On the 13th of March a windstorm came up the lake, ravaging my beautiful wooded neighborhood. It’s been a fall and winter of record rainfall, the ground saturated. The high winds uprooted majestic firs and junipers. We lost power 45 minutes into the storm.
At first the silence was eerie. My cat, Ariel, walked round warily, then decided to hide in the windowless bathroom. We know the drill, bring out all the battery-operated lights, assemble the camp stove to make hot tea (no heat–the house gets cold–hot tea warms the hands), put on fingerless gloves.
Hours later we needed a few items for a dinner we could make in one pot. That’s when we discovered the felled tree blocking our main access road. Our alternative, a winding one lane road through thick woods, was gridlocked by people discovering the blockage up above and trying to turn around. We improvised.
It was a dry storm, all wind and no rain except for a brief squall late in the afternoon. Neighbors shared information as they walked their dogs up and down our little cul-de-sac (with the gridlock and no sidewalks it was too dangerous to venture farther). We caught up on the news of the street. As I talked to one neighbor, her mother called out and waved from a few houses away. It was like a block party.
At nightfall, Ariel was spooked by the darkness, coming to get me to light her way to the litterbox–a cat! But a cat accustomed to some light at all times. Our neighbor’s lamppost lights our upstairs hallway at night in a soft glow. She did not trust the darkness. Or was it the silence plus the dark? The moving lights?
We read by camp lanterns, listening to a battery-operated radio. We talked a lot, laughed a lot.
In the morning we walked up to view the damage. We stopped to talk to the neighbor whose house was just missed, asking if there was anything we could pick up for him at the grocery. He was trimming some of the large branches just brushing his garage. He was worried that the power company might jostle the fallen giant and crush his garage after all. While talking to him we realized the miracle that had him saying, “Close call, close call.” His own huge firs showed the scars of the branches clipped by the falling tree; they’d deflected the tree’s trajectory just enough so that it landed beside his house and garage. (The eventual removal was done with great care. His garage is fine.) We walked on up to the grocer, enjoyed the warmth in the store.
Twenty-eight hours without power (most importantly, without heat), grew old. And yet… Neighbors took turns going up the street to see whether City Light had arrived to clear the tree and work on the wires. They’d call out the news on their return.
When it was my turn, I was hailed by a neighbor who was recently widowed. He stopped in the middle of the street, in his car, and took out his laptop to show me photos of when he and his late wife first met. I leaned through the opened driver’s side window to see them. Neighbors good-naturedly skirted around us (the one-lane road was open–someone had the sense to put a sign down below about the blockage), teasing us about being the neighborhood wifi hotspot. His memories of their first dates, how smitten he was at once, the hurdles they jumped to make it work–all so vivid. Would we have taken the time on an ordinary day?
One man stood at the tape barrier glowering at the City Light workers. They’d arrived with their equipment and someone to work on the tree, but were waiting for the all clear, no power in the lines. The man was furious. He’d gone up to the tree earlier, in his truck, ready to use his chain saw on the tree. They’d warned him off. Fire danger. Disaster. He was fuming about it. “Of course there’s no power, the lazy idiots. Did any of us have power? Our taxes paying their overtime. What a racket.” Actually…trees were down all over the area, and as the streets around us were reconnected there was danger in a surge according to my widowed neighbor, an engineer, and my husband, ditto. He was a lucky man to have been warned away. I thought of the neighbor with the tree so close to his house, how careful he’d been to stay away from the lines as he trimmed those branches. Had the angry one cut through the trunk and dislodged the wires… His anger was so noticeable because he was the only one I encountered in the 28 hours who expressed any anger at all. Imagine that.