Monday, August 29, 2016

Tropical Storm Irene and the tale of two towns

Sitting in the sand near the gently lapping surf on this sunny Sunday afternoon, it is hard to imagine what it was like here five years ago when Tropical Storm Irene slammed into our coastline.

Most of all, I remember the sounds and the silence…

After listening to the hurricane warnings, my husband and I had anchored our boat to the summer house and secured all my parents’ belongings. They had been there the day before, and my mother had left in tears.

Some of our neighbors had boarded up their windows, and most of the residents had already evacuated. When we drove away, we understood the very real possibility that upon our return, everything might be gone: the summer house destroyed and our yard underwater.

Back at our Massachusetts’ home in the deep woods, we had other worries. Our house sits across the street from a pond and is surrounded by 100-foot pine trees.

When we bought our home, we were amazed that our house was wired to an ancient-looking gasoline-powered generator that sat in the garage. But as soon as we moved in, we realized that it was a necessity. We lost power in good weather, as well as in bad, including once for five days after a snowstorm and after the onslaught of Hurricanes Gloria and Bob.

But then the electric company upgraded our area, and the generator sat unused in the corner of the garage for more than a decade and atrophied, no longer able to generate a spark.

When we finally decided to invest in a new generator, we hired an electrician to bring all the wiring up to code. And there it sat for two years, never tested, and we wondered whether our money would have been better spent on other upgrades around the house.

With the approach of the hurricane, everything changed. The generator was a godsend. We wheeled it out of the garage onto the driveway and filled it with gasoline.

My husband and I awakened early that Sunday morning of the storm and went to the early service. As the wind whistled around the country church and the rain splattered the stained-glass windows, I read the words of the Prophet Jeremiah:

“I say to myself, I will not mention Him, / I will speak his name no more. / But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, / imprisoned in my bones; / I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”

Tropical Storm Irene was barreling up our coastline. God help us.

Back at home, we heard the sounds of the wind ripping through the woods, felling limbs and tossing them everywhere. The power kept blinking on and off, but after a half hour in the darkness, my husband pulled the cord on the generator and switched the electrical box over to emergency power. The refrigerator started to hum and the lights flickered.

It wasn’t long before we learned that a tree had fallen on our next-door neighbor’s home. A short way up the street, a massive tree had toppled taking with it all the power, cable and telephone lines.

I called my parents. The apple tree that had graced their front yard ever since they bought the property in 1947 had just split in half.

As soon as the tropical storm passed, my son drove to Fogland. Unbelievably, the summer house had survived intact, and all the trees were still standing.

In the evening we unplugged. The windows were open, and we heard sporadic gusts of wind; but without the buzz of household appliances, it was eerily quiet. I lit three candles and placed them around the room.

For my birthday, my family had bought me a new e-reader. Long into the night, I read the battery-powered Nook, the LED screen the only beacon of light in a world of darkness.

As I drifted off to sleep that night five years ago, I thought about how vulnerable we all are. But I knew then, as I know now, that whenever we speak His name, we are never alone. We always have back-up.