The Ice Storm | Mary's Farm
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.
I pride myself in being self-sufficient, how well prepared I am for storms and emergencies. I was stunned at how this outage had crippled me. In all the years I’ve lived alone, I’ve never felt as isolated as I did during this time, deprived as I was of my phone, e-mail, and Internet, all of which I use to stay in touch with that huge world outside my small, purposely remote life.
Then one day, I was coming out of my neighbor’s driveway after a visit. It was the 10th day of life without electricity. I looked down the long downhill stretch of my road. In a blur of whirling orange and blue lights, an armada of trucks was parading up the road toward me. I thought I was seeing a mirage. The town’s cruiser was in the lead–a police escort. It turned out that there were some 35 trucks in this rescuing army, all of them from Hydro-Quebec.
In the history of this road, which dates back to the 1700s and which even today experiences only the occasional car, I’m certain there have never been so many vehicles on it at one time. Apparently the high-tension wires that run behind my house held the key to much of the outage in our area, as two of the towers had toppled over. I’d seen helicopters buzzing around back there but hadn’t realized why.
They were here for two days, working from dawn to dusk. These men from Montreal, as I called them, didn’t speak English, traveling with a translator.