying in the way. I was completely cut off. From where I stood, it looked like Armageddon.

For two days, I sat at my kitchen table and watched out the big window that faces the mountain. Rain hammered the house, but the temperature stayed at 30 degrees. Every 10 minutes or so, a branch or a tree snapped, giving that dreaded sharp crack, and then shattering on the ground like broken glass on a concrete floor. I felt like a captain on the bridge of a ship keeping watch in a big storm. Visibility was poor, navigation pointless.

On the second evening, the rain ended and a full moon rose, lighting up the crystalline world like a stage set for Fantasia. I strapped on my ice cleats and walked out into the welcome, almost blinding, light. The shortest day of the year was only a week away, and the darkness brought on by the storm had felt punitive. The beauty of this ice-covered world seemed magical, suspending reality.

Driving was a unique experience, slaloming around felled trees, broken telephone poles, and downed wires. The tops of many trees had snapped off, leaving naked trunks standing like so many raised swords in the forest. Some had broken in two like twigs. Enormous splinters stabbed the ground like javelins thrown. Of all weather phenomena, ice is the most serenely destructive. No shrill wind, no thunder or lightning or shuddering of the earth. Just silence, but for the piercing reports of the breaking trees.

On the main highway, I saw a tractor trailer parked by the side of the road, its driver selling generators out of the back like a street vendor. When I reached the town of Peterborough, I found what looked like an abandoned village–stores dark, few cars parked on the street.

It turned out that some stores were open and customers could come in, using flashlights to scan the aisles and cash to purchase their items. At the post office, workers sorted mail in their heavy coats by the light of big flashlights. The impression of End Times continued.

Around the region, shelters were set up in schools and in fire stations. Volunteers, most of whom didn’t have power at home, cooked for their neighbors in the school kitchens. Bathrooms with flush toilets were much appreciated, but hot showers were the scarcest commodities. Our town fire station set up a mobile trailer, offering showers to anyone who needed them.

I hauled water in jugs from the local spring into my kitchen. I read by candlelight; I gathered ice fallen from the trees and melted it in pots for wash water. I cooked and washed dishes by the light of my headlamp and fed my stoves an astonishing amount of wood. My bedroom went cold, so I slept beside the stove in the living room, a considerable gift.

The days went by. My hand-cranked radio worked well, but the radio stations seemed clueless. The public radio station continued with its usual programming, referring listeners to its Web site for information about the storm. Who among us has a hand-cranked computer? I wondered.

We were also warned to “stay away from downed power lines,” but they were everywhere, scattered across the icy roads like so much spilled spaghetti. Most of us had become used to driving over them and even walking over them. There was no such thing as a live wire for miles and miles. Those toxic cylinders known as transformers lay about as well, some of them sitting in the middle of the road day after day. It was not only a physically frozen world, but everything else seemed frozen as well.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

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7 Responses to The Ice Storm | Mary’s Farm

  1. Sheila Burns November 17, 2009 at 7:43 pm #

    Such a good story, the reality of the description was wonderful. Here in West Virginia, we have had a a few of these ice/snow storms and I remember so much of this story that happened to us. Thank you.

  2. Dave Vaughan December 1, 2009 at 10:16 pm #

    After the storm stopped we drove around to survey the damage. I had never seen anything like it. We we’re relieved and grateful when on are way back home we saw utility trucks from Indiana. They must have driven all night to get here and then went right to work. Over the next several days we were invaded by an army of linemen fro all over the eastern half of the country. Many missed Christmas at home to help return us to normal. We will be forever grateful to them.

  3. Sandra McMillin December 2, 2009 at 10:42 am #

    I happened to be visiting at my daughters home in southern MA on the RI border where there was snow but no ice and no power outage. Just like the Blizzard of ’78 (the year we moved to Massachusetts) I missed it again!

  4. Janet Irwin December 4, 2009 at 12:28 pm #

    As next week approaches I seek out photo’s of our front yard prior to the storm of all ice storms. I remember the large maple that shaded countless day care children who spent their days with us over the years. I remember the pi

  5. Willadean Heldenbrand December 9, 2009 at 9:36 pm #

    Here in southwest Missouri we have our share of ice storms. Some adapt, some don’t to the lack of power. Sometimes power is out only a few hours, for others as much as three weeks. Kerocene heaters, oil lamps, candles, barbecue grills (out doors only), fireplaces and wood stoves are used more than generators. We learn how it was for the generations before us how life really was for them. We read, we play card games, board games and how to walk very carefully on the ice. We break ice in the ponds for the livestock and check on neighbors. We eat out of our freezers and share with friends who don’t have freezers just to use it up before the food spoils. All the while people are working around the clock to get the power back on.

  6. Barbara Mullan December 28, 2009 at 12:17 pm #

    As hard as it is for people to go without power, I actually think it is good for this younger generation to experience life without “all the modern conveniences” they have come to rely upon every day. So many from this younger generation do not even realize how to use a telephone book any more, that is how techno they have become. They rely on all their gadgets to get them through every aspect of their lives, but when an event such as an Ice Storm shuts down the main infrastructure and they find they now have to do for themselves, they are helpless. It’s nice to have modern convenience, but we must never loose our perspective and forget how things are truly done the REAL WAY in life.

  7. January 5, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    I felt almost a kinship with you as I read the story: having had to go “powerless” after Hurricane Ike for 15 days I knew just what you had gone through. I learned a lot about myself, though, in those 15 days, like how innovative I could be with no power and no water (for the first week). I re-discovered my cast iron skillets as I invented new recipes from limited food supplies, and cooked on my (thank God!) propane grill! While other people ran generators, I camped out under the window so that the cool night air would fall on me and I could get a (relatively) long night’s sleep (total darkness by 9 PM!).

    (I’m a Damned Yankee living down here in Texas for almost 21 years.)

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