Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Stopping by Woods on an Icy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
Between the woods and frozen lake
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Driving through the woods of the rural part of New Hampshire where I live has been oddly disturbing these last few days and it's taken me until today to figure out why. On the small country roads I mostly drive on, one's eye becomes accustomed to the rhythm of the woods as you pass, the long straight lines of the trunks, punctuated by the fractal puffery of branches. Seasons paint the trees and branches different colors but the stark pure lines in winter have their own power. Something's been wrong though, in the last few days. My peripheral vision has been telling me something is...naggingly, irritatingly, off... about the landscape. Finally, today, I realized what it was. That clean rhythm of straight lines and syncopation of branches is broken. Trees, branches, everything are smashed and dragged down, no longer vertical, but horizontal, diagonal, everything they shouldn't be.

Things are not as they should be, in the cold and in the dark.

I drove out to my house tonight, from the office at the factory where I work, to look in on my cats, and check the water in my basement, and learn from neighbors if there was any news of when electricity might return to my little town.

Tonight, maybe, or tomorrow, or maybe the weekend, I'm told. The school has power now; school will be back day after tomorrow. Good thing; I'm not sure my wife and daughter will survive one another much longer. "When do you think you'll get power again?" has become the first topic of conversation at the office. I'm lucky, really, because the power lines to my house are fine. Once the power on the town road is restored, I should be okay. My boss had the line connecting his house to the main power line knocked down by a falling branch. It may be several more days until his house gets power back, as individual homes are at the bottom of the priority list.

I checked into the house, put down food and fresh water for the cats. I looked down into the basement, tool; there's not much more water in there than there was over the weekend, which I suppose is somewhat of a good thing. It means that maybe the furnace won't be too damaged when I can finally get the sump pump running again, after the power comes back.

After, that is, the electrical crews turn long inert cords of metal wire back into the lifelines we didn't really appreciate they were.

In small-town, rural New Hampshire, there is no town water. There are no town sewers. No natural gas lines. No curbside garbage pickup. Wells, septic tanks, oil and propane tanks and the transfer station, respectively, do for us. When the electricity fails, EVERYTHING fails. Without electrical power, furnaces and wells do not run. There's no point in opening the transfer station for people to drop off garbage if the massive compactors can't be powered. Backup generators and alternative heat sources can provide some coverage for a little while, but not for long and not for everyone. Either solution dumps large amounts of either gasoline exhaust or woodsmoke into the environment.

I'm very lucky, in turns out, that I have good insurance, and that my home was damaged in a tornado last summer, so I'm living in an apartment, in a larger town. It means I'm not living in my house right now, and not having to cope with all of that reality every moment, unlike several thousand of my fellow Granite Staters. Instead, I only lost power for 48 hours or so and had to only cope with 2 frigid nights. Unless of course, the power, which went out again this afternoon, according to my wife, is still out when I get home....