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Mary's Farm: The Ice Storm

Mary’s Farm: The Ice Storm
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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.

If help was on the way, we had no way of knowing. Shipwrecked sailors, we waited for rescue. I read in the paper that crews from as far away as Ohio and Florida were coming here, arriving like an army, some 700 trucks in all.

Power in some of the towns around us had been restored, but for us, the electric company said it was simply “unknown” when we could expect to return to normal. All my basic needs were met, and yet I was falling into a pit of despondence. I felt that unreasonable fear that life as I’d known it might never return.

Routinely, I get up at 5 in the morning and start to write or read. It’s the way I live. Five o’clock in the morning is as dark as midnight at that time of year, so, during the outage, I would get up, light candles, and resume the vigil of the night before. The wait seemed endless.

Please Note: This article 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.

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7 Responses to Mary’s Farm: The Ice Storm

  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. horsebtn@gmail.com 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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