Another August has arrived. The month of humid days and nights.
Another Vermont August with warm swimming holes and perfect weather
for a swim or two. A month known for idyllic summer weather.
It is now also known as the month of "The Storm." Tropical Storm
Irene has been a topic of conversation since it happened. If you
talk long enough with anyone, "The Storm" eventually fits in
somehow. Without changing the conversation drastically, suddenly
Irene is there. Whether you are talking about weather, money, real
estate, work, tourism, relationships, character of people, etc…
Everyone and everything was affected in some way. Many are still
recovering from the luck that was dealt to them in the form of the
biggest natural disaster to hit Vermont in my lifetime. The work
and recovery continues. We have experienced a few tremors in the
Appalachian bedrock in these parts, as well as a minor twister or
two. But during my life in Southern Vermont, there has never been
anything like Irene.
The day the storm raged I was working at The Mountain Top Inn in
Chittenden. It was August, and weddings were being celebrated
almost daily while overlooking the Chittenden Reservoir. In the
kitchen we were preparing for another successful wedding effort.
The rain was coming down. The rivers were rising, and in between
prep work and deciding if the wedding would be cancelled or not, we
watched streaming video shot by locals all over the state of rivers
that turned into torrents. The bride, which had been there all
morning went into Rutland to take care of some final preparations,
and apparently could not get back into Chittenden for her
Route 7 was underwater and impassable as you head north out of
the city and the bridge behind Sugar and Spice in Mendon was also
flooded. Someone told us in the kitchen that the bridge was gone
An unsettling pall worked its way through the Inn as first the
electricity went out and then the phones and internet. The big
generator kept us in electricity for the night, and before we lost
internet, we watched images of Vermont being washed down river.
Every river. I watched streaming video with the helpless and
unbelieving weight of reality forming in the pit of my stomach. I
watched class III rapids running down the main streets of countless
towns. Another video of a camper being strained through a very
sturdy bridge. For a moment it stuck on the bridge and then the
raging river (which usually was a quiet friendly stream) tore it to
pieces and it was gone. Unbelievable.
Anxiously I waited for the word to come down about the wedding.
In the kitchen, one of the chefs received a call on his cell to
come home quick because his basement was turning into a pool. The
tiny stream behind his house jumped out of its banks and flooded
across his yard and into the house. He left and made it home before
Chittenden was completely cut off. The rest of us continued to cut
vegetables and prepare appetizers for the wedding. No one knew
where the bride was, and the wedding was still in doubt. Nobody
could leave Chittenden anyway. Word came down that there was no way
in or out of Chittenden.
Madness. What was happening out there?
I worried about the calm babbling brook behind my house and
wondered if it was now in my house. We continued to work, not
knowing for sure what was happening to Vermont. The wedding was
cancelled a couple of times until finally the bride showed up and
it was un-cancelled. I never got the story, but I pictured in my
mind, a bride in her white wedding dress fording an angry river
with her bouquet held high over her head keeping it out of the
water, determined to get to her big celebration. She arrived safe
anddry and got married within the spinning mass of Tropical Storm
Maybe it is good luck to be married during a Hurricane. I hope
so because there was plenty of bad luck going around that
I left work as soon as I could and not more than a quarter mile
down the road, a big poplar had blown down and blocked the only
road in and out. Everyone wanted to get going, and it took four of
us chefs to push the tree out of the way and into the ditch. I
drove to my Chittenden home to find about an inch and a half of
water in my basement.
I lucked out. Very minor damage. Especially compared to the
large number of Vermonters who lost much, much more.
It was my first experience with a storm of such magnitude. The
power of the thing was amazing. Then as soon as the storm moved on,
I experienced another powerful form of energy replace it. The
empowering energy of communities coming together to help each other
in the aftermath of a disaster. Immediately, help stations were set
up through out the state. Neighbors were sharing food, their homes,
water, and sympathy. The shared strength of a community of
Vermonters was put to the test like never before.
At the Chittenden Fire Department, they collected donations and
then brought supplies to cut off communities. They were not the
only ones that were traversing old logging roads to towns that had
their major roads washed away. Vermonters stepped up and took care
of their own. Across the state this type of work was being done by
your neighbors. Golf carts and time were donated to get into "The
Islands" of Killington and Pittsfield. For weeks the strength of
the people flowed into damaged communities and lives. Folks were
giving just to give.
The work continues, and Vermont is still far from a full
recovery. It will be years before Vermont shakes off this storm,
and hopefully we will not see its likes again. But if we do get any
more exciting weather in these parts, at least there is now a
tested safety net of community support.