I can’t concentrate at work. Each day I am more tired. And even though I am eating right, getting exercise, spending time in quiet, I’m feeling the toll of so many days of angst.
Today, I drive through West Brattleboro, for the first time since the flood, and I am surprised, and almost sickened, to see edges of black top missing, dangling into run off, yellow line and all.
I haven’t been on Route 9 since the days I walked it with dozens of other neighbors to take in the devastation; and this neglect of Western Avenue leading to Route 9 brings the trauma of that pilgrimage back.
“Road Closed,”says the sign at the base of the road, and so I turn my car around, and then roll down my window to check in with another driver who looks perplexed.
“What am I supposed to do?” he says. “When I came down from the college to go to the store, that sign wasn’t there.”
“You know the back way, don’t you?” I ask. And he shakes his head ; so I say, “Follow me.”
I always feel better when I help someone. It gets me out of myself, and channels my grief into something that moves, instead of puddles.
It hadn’t occurred to me when I decided to head toward Route 9 that I was avoiding Ames Hill. Though I’d driven back and forth on it a few times already, I had always been a passenger–like I had been the night that we tried to make it home to Marlboro during the flooding.
Ames Hill was nightmarish then, with only a single, rugged lane, flanked by deep caverns beneath the jagged edges where the road had been eaten away.
Once we made the decision to proceed, there was no turning back or pulling over; and if we abandoned our car, which I would have liked to do, emergency vehicles wouldn’t have been able to get through.
But I wasn’t thinking about any of this. I was making sure that the young man in the van with out of state plates was following me–past Lilac Ridge with the bright sunflowers, and around the turn to head up toward the Robb Family Farm where the cows used to moo.
It was then that my body began to re-live the tension of that nightmare ride home, even though there was a boy playing ball on the lawn in the afternoon light instead of a car dangling over a deep ditch in the dark.
I noticed my stomach tighten, without any thoughts, and I realized that my body had some more letting go to do, even if my mind didn’t.
I tried to get onto Route 9 this morning too, but there was work going on, and I didn’t want to interrupt it, so I turned around and took the long way again.
As I passed the post office, I realized that it had been days since we fetched the mail, and so I stopped, and heard how Marshall spent three hours trying to get to work last week, and finally headed back home to Brattleboro, where he took a long walk with his wife, and saw all kinds of unusual things in the water: propane tanks bobbing, an actual car, and even a house, upside down, floating like a boat on its attic.
Perhaps we need to get my friend Susie and other artists to create a large canvass upon which we can all release what we have seen.
Another Lisa took a trip down the Augur Hole yesterday to help Peggy move back in, and Lisa’s stricken face said more than any words to describe what it was to see that road missing, and the wide, rocky stream bed that was now it its place.
I haven’t been to Wilmington, but having lived there for several years, I feel a strong kinship to that community. I can’t imagine what it must be to see the devastation downtown.
As I climbed the stairs to second floor office this morning, my legs were heavy with this grief–and that of Texas, and of Japan, and I noticed that the flood had carved out much more room inside of me for compassion, and that it was taking more energy than I was used to giving.
And then there’s today’s murder at the IHOP in Nevada which brings back the grief of our own killing at the Brattleboro Co-op; which is a sour place to end this post, leaving me weak in the knees.
And yet, as I come down MacArthur Road, past John’s place, and Jason’s apple trees, and Gail’s berries, and Robin’s sky, I notice that the sun, though hidden by the clouds, is shimmering its way through in a perfect offering of light.
Kelly Salasin, Marlboro, VT
On this one-week anniversary of Irene in Vermont, I’d like to share some of what was posted on Facebook as the day of devastation unfolded:
Very scary in Medburyville. Our bridge to the treehouse is gone and our field and horse pasture is flooding fast. Our horse fence is starting to go down…
Stream in front of my house looks like it may jump the banks… car is packed up and on high ground…. Keep your fingers crossed that my house doesn’t get flooded!
Route 9 near the Brattleboro Naturopathic Clinic is washed out. Be careful folks!
Whetstone Brook raging downtown.
Flat Street flooded.
Lower Bartonsville Covered Bridge gone
The road is gone just down a bit from our house in Marlboro.
Downtown Wilmington washed away.
As these posts trickled in (and then stopped as people lost power), it was friends outside of the state, watching the news, who posted about the magnitude of the flooding:
Downtown Brattleboro is underwater with much debris heading down stream. Many many roads and bridges are washed out. Sounds like most people are in isolation where they are. National Guard is in West Bratttleboro and trying to get emergency help up to Wilmington and Marlboro as they are in total isolation. Rte 9 washed out as well.
In the days following, power was restored to the Green Mountain State, and posts like these next ones expressed what we were all feeling:
I was hoping to wake today and find yesterday a bad dream….
Between the shooting, the earthquake and the flash flood, my little nervous system has been on overdrive.
It’s really amazing how a little brook can change so rapidly into a newsworthy disaster. Very sobering.
The community on Facebook grew day by day, and looking back, I’ll always remember the FB conversation that helped us find our way home on that treacherous night one week ago today. It began with this question that I put out to friends:
We’re on our way up 91 to exit 2, can we get home to Marlboro?
Ellen: Route 9 is closed from Orchard St to Bennington
Ruth: They won’t even let you past the farmer’s mkt. they have engineers coming to check even the little bridges. we’re stuck in west b. if they’ll let you thru to my house, we have room for y’all
Is the back way open to Marlboro?
Jen: Hey Kel, I think you might make it somewhat close to your house if you go through Guilford, but up here the roads are washed out and I don’t think you can get down MacArthur
Jennifer J: Not likely. You can’t get close enough to get to a back roaads
Jennifer J.: IF, and this is a big if, you could go up and over Orchard St & IF the bridge on Meadowbrook was still in tact you could take a right on Western Ave to get to Ames Hill. Lots of questions about the bridges on any back roads.
Ellen: Meadowbrook was closed this afternoon
Jen: Liz made it up here just a while ago on Guilford Center Road. She said you could get down MacArthur from the Ames Hill side. This was a few hours ago, but they did make it…
Someone said that road was flooded
Jen: unsure….. everything is a mess, but it was done a little earlier; i think they only took guilford center to tater lane, the south street to come out by 7-11. then up ames hill…
Alright, we’re going to try that way now. Thanks Jen.
(We never saw the next series of posts until days later when our power was restored.)
Sara: Hi Kelly – Guilford is a mess all the brooks are raging and lots of roads closed.
Jen: Good luck you all!
Stephanie: Be careful!
Michelle: Be Careful!!!!
Sara: If you can get to our house you are welcome to stay here tonight – write if you need directions. At Richmond Auto take Guilford center road go approx 3 miles… I’ll leave the lights on.
Amanda: Are you Safe somewhere??
Stephanie: I just got a message from them. They are almost home, hiking in the last mile.
Michelle: Thanks for the update steph!!!!!
Mary: Just found out about the flooding there. I hope everyone is safe.
Robin: Oh my heavens!
Ciri: Did you make it home?
Robin M.: Did you make it home? Jason saw your car abandoned on Fox. Rd.
Three days later, we were back on Facebook and got our first glimpse of how widespread the damage had been. Image after image revealed the destruction in each of the surrounding towns and beyond. And yet, what resonated most with me and everyone I talked to was this:
One reporter who had covered both Katrina and Joplin, Missouri, said that he was struck by how upbeat the people of Vermont were following our catastrophe.
Except for those who lost their homes or businesses, most of us are focused on how fortunate we were. We all know someone who has it worse, and right now (at least in my town) there are more people offering help (even from out of state) than there are requests for help.
Perhaps it’s because anyone who chooses to live here or visit here embraces the natural beauty in a way that transcends comfort or convenience, and relies on community to survive–both physically and personally.
Calvin Coolidge, our nation’s 30th President, summed it up best in a quote that has been circulating on Facebook this week:
“I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, …but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.” ~ President Calvin Coolidge
Kelly Salasin, Marlboro, Vermont