Couldn’t schedule my post yesterday due to internet outage. Spotty broadband reliability is one of the issues with rural living.
This weekend marks the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Irene. An incredible amount of rain (17 inches where I live) was dumped here in about a day, plus all the runoff from the High Peaks. I counted fourteen major landslides, and the Ausable River changed course in places.
About a third of the properties in the area sustained damage. Businesses were devastated. All roads out of the area were impassable for a few days, and many roads were wiped out. There were casualties in the Catskills and Vermont, though thankfully none in the Adirondacks. Vermont lost many of its iconic covered bridges.
The reason the impact of Irene in the Keene, Wilmington, and Jay areas isn’t more widely known is that not many people live here. The worst geographical impact was on state land, though the communities downstream were hit hard. Unfortunately, some people decided after Irene that they were done here. Nobody can blame them, but we appreciate people who persevered through the long process of recovery.
For better or worse, Irene was how the area got limited cell coverage. The governor’s assistant was here to assess damage and he was amazed when he was directed to a certain field where a signal was maybe sometimes available if the wind was right. There was a working cell tower in the area within a few days.
What I remember most about Irene was how we came together as a community to rebuild, and how people from downstate, who hike and vacation here and love the area as much as we do, came up to help. It was a long slow process that took much love. A film about Irene premiered last week, and I was pleasantly surprised that the focus was more on the rebuilding than the devastation.
Finally got some snow again, after it melted during the rains a week or so ago. I have been inside this week working on my 4th novel.
I’m also reading a book called The Last Season, about a ranger in the back country of the Sierra Nevada who goes missing. Paradoxically enough, it’s made me itch to be out in nature. One of the important tasks of winter is to dream of summer.
In Mesopotamia, spotting a raven was once considered good luck. It was a sign of rain or a sign of a financial boon or a sign that luck had changed for the better. After the Great Flood, the hero Utnapishtum released three birds from the ark to see if it was safe to come out. It was the disappearance of bird number three, the raven, that signaled that the rains had ceased.
It’s easy to understand how the association of ravens with treasure arose: they are curious creatures who like to collect things. They are especially drawn to objects that shine, so ravens have probably collected quite a few coins. They are not hoarders, however, and quickly lose interest in their bangles. They will readily relinquish treasure. Seek out the raven for valuable windfall.
The US has experienced two major hurricanes over the past two weeks, and like many people I have been following the news on these events closely. The last statistics on fatalities that I found report that seventy-one people died in hurricane Harvey and eighty-one in Irma. More than half of the Irma fatalities occurred in the Caribbean. Death tolls from these storms are expected to continue to rise.
As devastating as these hurricanes were, I couldn’t help but compare the loss of life to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, where over 1,800 people died. One of the reasons that many people in Katrina’s path refused to evacuate was that they did not want to abandon their pets. Storm shelters were not allowing pets and buses were refusing to transport people accompanied by animals. This time around shelters were prepared to accept people accompanied by animals and animal shelters were also poised to help evacuees who could not leave with their pets.
So dogs and cats, as well as people, fared better in these major hurricanes than in previous ones. Many people are asking, what about wildlife in the regions where hurricanes made landfall?
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, on the south Texas coast, was hit hard by Harvey and is closed until further notice. Major damage occurred at the visitor information center, and it may turn out to be a total loss. Public viewing platforms also suffered damage. A full assessment of damage has not occurred yet due to unsafe conditions for grounds crews. A problem with flooding in this area is almost inevitable petroleum and other chemical contamination as well as debris that could potentially harm wildlife. Refuge spokespersons report that major beach erosion occurred but that the saltwater marshes, major migratory bird habitats, suffered no obvious damage. The good news is that whooping crane migration to this area does not begin until next month. About half of the critically endangered whooping cranes winter at the Refuge.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in southwest Florida also suffered major damage to buildings and boardwalks. The Sanctuary is closed and there is no word yet on when it will be reopened. Again, an assessment of damage to the Sanctuary will not be completed for some time for reasons of safety, in this case the major hazard being fallen trees and unsafe structures. On Big Pine Key, deer have been spotted since Irma tore through. It is unknown what effect the hurricane had on the population of the rare Key deer species. On Key West, Hemingway’s famous six-toed cats evidently survived the storm just fine.
Birds and animals have a number of survival mechanisms for dealing with catastrophic hurricanes, which is not to say that they all necessarily survive. Many birds and small animals retreat into tree cavities, which provide wonderful shelter provided that the tree does not topple or floodwaters do not reach the cavity. Migratory birds are aware of tropical storms across great distances and will adjust their migratory schedules to avoid major storms. Some migratory birds fly into storms and survive, and they may even hang out in the “eye” until the storm breaks up. In both of these scenarios, surviving birds may be pushed very far out of their natural habitats. A bigger problem for bird survival than immediate deaths from wind and rain is the loss of habitat. Bird habitat is vanishing at an alarming rate due to human development, pollution, and global warming, so habitat loss from hurricanes can have a big impact.
Ever wonder about the phrase “It’s raining cats and dogs”? Most people recognize this as a description of a fierce rain shower, but have you ever seen cats and dogs pouring down from the sky?
The folklore behind the saying has two parts. A lightning strike in European folklore (and in some other places, such as the Philippines) is associated with a dog bite. That makes sense: electricity has a bite to it, so being struck by lightning probably would feel like a dog bite.
What about the cats? There is also a longstanding belief in folklore that cats cause it to rain by vigorously washing their faces.
So, raining cats and dogs refers to a type of storm where there is torrential rain (caused by the cats) and lightning (biting dogs).
Reconstruction is 85% or more complete on the house I’m living in. It has not been as inconvenient as I feared, although it has undeniably been disruptive — necessitating changes in how I work, tolerance of noise and debris, and acceptance of lower productivity. The workers have been considerate of my space and schedule, but construction is messy and accommodation can only go so far without jeopardizing the time frame of the project.
As the project draws to a close, I am coming to value not just the improvements to the building but the process itself: the collaborative problem solving of minor issues, the slow transformative progress, the expectant activity of each weekday. And I have never valued silence so much as I have on these winter evenings.
Most importantly, I have learned a great deal about how energy in a building works. I have long been acutely aware of how a building’s energy affects the occupants, but I have now become more attuned to how human energy affects a building. The initiation of the changes to this house required a shift in energies of many personalities. This is probably why renovation usually occurs when ownership of a building changes or when the occupants are preparing to move, but sometimes energies are so entrenched that even this does not shake things up enough. The activity of the past seven months on this house is as much a reflection of change as a change itself. Conflict and confusion emanating from place had to be met with clarity and resolution from the human spirit.