Thursday, September 29, 2011


Hurricane Irene in our river and our road

Yes, it's come to pass — it's getting hard to believe one's eyes & ears.

I live in a state, Vermont, which is now declaring, after parts of the state was creamed by Hurricane Irene, that the flood damage to the state will reach 1 billion dollars. A lot of money. A drop in the bucket in a war economy (roughly the cost of one specialist aircraft, but never mind). And, of course, there will be those who will wish to fight against this flood relief for our state because: it is helping people. Regular people. Like you and me. Tax paying, paycheck to paycheck people. Fibrous threads that make a nation. Those who are against the relief will never admit they are against helping people, but yes they are against helping people.

How people think. We need to look at it.

We have neighbors, a fine couple, new to the region the last few years who have had to get used to the fact they own a somewhat known swimming-hole that sometimes gets used and even abused by one or two of an extended family. The family of sun bathers and swimmers do not live on our road, or from what I can tell, even close by. Sweetheart and I have bicycled past this swimming hole many summer afternoons only to see this family literally spread out in every sort of floating contraption, including deck chairs that sit in the river where you sit in them, doing nothing. Sometimes reading. For hours. Sweetheart and I wondered when our new neighbors ever got a chance to cool off themselves in their own swimming hole. A place almost private except for what this family has overtaken. I thought our neighbors were being quite tolerant, at a point of being almost too passive.

Then a letter arrived to us from these neighbors explaining what they were up to. They had contacted every neighbor about this plight, and then thought they would also write to us; we who abut their property and also have the other swimming hole on this road on our property. One would think we might have some experience dealing with swimmers with good manners and bad manners, and indeed we do. The neighbors’ letter was quite long and detailed and especially being careful at approaching this subject on the use of private land and public access to a waterway. Sweetheart and I thought it was a very good letter because it was mainly dealing with common decency to private land, misuse by some of the public, and how we have to come together as a community and protect what we have one with the other. These neighbors were posting their swimming hole "Private".

End of story? It’s never the end of the story.

This letter arrived before Hurricane Irene. In a week or less I'll be posting on the Birdhouse some short films I took at the zenith of the flood. One will be of this very swimming hole, which of course weathered it all okay. Our road was beat up and for awhile we were all stranded without access to & fro; many weren't sure if our covered bridge was safe to cross; utility poles were busted in half or washed completely away; lines were in the drink; no power; no phone; no guru. It was good to see some take to action themselves and rebuild access, help get power restored, buck up fallen trees and move rock, let others use a utility if they were without (thank you Noela and Michael, Eleanor), and basically stay civil and available.

I watched someone wreck up his tractor rebuilding rough road. I bet I could find this same individual and same make tractor in almost every town smacked by Irene. I've always seen this individual and worked with him. Usually happy-go-lucky just enough. They used to make them better, but they're still pretty good. At the end of almost a month of bulling and tearing they have real financial woes at repairing the machines that have repaired the roads. They don't work for the town, they just work for themselves and don't mind lending a hand.

I watched this all go along as I worked in a whole other mode and venue — on a small island on the river, just down from our house and a jump across the road and over the bank down to the river. Often I can ford the creek that is a side bar running off the main river in my tall rubber boots. When I make the time I build a stone crossway and get across over that. I've been building stone crossways on this river for forty years. You all know I even built a stone stairway to get up from the river to the road and loading logs I carry on my shoulder and toss into a pickup truck. It was the only practical way at this very slow and methodical way of cutting and lugging vast trees that were flattened, damaged and wupped by the flood. Lots of logs got cut up, lugged, and I must have climbed this stairway now 300 times. I'm a living woodland example of Stair Master.

I've been on this island working now for three weeks steadily, no day missed. Sweetheart is there to join me and always brings a jug of cold water and a Sansa apple. I've lugged out nearly three cords of firewood on my back, 4 foot logs, and made a jungle of proper brush piles that will rot back into the island. I still have whole trees, huge ones, laid up horizontal oak and maple and basswood framed there like a natural Oldenburg sculpture. I could slowly take it apart but I may keep it there as both a reminder of Irene (full testament), and as a blockade of sort for the next flood. There will always be a next flood. It could divert massive water from washing the island totally away. We had extensive damage as it is.

Which brings me back to our neighbors and their letter about those abusing their private land. It was only swimmers, but still, they can leave behind debris and over stay their proper stay. The other day, we were entertained by a neighborhood pesky flock who have never once in my three weeks working on the island ever stopped to say hello, or god forbid asked if I needed a hand. No, the ring leader of this flock just set his mind to organize whatever volunteers he could muster, and start where he elected, which happened to be on the far end of our river land, and storm the land with a chain saw and landscape tools, cutting willy-nilly however they wished on our land. Without asking.

Remember the swimmers and the outcry there?

These are now neighbors who I thought might know better, using whatever tools they wanted and at their own discretion, trespassing on our land, and doing what they wanted. I'm a stone's throw down the road working on the river. The ring leader and his wife have passed my truck, passed Sweetheart, I'm right there over the river bank, and with no intention on their part to stop and tell us what they are about to do. Sweetheart asks me, "Do you think I should go up and see what they are up to?" I said, "It's probably all right." I just saw a neighbor walking to the event with her little granddaughter, and it was the best example I could think of at showing the young what a good deed can be done. Thank goodness Sweetheart listened to herself and headed up and caught the flock at their play and menace. The ring leader actually had the gall to ask her, "Do you want our help or not?" after already trespassing and cutting, in a region we had already inspected a week ago and it was calling for no help whatsoever. A small circle of teenagers had snuck down on our land and found a sandy niche in a hollow to build a neat campfire setting, complete with flat rock seats and even back rests made of stone. I was impressed. Of course they never asked permission to do this, but it looked harmless, was close to running water, and no tree threat from a stray fire was evident. They were just recovering from a hurricane excitement in kid-council fashion. I liked their nerve. A bunch of Huckleberry Finns.

But some of this pesky flock is malicious, smug and self-serving. How effective a friendly apology from the ring leader could have worked wonders. Some in that group I know, know better, but they're properly tied up as hired-hands to a wealthier coterie. I've been there, I know the drill. When Sweetheart went up to see about the flock, and I must say I'm proud of her verve and determination at closing down this madcap citizenry with a single sweep "Wait! STOP!" with her arms; the ingenious ringleader informed her he had "No time to talk" to her (the landowner!) because they had a mission to accomplish. Anyone listening to this guy should have abandoned ship. The idea of cleaning up litter and debris along the road in trash bags is a neighborly grace. I commend anyone behind this service, and there were people in this work crew intent at performing just this service. It’s quite another thing watching a leadership take advantage of landowners, four long weeks after a flood, to get onto their property and take charge with a phony headline of “helping”. I’m just down the road slaving away at massive storm damage — be my guest, come and help. Come and talk. They wouldn’t think of it.

I've owned a truck full of chain saws in my time, more loppers and cutters and saws and implements of destruction to shake a rangy stick at, and I've cut in every position and angle and land mass and private and public property for customers and others in need, and I don't even want to think what I would deserve if I elected to one day visit anyone of those involved in this group and walk upon their land because I was "helping" and light up my saw and just begin to cut. Like I said, I didn't think it was worth Sweetheart being concerned — no one is cruel enough, after a flood, at taking issues into their own hands and exploiting other peoples land and sadness and actually avoiding any contact where the real work of help and assistance could be addressed.

The night before this flock arrived, a towering red oak toppled over on our land, taking a beech tree with it, and both fully crossed the river. A big chunk of the road followed suit. It's a mess. It happened at 10:30, in the hard rain, ground softening, loosening more and more, and when the trees fell it sounded like a head-on collision of two trucks. In the pitch black and rain and after the flood and all, I could only raise my head inside the house and guess. Whatever it was would have to hold until daybreak. After all the clean up work done on the nearby island, it's one more moral lesson on how mother nature just keeps on giving. When the river freezes over I can get down there on the ice and slowly work up the trees. I already scaled across the big oak to have a look and it's a mainstay bridge for any animal crazy enough to cross. In fact, just as I am finishing this paragraph, the town road boss has called and left a friendly message there may be a way to get down under those trees with machinery and work them free. If we all can, we all will.

Welcome to good times.

photo © bob arnold