Imagine a grade school aptitude test, “What’s wrong with this picture??” The photo shows pristine blue sky, maple and oak trees in their full glory of burgundy, orange and yellow. Carved pumpkins on the front porch. And 18 inches of fresh snow on the ground. The child would be correct in her answer: “What’s wrong with this picture? You can’t have fall and winter at the same time!”
Well not anymore in New England. On October 30th we got slammed with an unprecedented blizzard for that date. The devastation was breath-taking; trees in full bloom downing power-lines, impassable roads, havoc everywhere. As it’s October, none of us are prepared for winter. It’s November when snow tires go on, shovels come out, wood gets stacked, gardens get put to bed, fields mowed. But here we are with the mower still on our tractor – at least we have a tractor to mow with — and no snow tires in sight. There’s zero chance we’re getting up our near-vertical drive way without the studded snows. My husband Joe switches to the plow attachment on the tractor, makes several trips with the plow and the All Wheel Drive Honda still gets stuck in the snow bank. The kids are at separate sleep-overs across town, all phones are out and we have no way of contacting parents to tell them we’re on our way to retrieve them, cause we’re digging out. No big worries there though, our neighbors in this rural town are in the same situation and get it. Finally Joe yanks me up the hill with the tractor in fits and starts and I’m off to get the kids. But given I have no traction and the road is very narrowly plowed, I decide it won’t work to turn around in the snow bank and I’ll back out the half mile it takes to get to the main road. Good plan until the massive town plow truck bears down on my nose and under that pressure I accelerate in reverse body torqued to get a view out the back window. Then SLAM on the breaks as unexpectedly there is a power line menacingly snaking across the road. Spells death if you touch it. And this is just the first few hours of the storm.
Meantime millions have lost power across the region and we’re one. It will be six long days till the power comes back on. That’s Robinson Caruso charming for about the first 36 hours. Candle-light and a glass of wine by the fire. But pretty soon — dishes and laundry piling, showers history, no drinking water, no flushing or septic and no internet for connecting to the world and getting work done — tempers start to get short. Joe has a long planned work and hunting trip for 9 days and I’m incredulous. “You’re going where?? In the middle of this??” The generator that he’s so skillfully wired to the main house so we can have refrigeration and water has bit the dust as small engines do in times like these, sputtering and dying so I’m wondering if I have to rescue all perishables from the freezer or if they can last another . . . how many days? Who knows that calculation. National Grid isn’t giving any clear estimates. Crews from New York and Kansas and Wisconsin, bless their hearts are working round the clock – I stop to thank the guys on our street, but we’re a little tiny town and way down the list of the electric company priorities.
There are silver linings: my neighbor Eric, who til now I barely know, becomes my best friend. Turns out he’s a wizard with our formerly—pronounced–dead generator and checks on it daily. Halloween has been “canceled” by all the local town governments so I scheme with a bunch of neighbors, plant candy in their homes, and pile 7 local kids in the car for the annual sugar collection bash. The kids are costumed and adorable and parents grateful that we could pull that off. School is closed for one, then two, then three days. I decide to bolt town and head to the city – Eric the star neighbor offers to take care of Simba our Lab. Granma and Granpa are thrilled with the unexpected visit and the kids, — who’ve been bugging me for weeks – are ecstatic to “Occupy Boston” instead of school.
But the Nightmare is real. In my 51 years living in this region I’ve never witnessed a snow-storm anywhere near this in October. Severe weather incidents in our region – in less than 6 months two tornadoes, Hurricane Irene and now this – are increasing exponentially in frequency. These are not isolated events, they are indicative of what may be an irreversible pattern that we humans have brought on ourselves. Burning carbon with abandon, playing Icarus with the climate.
I’m on a walk with Mara this morning post storm. We are at our familiar and beloved Wickett Pond. Back woods, pristine quiet, light breeze, morning sun flickering off the waves. It is warm to the skin and a deep relief after the trauma of the storm. The gift of life on this planet, so precious. We’re messing with this exquisitely elegant balance with such great Hubris. Wrenching my gut. Is it too late? Our beautiful children. Did we f—k it up for them?
Emotions roller coaster. Tears flow, grieving for the loss of beauty and innocence. Anger rages; STOP this insanity. Restore the balance now. Fear grips. For the first time I’m feeling this on a cellular level. It really may be too late. Despair.
But with the return of the power, the return of the phones, the return of the sun, the return of kids to school, the emptying of the sink of dishes and the ability finally to charge this computer so I can write about it, my mood lifts. Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe we can re-double, triple, quadruple our efforts to make fossil fuels history, build renewable everything, cut back our mindless consumption of the stuff we don’t need, get back to our neighbors, get back to nature. With creature comforts restored I know it’s easy to get lulled back into a sense of ease and security. But as the poet Rumi says, “Don’t go back to sleep.” This white Halloween, it’s a big-time wake up call. We need to make some massive changes and we need to make them now.