Radio Silence



Even the November of 2011 – several months after Hurricane Irene tried to drown Vermont, most of the state was still in recovery mode.

One coworker was still excavating almost a foot of mud from her basement – and still counting her blessings that the house had not been swallowed when the bubbling little creek that ran 20 or 30 feet from her house became a torrential river and in a matter of minutes. Another coworker had waited out the birth of his second child while Irene was raging overhead.  In my neighborhood near Arlington, Vermont, homeowners along the Battenkill River and other low-lying areas were also recovering. Some homes would remain empty for months.  The thing I remember most about those early months, however, is not the destruction, but the way, Irene brought out the best not only in our neighbors but in the people who came from other areas of the country to lend a hand.

I saw people who I knew were still cleaning out from their own messes deposited by overflowing rivers somehow finding time and resources to start collection drives for neighbors and neighboring towns in more dire straits. Through the grapevine we’d hear stories of people making trips over the mountain on four-wheel-drive vehicle or even horseback to collect much needed supplies for town that have been literally stranded by washed out roads. There were collection boxes at the country stores.  People needed everything – furniture, baby supplies, food and drinking water – We scoured our home for anything we could donate.

In the week or so before and after the Election, we engaged in a bit of radio or media silence at our house.  Unlike Irene, the campaign seemed to be bringing out the worst in competitors across the board, and, recognizing that watching the mayhem wouldn’t slow it down, we tuned it out.  This also meant that we missed a fair amount of news related to Hurricane Sandy, and, aside from following Facebook to find out where to donate, I’ve been living under a figurative rock of late.

Then a few days ago, I clicked on one of my news sites.  The election was over, and the people who govern us were still making me think Thing1 and Thing2 could work things out more equitably.  Most of the photos coming from affected areas in New Jersey and parts of Queens still looked as if there had been a war.  There were a few stories about looting after the storm, but they were did not dominate.  What started to dominate, as I read more about the aftermath, were stories very much like the ones that had played out before us in Vermont just a year ago.

I saw the bit about the New York Marathoners morphing the race into an opportunity to race.  I saw a group that was helping people collect sample sizes of much-needed toiletries.  I saw Occupy Wall Street occupying Sandy and getting supplies out to people across the area.  And mostly what I saw was confirmation that while the infrastructure may be damaged, our national social conscience that the media and politicians love to denigrate for one reason or another, is healthier than we are sometimes led to believe.

A Work in Progress

We Vermonters like to think that we’re good bouncing back from things, and, for the most part, we are.  We dig out of blizzards and muddy roads with aplomb, and most full-time Vermonters adapt their lifestyles and skill sets to survive the perpetually sluggish job market that is so characteristic of many rural areas.

But as Hurricane Sandy approached last week, and I watched the reaction of friends and coworkers and family, I realizee that as quickly as our infrastructure recovered from the wrath of then-Tropical Storm Irene, our psyches have not.

I work remotely, communicating with my coworkers in a private chatroom, and for the better part of two days, hurricane speculation and preparation dominated our conversations.  Irene had nearly washed away the home of one co-worker and endangered the families of others, and, even though our house and location had protected our family last year, I lived in a tornado-prone area for long enough to know that just because you were unscathed one storm, didn’t mean you wouldn’t get hit the next.  Memories of Irene-related evacuations and washouts even haunted our kids, and I saw worry on many young faces at home and around town.

In the end, Vermont held it together.  They made the needed plans, shifted schedules, and closed schools closed in anticipation of the potential need for shelters and reduced traffic.  And, in the end, Sandy spared Vermont the brunt of the damage.  It did remind me, however, that our neighbors to the south who were impacted by this storm will need our help as they rebuild their towns and infrastructure.  What they will need even more, however, is continued compassion for the wounds to their spirits that will remain long after roads and buildings are restored.