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Craven: Irene Stories

09/20/11 7:55AM By Jay Craven
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(HOST) When commentator, filmmaker and Marlboro College teacher Jay Craven set out for southern Vermont, in the face of warnings for Hurricane Irene, he figured he'd emerge with some kind of story - and he did.

(CRAVEN) Most Vermonters now have vivid tales to share - of courage, tragedy, generosity, imagination, endurance, and most of all, community.  Still, we'd gladly trade all our accumulated stories for fully restored homes, farms, businesses, roads, theaters, and schools. 

My story began when I drove through the rain, from the Northeast Kingdom to Brattleboro, late that last Saturday night in August.  I was due to give a Sunday morning talk to new students at Marlboro College.  With worsening conditions predicted, I decided to at least get as far as the Latchis Hotel. 

On Sunday morning, I slipped into my Mini Cooper for the nine-mile climb up route 9 toward Marlboro.  I was glad to be one of only a few cars within sight because the rain was beginning to pool on the road and at one point I nearly hydroplaned off the highway.  I slowed down but then without warning, I encountered a wall of rushing water spilling from a nearby culvert, just as a huge 18-wheeler loomed out of the driving rain, coming straight at me.  There was nothing to do but accelerate through the water, and I missed the tractor trailer by inches.  Moments later a tree fell across the road behind me and the highway I had just traveled broke apart.

Images flashed though my mind of the floods we've seen on television, blanketing flat fields in the mid-west.  These Vermont flood waters were different - gaining destructive force as they torpedoed down mountains, powerful enough to shred asphalt and catapult whole buildings from their moorings.

I made it to the college, but got soaked to the bone, racing through the rain and fumbling with locked doors.  But I gave my talk to a captive audience, then realized I was now marooned with no way off the mountain.

When I'm in Marlboro, I usually stay at the Whetstone Inn, an old stagecoach stop, but it was full of stranded wedding guests dining on the dwindling inventory of intrepid innkeeper Jean Boardman's thawing refrigerator.  So, I bunked with Marlboro faculty colleagues. The next morning I borrowed their bicycle to thread my way down the decimated Ames Hill dirt road - to meet my family and get my son to his first day of college.  I couldn't quite manage the bike's clip-on cleats that locked my shoes into the pedals.  So I careened over a small precipice, banging up my knee and shoulder. And I'd left my regular shoes in my car back in Marlboro.  So, I clicked along the sidewalks in washed-out Brattleboro, looking and sounding like a tap-dancing penguin with a limp.  But I made it.

Vermont towns pulled together after Hurricane Irene because we have the history,  the practice, and the people that create unique conditions for distinctive community.  I hope that in the hurricane's aftermath we will sustain these renewed connections - through our commitment to our town meetings, schools, farmer's markets, downtown stores, local media, arts events, and the times we gather to advance, strengthen, and celebrate our towns.

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