Darn Irene. Despite the excitement, panic, and overall chaos of the past 4 days, the experience seems almost surreal, as if I were in a drugged tired state throughout the whole ordeal. Although many villages in Vermont were damaged severely by the hurricane that hit us at approximately 11:30 on Saturday night, I now find my town virtually unrecognizable, a shadow of the place where I have grown up and played my entire childhood. On this day, I've decided to head to the swimming hole down the street to look at the ferocity of Mother Nature.
basement has been flooded to the brink and all our attempts to
bucket-brigade the water out seem to have been in vain, for it only rises
another foot whenever we take a break to eat. Two friends of mine have helped
with the brigade. I can't help but feel that while our community is torn at the
seams and there is a sense of hopelessness from the destruction, the town of
Reading has never been closer. My friends were forced to stay the night as all possible
routes or means of exit were completely blocked, flooded or, by that
point, washed away.
I approach the swimming hole I see all the destruction. A bridge that I fished
off only last week has somehow vanished. This bridge stood strong my entire
life - 16 years, which is a long time for anything to stay in one spot, and yet
I realize I have not once ever given thought to this bridge until now. I try
not to feel guilty about that; in general, people tend to take things for
granted until they are gone. I promise myself that if this bridge is ever
resurrected, I will be the first to express my gratitude in whatever means
possible, whether it be a tear sodden speech or a simple toss of a penny into
the water below.
I walk on and see the buildings: A house near the river has turned into an island on a lake. Most of the structure has broken, long since floated away, but the main foundation remains; two birds have taken refuge on the chimney. In a small community, you tend to know almost everyone; this house belongs to a family of four. The oldest kid is now a freshman at my high school; his brother is going into 7th grade. Nice kids. I can't imagine they would stick around in this mess and I hope that right now, they're relaxing in a five-star hotel with room service, a 300-channel cable box - and no view of a river.
I can go no further -- the river has taken up the ambition of taking over the main street - so I turn around and take a smaller road. Debris floats by me on still-massive waves still at ground it has already carved. I walk onto Niagara Street, past the trashed road and roaring waves, up a gravel path to the town baseball field. Overlooking the town, this field appears the only place that has somehow completely avoided the vandalization of Irene. But this feeling of security is short-lived. As I walk down the path beside the field, I notice, at last, the swimming hole I had been so anxious to see. Strangely, this is the one part of the river that has not risen from its original water level, if anything it is lower. Then I see that this is because the force of the storm has carved away so much of the banks, that the river is now about twice as wide, reducing the overall depth of the water.
Everything has changed. The enormous, multi-ton rocks from which I used to jump into the pool below have now vanished, somewhere. These rocks could be miles away by now, busted and carted into New Hampshire, or they could be right in front of me right now waiting for some buffoon to decide it's a good time for a swim. Those murky falls, this river, hold secrets now; I won't know for sure until this is all over.
But when will it be all over? We'll make do with ghetto-rigged bridges and sand fill to recreate missing roads, but it could be years before all our roads, structures and bridges are ever completely rebuilt again. The riverbed will never again be the same. Nor will we, really. But I suppose I'll just have to accept all this and move on. For the time being, though, I'll just thank mighty Thor that Vermonters really are the toughest of the tough.