No set of poems about living in the North Country would be complete without an account of the Ice Storm of ’98. Or you can just say “the ice storm” and everyone will know what you mean. As a shared trauma, locally it ranks up there with 911 or the pandemic, though less lethal, thankfully. And it was also notable as a time of a thousand small kindnesses and an epidemic of open-handed generosity.
By the second morning, the trees began to fall
and the power went out, and it stayed out.
Miles of phone poles went down, and then
the big transmission towers. Still the sleet came.
Sitting on the back porch I could hear the trees
crack and fall in the woods. Around the yard
every shrub lay flat, every tree was groaning.
It was too much; we got into the car and fled.
Easier said than done. The s-curve was extra curvy,
an icy slalom run between limbs and fallen pines.
We made it a few miles to take shelter with friends
who were in the same boat, but had a fireplace.
Most of the village wound up in the field house,
sleeping on cots and pads and eating cold rations.
Not too bad. After all, “How long could this last?”
Oohh, bad question. You really don’t want to know.
By the sixth day, the nationals were interviewing
a local radio host who was holding down the fort while
the transmitter ran off a diesel generator, and who,
between cuts, told folks where to find food and wood.
We melted snow on a Ker-o-Sun heater, which doubled
as the cook stove. Going outside I stomped my feet
for traction and hammered a hole in the ice to get at
snow below. With buckets of melt we flushed the john.
Power crews flooded in from across the Northeast,
the Midwest and the South, but it would be weeks before
the last homes were wired in. Everything was wrecked.
Nobody could say when the weather would finally break.
In the village, widow-makers dangled from every tree.
Roofs sagged under fallen limbs, and the air resounded
with an endless symphony of chain saws and chippers.
Blue roof tarps would flap a bit until they too froze in ice.
I guess you had to be there. Veterans of the storm still
swap stories of making do. Anne discovered you could
wrap up coffee beans in a dish towel and beat them
with a claw hammer if you needed a jolt bad enough.
We learned that one could last a whole week without
changing clothes. But mostly we learned that people
really will hang together when everything goes south.
Knowing that–really knowing– is worth the ticket price.