Category Archives: Contribution

Second Storm and Quarantine

After a heavy storm on Thursday and an eventful Easter weekend, Monday dawned grey and raw. Our Internet was still down, but I luxuriated in a shower and our usual breakfast, courtesy of electricity, and lost no time in doing the daily bleach wipe down. My sick friend was still sick, but everyone else felt well.

We were under wind and flood warnings from the National Weather Service.

Rain started midday with some wind, but nothing out of the ordinary. The snow, already sodden, lay heavy and sullen and ugly under the intensifying downpour. Our Internet was suddenly restored at some point when we weren’t paying attention. We’d done all we could do to prepare for another power outage, but I washed every dish as we used it and didn’t delay doing anything that required power.

April 14, 2020

The wind gradually rose and the snow on the ground ebbed. The street and our driveway ran with water. Several leaning branches and trees subsided as they were further saturated and the already wet ground lost its grip on root balls. It looked like February, the landscape grey and brown, muddy and soaking in cold rain. The wind gusted and strengthened throughout the day.

During the evening, we had a phone call from my sick friend saying her test for COVID-19 was negative. Good news!

When I went to bed, the power was still on, rain pounding down, wind gusting intermittently.

The next morning, I reached for my bedside reading light. It came on.

The wind had backed down to a breeze and the storm was over, after unleashing about four inches of rain. The snow was gone.

During breakfast, we regrouped. The next several days were predicted to be clear and sunny. We had power and Internet. We needed to assess for spoiled food, and my partner needed to make a town trip. We both had various people to e-mail and call, letting everyone know we were back up and running and healthy. Now that I was in quarantine, I intended to be more vigilant than ever about cleaning and began wearing a mask in the house unless shut away in my private space.

We felt ready to go out and take a closer look at our downed trees and check on the river.

Pond, April 14, 2020

After breakfast, we squelched around our acres, taking pictures and assessing the damage. The river that borders our property was flooded, but it’s well below our house and barn, so we weren’t worried about that. The pond was overflowing and water ran everywhere in streams and rivulets, draining down to the river. The water in the toilet turned the color of tea, stained by tannins leaching into the well.

Wesserunsett in spate, April 14, 2020

I spent three hours transferring all my handwritten work of the last days into my word processor and putting together posts for Our Daily Crime.

After the chaos and barrage of events during the last few days, I was finally able to pause and assimilate coronavirus news, the fact of my own quarantine, and the loss of work. Now I shape a new routine, for a time, at least. The news is full of predictions about how things will change in the weeks, months and years ahead, economically, socially and culturally, but I don’t explore them, because nobody really knows how all this will unfold. I feel better when I stay in the now and let the future take care of itself.

As always, I turn my attention to the most important things: connection with loved ones, being in service or making contributions to others, and taking care of myself, which includes managing my physical health and anxiety.

As an introvert, having to stay home for a 14-day quarantine is a positive pleasure. I am lucky in this, I know. For once, I’m not at a social disadvantage! On the other hand, I very much miss my community and spend time every day staying in touch with friends and family. We’ve now heard that the original four positive COVID-19 people from our building at work have become eight. It’s hard to know what to do with that. Every day we watch and wait, checking on one another, passing on news, sharing our concern and anxiety.

Then came the news that one of the pool staff is ill. His wife works in Rehab also, and they’ve both been tested. This particular pool staff member hasn’t been working for more than two weeks, but he’s one of ours, and we anxiously await the results of testing and further news about him and his wife.

In spite of early Spring’s tantrums of snow, rain and wind, the season is changing in our northern latitudes. We’re all taking great comfort in being outside, aware of how fortunate we are not to be locked down in a city. We are hiking, walking, bicycling, working in our gardens and yards and woodlots. It’s chilly and muddy, and the wind more of a slap than a caress, but the wood frogs are chuckling in our pond, woodpeckers are at work among the trees, squirrels are busy frisking around, and chickadees, finches, sparrows, doves, juncos, flickers and others flutter among the bird feeders. The phoebes dart back and forth along the south side of the house in the mornings, catching bugs sunning themselves. Our daffodils are just beginning to open, and yellow coltsfoot, the first spring wildflower, blooms along the ditches and dirt roads.

Downed maple April 14, 2020

I’m wearing my most disreputable clothes, an old pair of men’s Carhartt canvas jeans with the knee blown out, a holey tee-shirt that both my boys wore before they outgrew it, and a navy blue hooded sweatshirt I used to wear camping, liberally dotted with holes from campfire sparks, the sleeves streaked with pink (who knew navy blue turns pink with the application of bleach?) from wiping down with bleach every day. It’s tick season as well as mud season, and as I rake, prune and walk I intermittently spray my shoes and legs with tick spray.

I’m not wearing a watch or rings because I’m washing my hands so thoroughly and often. I cut and file my nails short every weekend. Earrings are a pain in the patoozie because I’m using a mask, so they’re sitting in a china dish on the bathroom counter.

No glamour here, but then, I was never a fan of glamour to begin with. Right now my comfort is in the cold, heavy mud; the tough, sharp-thorned rose canes; the chilly breeze and periods of thin sunshine; the texture of wood, old leaves, leather work gloves, and our dilapidated porch furniture; and the smell of bug spray. A barred owl flew over our heads as we walked this week. It perched in a tree and regarded us with great dignity and condescension. I was honored.

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

We lost five pounds of beef that was waiting in the refrigerator to be turned into beef stew before the power went out. My partner cut it up and threw it on the sloping meadow on the north side of the house, where we throw the dead mice we trap in the kitchen. We have local ravens that check that slope at least once a day, and in a few minutes they came to retrieve and cache the meat. Two, probably a nesting pair, spent half an hour in their muscular aerial ballet, circling, swooping down to the ground and snatching the chunks. I watched them outside my attic window with wonder and delight.

These are the things that sustain my courage and hope.

Life is simple. Words spill onto the empty screen of my word processor. We wake, eat, play outside, walk, read, sleep, and do it all again. I mark off my quarantine days on the calendar. As I write this, it’s day 7. Tomorrow is my brother’s birthday, and I will call him, because we both have time to talk right now.

Watching it all unfold from quarantine. My daily crime.

Jenny, April 14, 2020

Easter Weekend: Aftermath

April 10, 2020

After a devastating storm on Thursday, April 9, 2020, by the weekend we were pulling ourselves together. We closed off parts of the house in order to preserve what heat we had from the woodstove. We had several buckets of snow melting for flushing the toilet. Our wood stove sits in an old fireplace, which limits our ability to cook on it, but we had a shallow, wide pot for heating water, a small skillet in which to cook eggs, and another shallow pot to heat or simmer food in.

We shut the kitchen away from the heat, trying to keep it near refrigerator temperature to spare our food, opening the freezers only when absolutely necessary.

We assembled flashlights and candles. We filter our drinking water in a big five-gallon bucket. Our water comes from an old hand-dug well, and it’s sweet and good, but we’re careful to filter. The bucket had not been filled before the power went out, and our pump is electric, so we knew we’d need water. Bottled water has been very difficult to find in the stores and if it is available, we can only buy a gallon or two at a time.

Our laptops had nearly full charges, but our cell phones were low. We figured out how to make a hot spot with my partner’s phone, but it drained the battery quickly, so we hastily made calls and sent e-mails to our loved ones and shut it all down. We called the power company again. This time the recorded message gave no estimated time of the power coming back up and advised us to “prepare for a multi-day event.”

I was desperate for a hot shower. My hair, never civilized in the first place, is badly in need of a cut, which I can’t get right now because of coronavirus restrictions. I felt like a dirty, disheveled steel wool poodle. Yikes!

We made a plan for me to go to a friend who still had power on Sunday, take a shower, get some water, and charge our laptops and cell phones.

Two friends showed up with their kids to take a walk with us on Saturday, and we went up the hill, our usual approximately 3-mile walk. For the initial few yards the road is paved, but then reverts to dirt. We saw tree damage everywhere, and evidence of large downed trees having been cut up and removed from the road in several places. Many trees were suspended on the lines, and there were long stretches of line draped around and over the road and ditches, snarled up with tree debris. We saw no sign of power or tree service trucks.

Every other house had a generator running.

Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

Shortly after our friends left, one of them called to tell me that four staff in the rehab building at the hospital, where we’ve all been working, have tested positive for COVID-19, and we’re all on a mandatory 14-day quarantine, after which we are furloughed until further notice. The building is shut down.

This was sobering news. I’ve been turning myself inside out trying to get hours at work, doing shifts in screening tents, working at a screening table, even doing things like putting together trauma packs—whatever needed to be done. In a way, it’s a relief to just be out of work. At least I can count on it! On the other hand, I felt concerned about my colleagues in the building. We don’t know who is sick.

How the hell was I going to keep the house clean and protect my partner without power and hot water? And if I’m in quarantine he has to go out and buy groceries and expose himself.

Shit.

In addition, we heard of another storm coming, this one with heavy rain and high winds. More than 200,000 people lost power during the snowstorm, and most of us were still down. Countless damaged and leaning trees were balanced precariously, held up by their neighbors, branches and crowns tangled together.

We read as long as we could by daylight, and had another early night in bed.

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

On Sunday morning (Easter Sunday) I loaded up the car with water jugs and our tech and went to my friend’s house. On the way, I saw one lone power truck from an out-of-state company with one lineman in the truck and another in a personal vehicle. They were trying, I knew, but coronavirus has complicated everything.

My friend was ready for me, and we plugged everything in to charge. I had a wonderful hot shower, washed my wild hair and felt much better. I sat on her living room floor drinking tea and dealing with my e-mail, looking at the weather forecast and headlines. We filled various containers with water and loaded them into the car.

On the way home, about a quarter of a mile from our house, I came across a tree service truck taking a tree off the line. Out here in Maine, when the power goes down the first responders are the tree service people. When they start working, we know the power company is not far behind them. I felt like cheering.

As we unloaded the water, my partner told me he’d been seeing both tree and power trucks going back and forth, and we dared to hope we might be up and running sooner rather than later. We decided to take a walk. When we returned, I wandered over to look at our shattered maple while my partner went in the house. He stuck his head out the door and called to me that the power was back on.

We discovered we still had no Internet. We called our Internet provider and got a recorded message: “If you’re calling from Maine, please hang up. If you’re calling from other service areas, please stay on the line.”

Great.

A few minutes later, the friend with whom I’d spent the morning called to say she was achy and feverish and going into the ER to get tested, per hospital staff protocol.

Shit.

We turned on the hot water heater and I got to work. I was determined to get done what I could before the next storm arrived. I put on a mask, as I’d been exposed to my friend so closely, knowing it was probably too late to protect my partner, but feeling I must do what I could. As I scrubbed and scoured and wiped with bleach, I worried about my friend being alone, sick and scared. I worried about my partner. I worried about other friends and coworkers and their families.

I worried. And cleaned. And worried.

By the end of the day, the house was in order, everything was fully charged, we had lots of extra water, and we were set to deal with another outage if it came.

That night, before I slept, I read by electrical light and was grateful. As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered what Monday would bring.

Photo by Rachael Gorjestani on Unsplash

Thursday: The Storm

Thursday morning, I went to town with my mask, met one of our egg suppliers and bought several dozen eggs, visited the grocery store and thanked the young man sanitizing grocery carts and controlling the number of people allowed inside. One of my sons is doing the same work in Denver, and as I went back to the car with loaded plastic grocery bags dangling from my hands, I thought of him.

On the way home it began to rain.

April 10, 2020

An hour later, snow was falling in thick, wet clumps, filling the air and coating every surface it touched.

Six hours later, as night fell, we had several inches of snow and the air swirled with flakes, smaller and harder now as the warmth of the day faded. The power began to flicker as we watched TV. We turned off our computers and unplugged them.

At bedtime, I cracked a window open and crawled under the covers to read. The power stuttered over and over, making our carbon monoxide detector beep and my office electronics in the adjoining room click and clack.

I turned out the light and thought of the smothering weight of the snow on the roof above me, how quickly it was accumulating and how typical that an April storm just before Easter would be the worst of the season. Plows passed by, their lights shining through my unshielded windows, illuminating my room in flashes and moving stripes of light.

Sometime around 10:00 p.m. the power went out for good. The house was abruptly silenced, but the night outside was filled with sound and movement. The storm was like an immense creature padding around the house, breathing in erratic gulps, thumping, pawing, scrabbling. The trees groaned and soughed in their wooden throats, the merciless blanketing snow pressing down on their bodies and limbs.

At 12:40 a.m. a long, slumping crash filled the night. I lay, tense and fearful, listening. Was that part of our roof? Had the deck torn away from the house? I turned on my small LED reading light, thrust myself into robe and slippers and went downstairs.

Dark. The lights we usually leave on in the kitchen and living room were out, of course, along with the bathroom nightlight. Outside the large window over our dining table, nothing but soft, formless white, except for a great black shadow between the barn and the trunk of a 200-year-old maple alongside the driveway.

A black shadow, taller than a man and longer than a car. A black shadow in a white night. I strained to see clearly, but it was impossible to make out any details. I let my eyes move up the tree trunk. Was the top of the tree still there, or had it fallen away?

I went back up the stairs, feeling sick and pretty sure we’d lost the tree. Had it hit the barn? If so, there was nothing I could do about it.

Pond, April 10, 2020

I lay in bed, listening to the storm and the beleaguered forest. It was like a battle between the violent, inexorable snow and the patient, giant trees. Creaks, cracks, booms, explosions, and the muffled sound of crashes and heavy bodies falling filled the night. I knew some of what I was hearing was transformers blowing and electrical noise, but I couldn’t tell how much. I wept for the trees as the storm rent and tore at them, bearing them down with its cold, white weight.

I checked my small battery-operated clock at 3:30 a.m. Dawn was not far away. I felt calmer, and now I heard only the hush of heavy snowfall. The weight on the roof above my head felt less ominous. I blew my nose, flipped over my pillow and turned onto my side, finding sleep at last.

At 6:30 a.m., my partner and I looked out the front window at the shattered maple, which had fallen onto an old apple and snapped it like a toothpick, as well as tearing all the limbs off one side of a younger, healthier maple near it. The fallen tree did not hit the barn, or our cars, or the house.

Downed maple, April 10, 2020

Fourteen inches of heavy snow had fallen, and it was still snowing, though lazily. We went from window to window, seeing trees split, snapped and torn in every direction. Several had fallen across our pond. Our favorite swamp maple, every year the earliest to turn and the most intensely colored, had split down through the trunk, each heavy branch peeling away like a banana peel until it rested on the ground. Shrubs, branches and wires hung flat and low, bowed with the terrible weight of the clinging snow. Many trees were broken but still clasped in the arms of their neighbors.

My partner called the power company on his cell and got a recorded message saying the estimated time of power returning was 11:15 p.m. the day before! Not encouraging.

We spent most of the day in the living room, near the wood stove, each with a blanket and a book. Clouds surged across the sky, bringing periods of heavy snow interspersed with lighter showers. Plows and sand trucks went by, but we saw no tree service or power trucks. We boiled water on the wood stove for tea, scrambled eggs, heated soup, fed the fire. I felt thick-headed and wretched—too much crying, too much devastation, too little sleep. We had no power; no Internet; no more than a trickle of water, inadequate to flush the toilet. Our cell phones were not fully charged.

I felt utterly cut off and isolated, and too tired to make any sensible plans to help myself.

Before it was fully dark, I went to bed, lit a candle, and reread Rosamunde Pilcher, the most comforting author I know. After blowing out the candle, I lay absorbing the quiet. The storm was over. The injured, dead and dying trees were silent, now beginning the long work of rotting or healing. I knew we had months of work in front of us, too, with chainsaw, hatchet, splitter and wheelbarrow. We will not need to buy firewood this summer.

I turned onto my side and fell into a dark well of sleep.

April 10, 2020