It took a force of nature unlike what most of us had seen before to change the subject. Before the rain and sleet that froze blindingly beautiful and lethal on our trees and power lines and whatever stood outdoors, we were boring each other with dire words about our investments, retirement accounts, and foreboding over the economy. There’s only so much empathy we can give one another over depleted savings before we all want to become hermits. Then came the ice storm for the ages.
Now no matter where you go these days in much of New England, people are talking about how we coped when tens of thousands of us were plunged into the cold and dark just as the December days were getting colder and darker. “When did you get power back?” are the first words we say to each other when we meet on the street, or in a grocery-store line. The power went off for most of us in the wee hours of Friday, December 12, and even now, two and a half weeks later, there are scattered reports of people living on back roads who still are relying on generators or the kindness of friends and neighbors for hot food, warmth, and hot showers.
Here at Yankee Magazine, a generator kept many of our computers humming, although in order for them to work, many of our offices stayed dark and cold. Remarkably, only 15 miles west, the hub city of Keene was relatively unscathed, and those of us living in the silent dark drove there just to see people walking about, lights on, and restaurants serving steaming platters. One day we went there, the Keene diner was filled with people we knew from Dublin and Peterborough. You’d have to have been through it to understand, but there was real camaraderie during these days — people who knew each other only by sight now making real connections. We were getting through together, and as soon as someone’s power surged on, they would invite people over for the treat of a hot shower.
Driving the roads in the first days after the storm was to see a savage beauty. Shimmering ice draped trees and power lines, and the tree limbs that could not stand up to the enormous pressure of the ice lay strewn everywhere, creating a dangerous obstacle course in the dim light. I saw several cars with crushed roofs, and all across the Monadnock region, one of the hardest-hit areas in all of New England, we’d drive past power lines dangling across the road.
An army of power-line workers and trucks came here from all over New England and beyond. Someone said it was like a war, and it was: a slow, relentless battle against nature, with snowstorms pouring in even as the downed trees were being sawn and carried safely away from the roadsides. A lot of people around here have put up signs: “Thank you, linemen” is one I’ve seen a lot.
Everything seems normal now. Our usual worries will come flooding back, I’m sure. I guess that if I had to choose between lamenting together lost retirement savings or lost power, I’d go with the dark that we can all share any day.