I cozy up in the chair beside the woodstove,
a peppery mug of chai in my hand,
and turn to face out the French doors,
toward the promise of spring
is all we have
in these mountains
While the valley below swoons with bloom.
I don’t mean to rhyme, but even without sun,
the mid-day light on this hill beckons;
the grass almost greening;
the bulbs almost bursting;
But the branches
Oh those branches!
Weary with waiting
Darkened with rain
Empty and foreboding.
But wait, what’s that I see?
Faint, so very faint,
but definitely something other
than brown or gray or tiresome Evergreen.
Poetry comes to my lips,
but before I can grab a pen to put down the words I say aloud,
and as if my voice is an invocation
I hear the call of the geese
and look toward the pond
and watch them fly overhead.
Maybe it was the tick of the woodstove
or the soup in the pot
that clouded my vision;
Or perhaps: the first blush of spring in the mountains
is happening at this very moment
for all those, like me, who sit still and see.
I step outside the bakery.
The flakes are wondrous.
Shops along Main Street empty of keepers and customers wanting to see.
All the kids are still in school so it’s just us grownups.
And even if you are as old as me, you can’t help but stick out your tongue, and effortlessly share in winter’s communion. The holy sacrament. Of snow.
Despite the magic, I decide that I better head home.
I drive slow out of town.
I approach a standstill at Route 9, the highway that leads to my mountain home.
I turn into the Chelsea Royal and attempt to assess the situation.
Is that a farm vehicle? A truck?
I turn around. I’ll take the back roads.
I stop for WIFI to share an update in on our community Facebook group, but the power is out at Dunkin Donuts, and at both the gas stations, they tell me.
A fire truck speeds by.
Must be a pole down.
Live wires, someone says.
I pass a vehicle in a snow bank, another in a ditch.
An ambulance speeds by.
A police car.
I stop at my dentist office, but it’s closed.
I stand outside the door and use the WIFI.
I take the road past Lilac Ridge Farm because its flat.
I stop for a photo. I pass Round Mountain, and use my mind to capture its majesty because I need traction now as Ames Hill Road begins to climb.
Cars without snow tires or studs or without steep slippery driveways like mine are pulled to the side of the road or stopped altogether in the middle or somewhere else, unintended.
I consider pulling into the Robb Family Farm myself, but all the spaces are taken. I remember the night of Irene, how this farm was the turning point, of no turning back, and how passing it, even months later, brought back the terror of that drive home. Of roads eaten away by water. Of a car, hanging in a ditch. Of trees strewn everywhere. Of boulders appearing where a dirt road was supposed to be.
One more turn up hill, and there are too many cars paused, and I become one of the casualties, and slide to the wrong side of the road, but still on it, and kind of out of the way.
Others speed by.
My heart swells with envy for AWD and especially trucks.
They resent me, and those like me, in the way.
I roll down my window.
I talk to a friendly guy named Jeff, heading to town, who offers to push me.
I don’t think that’s a good idea, I say, just as Jeff does a dance that takes him swiftly to the ground.
Other drivers stop to make similar suggestions.
I hand out my last Lake Champlain Valentine chocolates to each one–to my brother in law who was one of the cars I passed earlier, but then passed me after he put chains on his tires; and to my neighbor who volunteers with the Fire Department and who radios in about the condition of the road, and who helps spin my car downhill and temporarily into a driveway; and to the guy in the truck who later tells me, when I start to head back down to town, don’t do it, it’s worse that way now, cars allover the place.
And so I sit in my car on the side of the road, facing the right way now,
And hope no one hits me.
And change my mind about which seat is the safest, and whether or not I should wear a seat belt.
I have my laptop, but I’m too anxious to work.
I inventory my car’s contents.
I pick up trash.
I inventory my trunk’s contents.
I change my seat three times.
I regret my generosity with the chocolate, just a little bit.
There are no snacks in car, not even left behind on the floor or the seats. The kids are grown.
I have three blankets, and a flashlight. Nightfall is about an hour away.
A pair of gloves.
I have water. I even have chai.
But I have to pee so I can’t have either.
I could pee outside. I have tissues.
The snow bank is too deep. The road too slippery. The house across the road empty.
Cars heading uphill slow to a trickle.
Cars downhill still at a standstill.
Then, wait, what’s that?
It is, IT IS!
A SANDER barrels by, spraying delicious, dark chocolate dirt across the road.
I wait until the road around me is completely empty, and then I climb over the stick shift, and into the driver’s seat. I back up. I spin around. I decide on heading up hill–the direction I was forced to abandon over an hour earlier.
I don’t see another soul. I climb out of Brattleboro, past the sheep farm and the apple orchard, and approach the line into Marlboro, neatly delineated where, to my dismay, chocolate ends, and vanilla begins again, and yet the familiarity lends comfort, even without traction.
As I crest the last climb, the snow suddenly stops, and the sun arrives, welcoming me home, or mocking all the dark drama down below.
I pass the cemetery. I pull over to take a photo of the sky passed Liz and Craig’s.
The road beneath my feet is slick.
My neighbor, the fireman, passes me by again.
I turn downhill onto MacArthur, the road which bears his name.
I drive even slower. Test my brakes.
Wave past his aunt’s house.
The world is milky white and silent and stunning.
I photograph his grandfather’s house from below.
I forget that John died just last month.
I approach my own land. I slow for a man with two dogs,
and then accelerate again to get up my driveway, but pass it when I find it overflowing.
How has so much snow fallen in such a short storm?
I continue down to Camp Neringa, turn around in the driveway, exhale when I don’t end up stuck or in a ditch.
Tuck my car on the side of the road.
Hike up to my house.
Look back at the narrow path of my boot prints.
Gather wood from the shed for the fire.
Sit in the dark as the sun goes down.
Hold a flashlight.
Wait for the power to go back on.
the smell of rain the smell of rain the smell of rain
Hugs between friends last a bit longer this time of year; while caffeine and chocolate consumption climbs. It’s not winter. It’s the in between time. The waiting. The last foot of snow. The slow melt.
Those of us who can’t leave, head east to Brattleboro, where a 10 mile difference makes for grass. Like winter refugees, we soak up their signs of spring; our lives held hostage by a hill. By mud. By a home. By a family to whom we’re expected to return, and to make dinner and small talk; when what we really want to do is drive south. And never stop.
(I can’t go. I can’t go. I can’t. Right? Even if friends post beach weather just 300 miles away. )
My husband suggests that I work down in Brattleboro this week. “It’s supposed to be sixties in town,” he says. “It will only make it to about 50 up here.”
I add another piece of wood to the stove and try to settle in with a cup of tea; but my mind is as itchy and inflamed as my skin; desperate to shed winter’s wool.
I look outside and note the increasing signs–the green cap of the septic tank, the garden beds, the dry patches of dead grass–indicating land in what has been a sea of snow. Despite this welcome melting, winter continues to trump spring; white beats brown; and my glass is half-empty, and leaking.
“Why don’t we go down to Brattleboro now,” my husband says.
Though it sounds like a booby prize to the beach, I reluctantly get dressed so that he and I can walk the streets downtown, without boots, and drift into shops, and join an event at the River Garden center which sits on the Connecticut and has a glass roof that lets in lots of light.
There we find live music and hot chai and loads of desserts and fellow refugees from up the hill. I hug one too long, as if holding on; and then I dash back toward the front entrance. Toward a sudden and unexpected rain. Not rain on snow which is a sad, sad thing. But rain on earth. And rain on roads. And rain on sidewalks and rooftops–and us.
Just as the sky really lets loose, the sun bursts onto the scene–with a rainbow–stretching across the Connecticut and touching down at the foot of Mt. Wantastiquet. People flock out the back exit onto the deck to see the promise of color; because even though Brattleboro has lost its snow, it is stalled in monochrome.
One man turns toward me, beaming, noting the sweet smell.
“Don’t you love it,” I say, restraining myself from embracing him.
“I smelled it this morning too,” he continues. “Up at our place where there’s still a foot of snow.”
“Two feet,” his wife counters.
“But it smelled like rain, even without earth,” he says.
I smile. And sniff. And consider the different scents that come with rain; and wonder if it has its own.
I walk back to the front entrance and smell the sidewalks and the road. I return to the deck and smell the wood and the earth and the river. I finish back at the road and stay there awhile because it takes me to my childhood. To rain on hot tar in Virginia. Lying face down in the road so that I could soak up every ounce of that delicious, fresh scent before the sun smoked it away.
We linger past the rain, and into the evening at the River Garden, and when we finally head home, into the hills of snow, I feel freer. I decide to stay put. To be here to bear witness to my own spring’s emergence–to the return of our very first Robin; and even more beholding–to the appearance of a baseball–tribute to the life once lived–right here–where it shall return again.
Yesterday, with the coming rain, I was on edge. I was exhausted and distracted and anxious. When the lightning and thunder began, I lit candles and filled water jugs and waited. During the night, I slept fitfully, hearing the water teeming from the sky; but I am fine.
By comparison, my house and driveway are relatively untouched.
And still, I am afraid.
I’ve had enough of flooding and vanishing roads and friends in crisis.
And still, the rains come.
Out of courtesy, I put in a call to my busy, doctor father who tried to reach me during it all. My entire extended family has long been frustrated that I don’t have a cell phone, and when the devastation hit Vermont, they were exceptionally concerned following our days without power or phone.
Today is a holiday, so my father is probably in Annapolis where he spends his weekends sailing. I try him on his cell, and end up leaving a message; after which I feel hot tears spring to my eyes–like those of a child.
Though I’ve never been a “daddy’s girl,” I have to restrain myself from weeping when he returns my call.
On the morning after she hit our unsuspecting mountaintop town, I ran down my driveway toward Neringa Pond. There I found clusters of neighbors in sober conversation, and passed them without a word, continuing toward the mangled dock that crossed the pond where I discovered that the dam was surprisingly holding steady.
I continued down the road alone until I came to the bridge that crossed over to Camp Neringa and saw that in its place was a gaping span of… nothing.
“We’re stranded,” called a young woman from the other side over the rushing water, “There are a hundred of us.”
“I know,” I called back, “I’m so sorry this happened while you were here.”
These wedding guests had flown in from Toronto, and others from California, while one had come from as far as Lithuania. We shouted some more across the roar of the Whetstone–about food and generators and water (all of which they had)–before turning our backs on one another on opposite sides of what had once been connected.
I held back tears as I continued down MacArthur Road where I came across more neighbors helping one another over the gaping pits where sections of our road once stood.
At the bottom of the hill, the underbelly of MacArthur was completely exposed–revealing gravel and dirt and a culvert many times my size.
With hesitation, I leaped over it to make my way toward the Route 9.
Typically teaming with travelers, Route 9 was barren this morning, and eerily so; so clear of traffic that I could lie down in the middle of the highway and have a photo snapped of me there.
Instead I continued up it, past the hill where young Kayla died, and without any specific destination in mind.
I’d never walked along Route 9 before, at least not with such an unsettling sense of safety, and I couldn’t stop. For awhile, it was only me and the butterflies up a road where vehicles fly by at 50 or 60 miles an hour. At the crest of another hill, I passed a man coming the other way with a wax bag in his hand.
“Sweeties isn’t actually open, is it!” I asked, and he nodded his head, and kept walking.
A half-mile later, I stood inside the darkened store, relieved to see Michaela, a graduate of Marlboro College, attempting to make coffee and sandwiches for the community; and Ashleigh, a Brattleboro Highschool student, arriving to work by some heroic effort of her mother; and Rose, a town official, bending over a large map, helping travelers find routes home should any open.
I hadn’t thought to bring any cash with me when I set out this morning, but I was able to create a tab so that I could take home some groceries and a wax-bagged treat of my own while stranded guests from the other wedding across town left with six-packs, and brownie mix (which perplexes me still.)
I passed other explorers on my way back down Route 9, and when I arrived back at the intersection of MacArthur, it was crowded. A mini-van had been abandoned there during the night, atop a pile of rocks and trees, and someone said that it had been a traveler caught up in debris when the Whetstone Brook took the road and turned Route 9 into a grander expression of itself, rushing east toward Brattleboro.
By now, the sun had risen on the day, and although I was overdressed for the coming heat and unprepared for such a trek as I had already taken, I found myself passing MacArthur by, and continuing east on Route 9, to see what others had described as indescribable.
There at the edge of town, about a mile further down the highway, I approached Steve’s Auto Body Shop where half of Route 9 had neatly collapsed, right at the yellow line, into the rushing stream that didn’t used to be there below.
Beside this section of missing highway stood a small sign which politely read, “Sidewalk Closed.”
No sign was needed for what lie just passed Steve’s. It was a destination so awe-inspiring that it had attracted elders and mothers with baby carriages for what was sure the most apocalyptic view of this flood’s devastation.
Route 9 had simply vanished, and the river took its place below. Some said a hundred, others two, and I can’t recall how many feet stood between me and the other side of what was once the highway, but it made me laugh when I recollected the span each time drivers rolled down their windows near MacArthur to ask, “Is it passable up ahead?”
Often these travelers would persist, as if I hadn’t noticed that they had good clearance and four-wheel drive; and then I would have to be firm:
“There IS no road up ahead. It no longer exists.”
And if they still looked dubious, I would explain that even if they could, by some miraculous Evil-Knieval feat, daredevil their way across what many called the Grand Canyon, they would find similar canyons all along Route 9 heading east into Brattleboro–each with ten to twenty-foot pits below.
Then these desperate souls, hoping to get home to work or to pets or to children even, would turn their heads toward MacArthur, asking if there was any chance that way…
“Not even the National Guard, on a rescue mission, with tires bigger than your car, could get through last night.” I’d say.
Similarly, the roads heading West into Wilmington were closed, and those in the north, and in every direction; so that these drivers turned around, one by one, resigned to being stuck like the rest of us. Some slept at the church or at the Inn or inside their cars, I suspect.
By the time I hiked back up to my house, the boys were awake and ready to do some of their own exploring. Their father took them out while I went upstairs to lie down, drifting into the sweetest, exhausted reverie I have ever known until the sound of a helicopter circling my home, not once, but three times, brought me to standing as I heard it land across the pond to sounds of cheers.
I jumped up then and dashed out my door to make my way over the mangled dock, and up the path to Neringa’s field where I came across 100 wedding guests huddled together as the chopper lifted back into the sky.
I caught the last words of an announcement made by a bearded wedding guest from Toronto: “If we have any medical emergencies, they’ll airlift them out, but for now MacArthur Road and the bridge to Neringa are not high on the priority list.”
I stayed on to talk to some of the guests, and drew maps of possible routes out of Marlboro should the backroads be cleared, and someone could come to fetch them. (They would have to leave their cars behind, most of which were rentals.)
And then I returned home once again, and slipped out of my clothes, and into bed, and slept–for the rest of the day–stirring now and again to the sound of more aircraft—the Red Cross, the governor, the National Guard—only to let my head drop heavily back on the pillow in what felt like a drugged stupor.
The air was crisp, the sky beautiful, and my home–and even my steep driveway–uncannily untouched by the devastation that was all around me.
From under my covers, the world was more tranquil than ever. There were no cars passing on MacArthur and no whine of 18 wheelers from Route 9. The house was silent too–absent of the hum of appliances or the ringing of phones.
I couldn’t bear to think about how long we’d be without power or how much it would take to repair these roads or how hard others may have been hit, and so I slept as long as I could.
The sublime quiet brought me back to the days after 9/11–when our skies were as empty as our roads were now.
In my 47 years, I’ve known roads—mud strewn ones and flooded ones—empty ones and crowded ones–worn ones and brand new ones–but I’d never known anything like today.
My soul has grown deep with our roads, deeper than I ever knew.
A few years back my family and I rented a house atop of Cow Path Forty–What a winter! It seemed to snow more in March that year than it did all season. We watched as the plow piles in our driveway reached alarming heights. And then it all began to melt…
Each day was another adventure as we maneuvered our way up and down our road, dodging the deepest of ruts. We thought a lot about cows and demolition derbies, but nothing encouraged us more than the discovery made one day at the crest of our hill:
a large sunshine-colored pinwheel was planted smack in the middle of the tiny pond that had formed in our road.
So deep was this rut that her plastic-petaled face survived for days without being crushed. The sight of her buoyed us through all that brown… with the promise of SPRING!