Some say the world will end in fire, some say the world will end in ice, and some in these Nor’eastern States say, ayuh, the world will end in – floods.
T.S. Eliot no doubt deserves an apology for my irreverent snip at his poetry, written today while his ashes rest comfortably with his East Coker English ancestors, and a half-million souls from New Jersey to Connecticut still wait without power in their cold, wet homes.
My Central Massachusetts neighborhood was spared this time. This year my husband and I already have spent our share of calories wet-vacuuming against the low tides that appeared in our basement during February’s soaking rains (rains which seem to increase in frequency and scope as ice chunks the size of Rhode Island soften and disengage from the Arctic shelf).
As a younger, leaner woman I stared down wild thunderstorms with my cousins on Vermont’s Lake Champlain, and once righted a listing sailboat off the coast of Old Lyme, Connecticut while treading ocean water with a friend. Such outdoor adventures now give way to the softly spreading middle-aged desire for comfort, thwarted whenever disturbing flood waters start to seep, silent and unstoppable, into what should be the secure confines of home.
My husband suggested a moat last month.
Days of heavy snows that melted during a sudden thaw and made deep puddles under pelting rain saturated the yard twice this February. The run-off sent rushing cascades of clear, cold water streaming under our bulkhead door, into the finished basement. There’s not enough duct tape in the world to seal that off. We know; we tried.
The floods began late in the evening, but there’s no romance in the way rainwater can insidiously flow in, under a door, and over smooth linoleum tiles. It quickly seeps around the furniture, envelopes tangled computer cables on the floor, snakes down along the wall under the heating units, and heads straight for the furnace, where (if allowed to connect) it could trigger an explosive end to this middle class life.
So, partners to the end, we siphoned flowing water with a shop-vac for hours and cursed, mucked out frozen downspouts and mopped, strapped more duct tape on the door and prayed: for clear skies, a cold snap, and late-season ice.
Not long ago we prayed for a thaw.
It was December 11, 2008, the first-year anniversary of my newly-minted LLC. A natural disaster cut a swath through Central Massachusetts, and made national news. The Governor called out the National Guard. On that night, warm rain rapidly surrendered to the cold and turned to sleet. It mixed with high winds and whipped up a massive ice storm that coated our streets, exploded our trees, ripped though power lines, wrecked our homes, froze TV, internet, and phone, and ended local commerce as we know it for nearly two weeks.
Some of our neighbors rallied and lived like pioneers, getting the family into boots and flannel and then outside to clear a path, gathering firewood or hauling propane for back-up heating units. Others became suburban refugees. They loaded cars with supplies, elders, kids, and cats, then carefully drove out over the icy wires lining the streets and away from their deadened homesteads, to stay with relatives in other towns.
We were among those refugees. I couldn’t breathe when the sewer pump station at the end of the road switched to back-up power. Exhaust fumes easily seep through old window casings in ‘50s-style homes. A disaster is no place for an asthmatic. Besides, the holiday shopping season was heating up while we were stuck in a deep freeze with no power, and no place for my new internet-based pearl jewelry business to go.
So we loaded the car with supplies, laptops, and pearls, leaving the cat in the care of neighbors with woodstoves, and headed out. Every access road was blocked with broken icy trees, branches, and wires piled so high, it was as if an army of giants had moved in overnight to barricade the town. We traveled stop-and-go behind a line of vehicles that followed emergency crews slowly clearing main roads. Finally we hit the highway – and the ice was gone. Outside our bucolic enclave of disaster a normal modern world went about its normal routines, on a normal winter’s day.
During the next two weeks we imposed on my mother for a night or two, found short-term lodging at a business motel that became buzz central for the out-of-state contractors helping with clean up, and wound up at a quiet residence hotel packed with other local refugees. We arranged for home repairs, served all my customers, and swooped in to retrieve the cat, all while packing up the PT Cruiser to move every few days. The road kept us motivated, restless, and alert.
The road also marked the end of my yes-you-can-look-slim-and-youthful diet and exercise program. My great lesson taken from the Great Ice Storm of ’08: Yes, you can run an internet-based business from a hotel room with cat and spouse in tow, but no amount of sensible choosing from chain eatery menus is going to preserve that size 6 physique.
Nothing healthy exists on those menus. Who wants stick with rigorous diet and exercise routines when the house is falling down around you, anyway?
Well, our house didn’t actually fall down. We were one of the luckier families, able to move back in relatively soon, and with relatively few repairs. Even so the aftermath, including burned-out wiring, cracked glass and furnace valves, lost food and clothing, a stressed-out cat, and eventually, three 20-foot piles of mangled trees and brush, was a great deal less than fun. Insurance doesn’t cover landscape clean up, FEMA covers towns, not people, and comfort can be hard to find when everyone is overwhelmed.
These days, on occasion, I will eat that bacon cheeseburger (with swiss and buttered bun, mind you) while keeping a sharp eye on the latest news about our changing climate. I read that the Chinese have their collective eye on new shipping lanes to the far north, since in a few years the Arctic ice will melt every spring. Icebergs from Antarctica twice the land mass of Manhattan now threaten the Australian coast, and a sea less salty from all the melting ‘bergs now throws intense weather systems across our temperate land. More snow, more ice, more floods.
We’ll adapt, though aging bodies rebel. We’ll rebuild as our new businesses grow. Perhaps we’ll even evolve into a more careful, thoughtful world that conserves rather than wastes energy. Let’s hope we’ll have some fun while we’re doing it.
I better get some fries with that cheeseburger.
by Johanna Lolax, President & Founder