At midnight, we abandoned the car on Fox Rd. and prepared to hike our way to our house, a mile down MacArthur. As the remnants of Irene blew through the mountains, I tensed with each gust of wind.
“Walk in the middle of the road!” I called out to the boys, for fear they’d be hit by trees or trip into flood-carved caverns on each side of the road.
Each of us carried a pack of essentials–things we didn’t want left in the car, and things we needed once we were home. There were also two flashlights, clever wind up ones, that were also solar powered–purchased conscientiously by my husband with our neglected LL Bean coupons.
The light flickered on and off, obscuring the view of the road when we most needed it to avoid falling into pits or tripping over debris. We begged each other to take turns winding to give our aching arms a break, as there had been no sun in our glove compartment to charge them.
I silently cursed my husband for not being a boyscout, and equally questioned how I had gender assigned responsibility for our safety.
As we carefully made our footing down MacArthur, we looked for any signs of power in the handful of homes that scattered this steep rural road, but not a flicker of light was seen.
Had we been home before the storm, we would have taken the necessary precautions–namely filling the tub with water to flush the toilets, and filling other jugs for washing dishes and drinking. My husband did fill our large water cooler and left it in the basement before we left for the beach; but hurricanes rarely affected us here in this landlocked state, and this was just a precaution.
It seemed crazy to leave the protection of the mountains with a hurricane coming up the coast, but we had already arranged the house trade, and preparations for the wedding that our house guests were attending were already in full swing across the pond at Neringa Camp.
It was the mother of the bride who had arranged the exchange, and we rode out the hurricane at her house in Cohasett, Massachusetts. I sat on the screened in porch while the wind whipped through the town, and jotted down this little ditty after sketching the trunk of the hundred year old beech on her front lawn.
Blizzards belong in the mountains
Hurricanes at the sea
I’m happy to sit by the ocean
While the wind blows on me
The next morning we woke without power, and yet there was little word of anything serious in Vermont so we began packing to leave. I would have preferred to wait until morning, but my husband had a school inservice the next day, and the winds had died down enough that it was now safe to travel.
Our three hour drive to Vermont was non-eventful and just as we got into the state, my husband stopped to use the restroom at the Welcome Center on 91. I was annoyed at this delay, just 30 minutes from our house, but he said he couldn’t wait, and so I passed the time using the internet.
It was then that I began to read first-hand accounts of the storms effects in Southern Vermont. One by one, Facebook posts told of the flooding in Brattleboro and of the closing of Route 9.
I put a post up myself to see if how the back roads were, and was alarmed to hear that many bridges had flooded. To play it safe, we called a few area hotels so that we could finish our trip home in the light of day, but everything was full or flooded.
My sister in Brattleboro offered her floor, but we weren’t sure we could even get there, and we had a car full of boys–my own two, and a teenage friend. If things were really this bad, we’d rather be home in Marlboro than stranded in town.
A state policemen pulled up beside us in the parking lot of the Welcome Center, and we asked what he knew, but he knew less that what we discovered through friends on Facebook.
We considered heading to a shelter.
Instead, we made the decision to head home.
We pieced together a backroads route from FB posts, and made our way toward Marlboro via Guilford, bypassing much of Brattleboro. So far so good. The roads were wet, but paved and sturdy.
When we finally made it passed Lilac Ridge Farm to Ames Hill–a dirt road that runs parallel to the highway that had been closed–we came across a huddle of emergency vehicles and men on ATV’s.
A rescue mission was in progress for folks stuck on Stark Road–just across from our own. They wouldn’t let us proceed because they didn’t want us getting in the way with their operation.
We reconsidered trying to make it to my sister’s, or to a shelter–if there was any–and once again, we decided on home.
About an hour passed before the men returned, and they told us that Ames Hill was passale–with four-wheel drive and high clearance. “It’s touch and go,” they warned.
Without giving it another thought, or asking my opinion, my husband jumped back behind the wheel of our Honda Civic; and soon, there was no turning back, for that would have been more treacherous than continuing.
At Robb Hill Farm, a car like ours sat sideways teetering on the brink of a cavernous hole where once the road had been. The car was empty, and we continued, stopping when needed for the boys to remove large rocks and to the lighten our load so that we could make it over ditches.
Each time they stepped into the dark, my stomach clenched for fear that they would fall into what should have belonged in a nightmare–roads eaten away by water, leaving only a narrow, rugged path for our car.
There were many such moments like this, but we were never in real danger, though more than once I worried that we could become one of those tragic stories dismissed by others for being stupid.
Why did that family try to get home, they’d say.
We didn’t know what we would find once we got there either. Would there still be a driveway? Would our house be flooded? Would the guests still be there, with no where to go?
On Facebook, I had read that Neringa pond had been flooded, and that the wedding guests were now stranded because the bridge had washed out, but we could see little of this in the dark, and we were eager to get to our own home.
There were no lights to welcome us, but we could make out no damage either, not even on our steep driveway. The neighbor’s jeep was there, and our friend’s truck, but inside the house was empty, and we lit candles and brought out the reserved water, and headed up for bed.
It had taken us over three hours to get home from Brattleboro which is typically a 15 to 20 minute drive, and I was weary from worry. In fact, I worried all weekend when my hometown at the Jersey Shore evacuated. I never expected that we, in Vermont, would be harder hit than they.
I brushed my teeth with the water from the car, and then asked the boys to do the same. When my teenage son said that he had left his toothbrush in the car, I was livid.
“Why wasn’t it in your bag?” I said. “Did you just throw it in the trunk?”
Fuming, I rustled through the drawers to find an extra tooth-brush by candlelight.
“Mom, just forget about it,” my son said, irritated by my urgency.
“I’m not going to forget about,” I hissed. “Brush your teeth with your finger!”
My son’s fury equaled mine then and he screamed, “Why do you have to freak out about teeth brushing at a time like this?”
I took a deep breath and wondered the same thing.
“Come back here,” I said, as my son stormed off to his room. “This isn’t about teeth brushing. This is about the culmination of that crazy trek that we took to get here.”
“I know,” he softened, and so did I, and we hugged each other good night, with clean teeth.
Kelly Salasin, 2011
For more about Irene in Vermont, click here.