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  • Maine may be a vacationland but it is not a preferred destination for hurricanes. Most arc out over the Atlantic following the swing of the Gulf Stream and steered by the jet stream. When a hurricane does curve in and gets over cold water of the Gulf of Maine they have lost their punch. As a kid, the buzz before a hurricane was exciting. Like having an exotic visitor on the way. We’d walk out to meet them as they came on the exposed southern shores. As you got near the rocks you could feel the beat of the waves like the earth’s pulse coming up through your feet. Generations of island kids played chicken with the surging sea and great gouts of wind blown spray.

    Even when I was older and had a boat and gear spread out around the islands there was a sense of satisfaction when the boats were safely hauled out in the Middle Pool and my traps were shifted around out of the way of the worst of the waves and storm surges. Satisfaction in knowing precautions were taken and a growing thrill as the storm approached and hurricane watches turned to warnings on the radio. Sometimes it was all hype and the storm turned, passing well out to sea or made landfall far to the north or south. Then we grumbled about weathermen being no better than Vegas bookies and making a sensation out of the weather, and how much time it would take to get all our gear set out again. But sometimes the brushes were closer and then the talk afterwards was of how Freddie hadn’t bothered to shift his traps and now he was royally screwed and wasn’t mother nature a bitch sometimes.

    But the only realio trulio natural disaster I’ve been through came quietly and without any fanfare.

    For a winter’s night the air was soft. A steady drizzle fell as we walked up to my parents for supper. It had been cold and now the drizzle froze where it landed. We slipped and skidded up the hill to their house.

    Carly wondered if maybe tomorrow would be a snow day.

    I said, nah, it’ll just turn to rain and mud and be a mess. The weatherman said so.

    By the time we got to dessert the power went off. My mother laughed, they had a woodstove, and a gas cookstove. We lit candles and played cards.

    By the time we left to walk home the ice was thick on the ground. The branches hung like great silver daggers. Sharp cracks like gunshots echoed along the streets and huge branches fell and then shattered on the street. Down the way blue electric arcs spat from a downed transformer. Young trees bent in twisted loops. Bushes were flattened.

    A larger crash came from a couple of streets over.

    Carly and I looked at each other. Let’s check it out, we said.

    Just then we turned the corner by one of the elementary schools in town. The power lines were down along the street we had to dodge snaking coils of wire to get across.

    We’re going home, said Claire.

    Yeah but, said Carly and I.

    Home, said Claire.

    The next day there was neither school nor power. Not the next day. Not the next week.

    The soft rain fell and the ice built up across north eastern New England and Canada. Branches and trees blocked roads. Power lines, pylons and transformers came down. And still the soft rain fell and ice built up. Glittering, gorgeous and deadly. Houses with woodstoves and gas heat fared better. People with generators did well until they ran out of gas. Businesses and schools were shut down in our area for close to two weeks.

    Finally, the low pressure system moved on. The sun came out and for a morning the world was a giant glittering ice sculpture. By midday it had melted and all that was left was a mess. Now it was clean up time. Crews came up from the mid-west and south-eastern states to clear roads and repair the electric infrastructure. Teachers in the District volunteered and set up day care at one of the big credit card calling centers that was running at the time. People prepared food, opened their houses, watched out for each other. In the end, it was close to a month for some people to get connected again.

    In the two plus weeks we were out of the loop, we played a lot of cards, wore our hats inside, ran our bank balance into the ground eating out at places that did have power and lights and warmth.

    For a while our side of the harbor was dark and across the river the lights twinkled away merrily. For a few days our neighbours one street up had power and we didn’t. They were on the line that fed the hospital and had priority. We watched the flickering glow of their tv and felt like we’d been relegated to some dark, third world corner of town.

    Our lifestyle went out not with a whoosh and a bang. Just a soft gentle drizzle and a layer of cold air stuck hugging the ground. All of our infrastructure taken out by a steady build up. A drop to a time and our lives ground to a halt.

    The summer after the ice storm we moved to South Africa. I haven’t had a winter in fourteen years. Here the thunderstorms crash across the high plateau, the high veldt. Traffic crawls through sudden lakes. The gardens go white with hail. The house reverberates with thunder. Chance of thnderstorms says the radio in the morning. Hey, all in a summer’s day.

    In the US these days TV stations run constant weather updates now. A scrolling banner of anxiety across the bottom of every screen. Radio broadcasts interrupt with alerts that used to be reserved for the event of Soviet missile launches.

    What’s the weather? Everyone wants to know. Seems we ought to know by now.
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