Monday, September 19, 2011


“The path of least resistance is what makes rivers run crooked.”
—Elbert Hubbard

Sunday 18 Sept 2011
It's been three weeks now since Hurricane Irene, and a week since we biked/hiked down from Vermont into Massachusetts along the Green River, and the river road on the Vermont side is a mere few inches from being passable. Maybe a day or two more of work from our town road crew. That will make travel passable. Then the road will have to be top coated with gravel (if we're lucky) and smoothed over and await for a helluva mud season next spring. First things first. Returning from our hike Sunday morning before breakfast we could make out the yellow frame outline of a John Deere bulldozer hired by the town waiting to get after some more road and river. Dump truck loads have been going down and back all week, drawing out of the next town of Halifax, and we know the fuel truck deliveries to houses are using that same route. Somehow coming up over Stark Road from a main road in Massachusetts. A road usually avoided except by ones that know their best short cuts — to Colrain, to Jacksonville, to Whitingham, to Wilmington, to Readsboro, even to Bennington. Many of these towns, and others, still in rough, rough shape.

The road into Massachusetts down along the river from Vermont hasn't changed an iota since the flood. It's creamed. There are three houses stuck, stranded, kaput of any access short of ATV and on-foot. This time we left our bicycles tucked away in the woods on the Vermont border and hiked down and had a closer look in. One house built of prefab logs looks abandoned for now. The second log house, a bit newer, is up for sale and was up for sale before the flood. It's kept a small door light on for at least the past two weeks which now looks weakened. I helped peel the logs for this house when it was being built in 1973. The third house going south is owned by a friend and while there is no vehicle there we want to believe Meryl got out before the flood. She has a full clothesline of laundry hanging out in the sun. It looks promising.

One can't even begin to describe what destruction has hit many regions of Vermont and pockets of Massachusetts. Houses by the many dozens demolished. Other houses swum off their foundations and setting 100 yards from where they are supposed to be. Now what? Whole towns leached with spent fuel and toxins. Bridges in some towns bombed by flood water and it may as well be war.

When we got our phone service back my mother called from Florida and just wanted to make sure we were all right, the house was all right, and our cat was all right. I said yes to all three. She said, "Oh, good, so everything's all right." That's a mother for you. One who has felt hurricane winds in Florida, but not floods.

Vermont — except for up around the Champlain region, is one big gorge, crevice, valley, spillway of thousands of creeks, streams, rivers, ponds, waterways, springs — when it was time to let go, it let go like a hemorrhaging bleed. Think of a hospital in full emergency and not nearly enough bandages, stitches, manpower, or imagination. Mother nature works in one direction: force, even when it is quiet and subtle. To watch a flower blossom in slow motion is like watching and sensing the earth splitting open.

Irene changed river directions. Beautiful meandering peaceful and lazy wood-brained rivers that once flowed with the posture of earthworms, are in many cases now straightened, gallant, militant water streams. The rivers have said outright they are taking no-shit from anybody, so be careful and thoughtful how and where you rebuild.

I look closely at a friend who travels down from further north where his town was bewitched by the flood, stranded all of it for awhile, the National Guard and helicopters flew in. He's lost some weight even if he tells me, and I didn't ask, that he hasn't. His house is country smart built on a high plateau so all is fine but he can't move more than wiggle room in his truck. His wife was for awhile living in another town so she could still get to work. He's been backpacking dozens and dozens of miles over hill & dale to help out as a long time volunteer. He's tired. He's lost some meat on his bones. Depression comes to all of us post-hurricane. Everything you once knew and felt and sensed and heard from your homestead is a little altered, or completely gone. You're known as the hearty state with stalwart folks in small towns and villages who make their own way, but that doesn't hold water when a goodly portion of the new population is made up of microchip hardware buffs and they are fast-wired for needing quick results. Patience is going to occur in different ways.

Sweetheart takes a rest on the new river stone where we are cutting up flood trees and hauling them out on our backs and in our arms, and swears she hears trucks, heavy equipment, planes in the river. The small rapids are different. The new stone that flowed in with the flood is naturally rebuilt and fantastic, allowing a much fuller and cleansed sound. We fall asleep to it every night, wake to it. Constant. After awhile Sweetheart has to leave the job site and get away from it — there's something mad and even too male about all the post flood reorganization is how she explains it to me.

I'm cutting trees, full grown, plowed over and flattened to the ground by the flood. There's nothing like seeing ironwood, yellow birch, maple, ash, oak trees taken from the sky and pressed down at your feet. We've raised a red flag on a wisp surviving sycamore tree on this small island where we cut because everything that is standing and alive deserves a celebratory hug, including everything that once was and has washed away.

Returning from our hike this morning we were met by an out-of-state vehicle whose occupants flagged us down and wondered how the road was south of where we all stood. They had a second home a mile up river and had just made it here to have a look. Usually they took this road going back home to Connecticut. We told them there was no road. There wasn't even an Indian trail. They couldn't believe it, so they asked more questions and we talked some more until their faces changed and we got to know one another a little better and they turned around, like the handmade sign said to do, just up from where they passed.

photo © bob arnold