On Saturday evening of a slow weekend at the inn, even the weather was peaceful and calm, and the town’s advanced unfolding of Emergency Hurricane Evacuation Plans felt a bit like overkill. Imagining we’d get heavy rains and strong winds the next day, we went to bed with the relaxing sounds of a steady summer shower outside our window. We woke at 1:00 am to heavy rain as we heard one of our two weekend guests returning by cab from a late-night wedding celebration.
On Sunday morning, we woke at 6:30 am to a dreary downpour and began making breakfast for our other guest who had a Fletcher Farm Craft class at 9:00. She trudged out to class, with her hood on and umbrella up, in a futile attempt to avoid getting wet. As the wedding celebrant arrived for a late breakfast, she debated the safety of her ride home to Rhode Island. Maybe she should stay another night, she wondered. She and Michael headed out into the foul weather to retrieve her car. Serious flooding had begun by the train tracks at the junction of Routes 103 and 131.
Soon, there was a knock at the door. A Volunteer Firefighter told us that the Black River may flood; they recommended that Proctorsville residents evacuate to the elementary school, just a half mile from the inn. We considered that the school is both closer to the river and downhill, so we chose not to evacuate. We urged our wedding guest to make a speedy decision. Our Fletcher Farm guest returned; the craft school was closed due to potential flooding from the hurricane. She chose not to evacuate but to hold the fort with us.
The phone rang: Our immediate neighbors (also noting the direction of the hill between us and the school) wanted to know if they could come to our place should the river intrude upon them. Of course we said yes (though they never did need to come). We called our downhill, on-the-river, neighbor-farmer-friends and invited them up, too. Cara hadn’t even heard of the evacuation yet, but thanked us for the offer.
Our wedding guest decided to stay. Great. We had plenty of room. We decided to make lasagna and bread for dinner.
We walked out back to our little babbling brook: It was a full-blown rushing river. The gorgeous bridge we just had built, which usually rests several feet above the water, was now only one foot above the water. The sound was awesome. There wasn’t a chance the river would rise another 10 feet to flood the banks to our house, but we wondered (unnecessarily) if it would rise another foot and take out our new wooden bridge.
We walked down Depot Street to the bridge there. A family watched as their 20-foot retaining wall was pummeled by the constant onslaught of river water and all the loot the hurricane’s waters had stolen from areas upstream, including the bleachers from our town’s ballpark, trees, sheds, and more and more. The 20-foot retaining wall stood less than five feet above water level. We invited the family to join us at the inn, but they stood by their Up-North Independence and said they’d stay as long as their house stayed. (But we knew they were contemplating it.)
A couple of hours later, the farmer family called back: “Jeremiah won’t come as he is still trying to protect his bridge and his crops, but can we come up and bring our two kids … and our tenant and her two-month old baby?” (The baby’s dad was stranded in Ludlow. It’s just four miles away, but the river was now raging between the two towns. Not passable.) “Yes, of course,” we said. “See you soon. Bring some salad and some of Jeremiah’s homemade wine to go with our lasagnas and bread.” Mike drove down to their house to see if Jeremiah needed help. One rarely sees as much rain as saw then. Hurricane Irene was absolutely down pouring.
One of our daughters, Samantha or Sadie, hollered: “Someone’s at the door, Mom!” It was a young couple I’d never met. “We’re Christina and Andrew,” Christina said. “I live three houses down, my backyard is now a pool, it’s approaching my house, we can’t get to Andrew’s house in Ludlow, and the firefighter at the bridge told us that you are dry and have room.”
“Yes, of course. Come on in. We’ll make lasagna and bread. Let me get you a dry shirt, Andrew.”
The phone rang again. It was Cara (the farmer family). “Can our neighbors, the Ripleys, come too? Just the Mom and two daughters, as the Dad is 1/4 mile away, but the road to the elementary school is flooded and the bridge deemed unsafe. There is already water in their backyard and moving towards their house.”
“Yes, of course. Plenty of space. Plenty of lasagna and bread.”
Mike returned and met Christina and Andrew for the first time. Upon greeting Andrew, Mike said: “Hey, I have a shirt just like that!”
Er… Um… Michael, that IS your shirt.
Sadie/Samantha: “Mom! Someone else is at the door!” The most soaked person I’ve ever seen walked in. A big guy, with water splattered glasses “You’re stranded? Come in.” (shaking hands…) “I’m Julie.”
“Indeed you are!” I laughed. Michael walked up. “My name is Mike.”
“Hi, my name is Rainy.” What?! His name was really Rainy?! I thought he was joking! I apologized and explained my comment.
He dripped, “My car got stranded in Springfield. Someone helped me push the car out of the flooding but it wouldn’t start again. I hitchhiked to Proctorsville but no cars could pass. I’ve tried walking across three passes. I just can’t get home.”
“Of course we have room. Come on in. We’ll find you some clothes.”
Rainy (actually spelled Rene, as I learned from the thank-you note he later wrote) was sopping and ever so grateful and apologized for any imposition. “No, no problem, please just come in. We’re eventually going to have some lasagna and bread.”
Sadie/Samantha: “Mom, Dad, the three Ripleys are here!!”
“Come on in! We’re not sure where to put you yet, especially if the family with the shrinking retaining wall is going to come up too (as I was convinced they would), but come right in.”
“Thanks! We have sleeping bags. We’ll be happy to sleep on the floor if necessary.”
“Great. Let me get to those lasagnas.”
Everyone helped. Michael filled cheese and cracker plates, helped with the lasagnas, and got people settled. Cara made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to hold people over. I worked on those lasagnas and loaves of bread. Our Fletcher Farm guest did our personal laundry. “Rainy” put out clean plates and glasses and washed dishes as they were used. Kids ran through the house looking for George the Ghost. Cara’s shy tenant fed her baby and tried her best to find some quiet space. Andrew and Christina did puzzles, watching with awe. Our wedding guest went to recover some sleep.
Sadie/Samantha: “Mom! There’s someone at the door!”
”Hello, we’re wondering if you have any room. We’re from Canada and can’t get to our hotel.”
“Of course, we do. It might be creative but we’ll work something out. How many of you?:
(I may have gasped audibly here.)
He continued, “It’s me and my wife and our three children, ages 9 and 11 and 12. It’s the 12-year-old’s birthday today.”
“Yes, of course, come on in! Get settled and join us for a lasgna dinner.”
Well, we did it. Together, we did it. We fit everyone in, sometimes three to a bed. We found and set up the Pack ‘n Play for the infant. We made and ate a wonderful dinner. Mike baked and frosted a chocolate birthday cake and we sang happy birthday to young David. The phone rang all night; people were checking in on their families. The river family’s retaining wall, within inches of being overcome by the river, hung tight, as did the family. Unfortunately, the farmer-neighbors’ bridge was taken out and their crops were flooded. Then the water actually began to recede by bedtime. At 9:00 pm, the hurricane took the power out. We lit mini gas-lamps and sent each grown up to their room with one.
We woke the next morning to a bright, beautiful day. The crisp but sunny kind of day you dream of. The kind of day that makes you want to move to Vermont. The power came on at 7:00 am, but we had no running water.
By the time Michael and I came downstairs at 7:30 am or so, guests were already using buckets of pool water to flush their morning toilets. They had found different sources of drinking water in order to make a pot of coffee. We made a giant feast of eggs, bacon, ham, applesauce muffins, and juices. Slowly, people began to trickle out of here, grateful as could ever be that Hurricane Irene had finally tired out. Pat fed all our animals before leaving. Mike drove Rene to his home, learning streets he’d never seen before in order to get from here to there.
The phone rings. They were evacuating the apartments over Six Loose Ladies and the Post Office: “Can we send families to you?”
“Yes, of course. We’ll figure something out.”
We anticipated Round Two of chaos. Immediately a mom and her grown son were at our door.
“Yes, of course, come on in.” Let the head spinning begin. But in the end, only one other young couple and their two year old showed up. All others must have found a place to go. The two families went back to their homes three days later. The young couple and their toddler stayed for a nice shrimp scampi dinner before returning. I think we all feel like we made some new friends.
Although Hurricane Irene caused the town of Cavendish and its village of Proctorsville suffered significant damage to streets, small businesses, and individual homes, the recovery efforts and community building that has resulted is as awesome a natural wonder as the flooding itself was to see. Imagine a world in which we all reached out to one another every day the same way we do in a time of crisis. Imagine a world in which we check on our neighbors, ask if they have enough food, and offer them a hand with something overwhelming.
It’s kind of a great image, don’t you think?