Sunday, October 02, 2011

Being Normal and Human

(Note: This column appeared in "The Commons," Wednesday, September 28. It was written on September 19.)

Bridge - Augur Hole Rd nr Alcan Power Equip.
Hurricane Irene ripped apart the tiny village of South Newfane where I live. I was in Philadelphia when she struck. The village was physically isolated, with every road washed out in multiple places and many bridges reduced to rubble. Communication was severed. It was three days before I could make contact with any neighbor.

When I was finally able to return to South Newfane, I found my home safe, but the leach field for my septic system was gone along with 40-50 feet of property. The carefully developed bird and butterfly garden was severed, and many of the protective trees around the bird feeders had disappeared. Those that remain will be removed when a new leach field is squeezed into the remaining space.

the lower lawn
Compared to some neighbors, our damage was not severe. But I quickly recognized that every neighbor was affected. Hurricane Irene ravaged the mental and psychological state of everyone, just as she tore out homes, trees, roads, and bridges. Four weeks after the storm, the daze created by the storm and fatigue is still apparent as one talks with people. Ordinary tasks are difficult and everything seems to take too long.

A week ago I went to the flood sale for my neighbor, artist-photographer Christine Triebert. I paused before a mystical, mysterious scene with a small stream bubbling through a forest canopy. In the distance the water was spanned by a delicate, spider-like, bridge. The title read, “Rock River;” the bridge was the Parish Hill Bridge. Tears welled up in my eyes as I viewed the spiritually rich image - but an image of what was, and a contrast to the Hieronymous Bosch scene left in the wake of Irene. It will be a long time before I can view the image of Chris’ “Rock River” and draw from it the spiritual peace which the artist conveyed.

In the midst of all this, one grasps for the normal activity. One afternoon, I made myself cut the grass. It did not take as long as in the past, so I did the neighbor’s grass and a nearby field.

Black-throated Green Warbler
Two weeks ago after church, friends on Newfane Hill invited me to lunch. We ate our sandwiches and watched the birds coming to the feeders on the deck. I pulled myself out of the daze when an olive-drab and yellow bird landed on the deck. It took a while before the mental computer booted up. When it did, I watched the young Black-throated Green Warbler with a sense that my “normal” expectations for a mid-September day were still around. That sense continued as a young Blackburnian Warbler also gleaned food in one old apple tree while a young Common Yellowthroat gleaned food in another apple tree.

Last Sunday, I wandered along the Dover Road to again try to wrap my mind around the damage. Between the Covered Bridge and the Parish Hill Bridge there were four washouts. Road construction crew had brought these back to grade and had made them passable. Beyond my home on the Dover Road, another washout was nearly back to grade. Each of these required major road reconstruction. The tireless efforts of the construction workers was heroic, but in a way, unexceptional. The number and variety of people who have made heroic and tireless contributions is legion - volunteer firemen, cleaning crews, community dinner organizers, communicators, town officials, emergency workers, and neighbors handing out supplies ... and hugs.

Wild Turkeys

When I drove out the Augur Hole Road last Sunday, a flock of turkeys crossed the road. I tried to creep close to them in my truck, but the wary birds scurried off and gave me only a third rate photo opportunity. Even so, it was a moment of normalcy.

But that moment paled when I reached Tom Fusco’s home. The bridge just past his shop, Alcan Power Equipment, like all the others on the Augur Hole Road, had been washed out by the Marlboro Branch. Four culverts had been placed along side the broken bridge and a one car lane reconnected the isolated residents with roads to Route 30. At one end of the basic river crossing, a hand lettered sign announced “The Thomas Fusco Memorial Bypass.”

Tom Fusco Memorial Bypass
I laughed, as I am sure I was meant to. In the midst of so much somberness, for a moment the burden was lighter. As we slog through the debris and labor through the destruction, those moments when we cry, and those moments when we laugh, are moments that keep us human and connect our humanity.
The Bypass reconnected residents of the Augur Hole
Common Yellowthroat


Dawn Fine said...

Very touching post! Wishing the best to all those that lost so much.

Hilke Breder said...

Wonderful story, great photos, Chris. Glad you found another outlet for your writing. Maybe eventually someone will put all those stories and photographs together into a book. I put in an appeal for Vermont Disaster Relief in my blog - and also mentioned your predicament.

eileeninmd said...

Chris, wonderful post! I hope your world returns to normal soon. I love the bird photos.

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