The Ice Storm | Mary's Farm
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.
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