The Night Of The Ice (With Update And Gratitude)
Chatham, New York, SE of Albany
If I had one of those Weather Channel jackets, right now I could stand in the yard and narrate this essay. Then you'd be able to see me looking into the camera, the rain falling falling falling sideways from the sky, hitting the earth and everything else, and freezing. Immediately. Everything glistens in its coat of ice. Trees. Houses. Grass. The dog has ice chunks on her tail. Wind and rain blow into the microphone making a whooshing sound. It's a special genre: Heavy Weather. Upstate, Eastern New York.
This morning was ridiculous, and the brunt of the storm hadn't even arrived. The car doors were iced shut. When I finally got them open, I had to scrape thick ice off the windows. That took a long time. Then the driving. I had to stop because the windshield was again freezing up. Why, I want to know, does the air conditioner go on in this car when you press defrost? It's a mystery. Why is the car fishtailing down the road, skidding happily along?
And, as if that weren't more than enough, tonight between 7 pm ET and 7 am ET, is supposed to be the heaviest accumulation of ice. The radio says that, ut oh, trees might fall down on power lines, so you, dear listeners, can freeze and sit in the dark. The radio says that you should stay off of the roads no matter what, as if we were some kind of idiots who want to drive around on roads that deserve to have their own Zambonis.
Strangely, this is not a drag. Not at all. It's just like this, Dar Williams's Southern California Wants To Be Western New York:
There's a part of the country could drop off
tomorrow in an earthquake,
Yeah it's out there on
the cutting edge, the people move, the sidewalks
And there's another part of the country
with a land that gently creaks and thuds, Where
the heavy snows make faucets leak in bathrooms
with free-standing tubs.
They're in houses that
are haunted, the with kids who lie awake and think
All the generations past who used to use
that dripping sink.
And sometimes one place wants to slip into the
other just to see
What it's like to trade its
demons for the restless ghost of Mrs. Ogilvey,
She used to pick the mint from her front yard to dress
the Sunday pork,
Sometimes southern California
wants to be western New York.
It wants to have a family business in sheet metal
or power tools,
It wants to have a diner where the
coffee tastes like diesel fuel,
And it wants to find the glory of a town they say has hit the
And it wants to have a snow day that will
turn its parents into kids,
And it's embarrassed,
but it's lusting after a SUNY student with mousy
brown hair who is
Taking out the compost, making
coffee in long underwear.
Sometimes southern California wants to be
western New York.
And they'll have puttering on rainy weekends,
autumn days that make you feel sad,
They'll have hundred year old plumbing and the family you never
And a Hudson River clean-up concert and a
And I hear they've got a
menu planned, it's true
It's western New York.
Except it's Eastern New York.
Update: (6:17 pm ET, 12/12). The power went off at about midnight. The ice apparently pulled down branches which in turn pulled down electric wires. Lots of them. I awoke at 6 am in the dark to see that there was no power. And silence in the house. I could hear the wall clock in the bathroom ticking. Otherwise, no furnace sound. No humming from anything. Cold and silent. Outside beautiful and chaotic. A glistening coating of corruscating ice on everything, but ice is heavy, so trees bend, evergreens pull in their elbows, many limbs snap off, you can hear the snapping, lots of trees fall and block roadway, many wires break and fall onto roadways. Out here no electricity means no heat, no pump for water, no lights, no Internet. And most important when there are huge rains, as we had last night, no electricity means no sump pump to drain the basement.
9 am. I walked down the road-- the road itself was fairly clear-- to the Spencertown Volunteer Fire Department. Lots of cars, only one truck still there, many people. Do I want a cup of coffee? No, I just want to get my basement pumped. Talk to him, pointing. A couple hours later, Steve showed up with a pump and sussed it all out. He said it was thousands of gallons of water. Just in time, the water was about 6" deep and slowly climbing toward the vitals of the aging boiler. Said Steve the Fireman, the infrastructure for electricity around here was last updated in 1974, and it needs to be completely overhauled. That's one of the reasons why I have half a foot of water in my basement, fear and dread that my boiler will die, fear and dread of the insurance claim.
9:30 am. I got a call on the only landline phone in the house that's working (cell phones don't work out here) that the County has declared a county wide state of emergency. That means everything is closed, stay off the roads, and there are shelters if you want/need one. I called the NYSEG hotline number. The animated voice told me that power would be restored by 10 pm on Sunday night. Not good. This, I thought, is going to be extra uncomfortable for a very, very long time. I looked out the window. It was snowing. It was really pretty.
The rest of the day. I spent the day near the fireplace. I hauled and split wood. My dog friend rolled on the ice and snow. The cats went in and out. I read. I fell asleep near the fire for about an hour. I awoke to a cold house and dull sunlight at the horizon. The ice on the weeping crab apple tree glinted.
4:30 pm. I realized I needed bottled water, because the pressure in my house was about gone and the tap was going to stop working. I drove to the supermarket. All the big water bottles were gone. But thank goodness, there was a deal, $3.99 for 24 small bottles of Poland Spring nicely packaged in plastic. Perfect. Only when I checked out, the cashier told me that I don't get that sale price without "the card." I said, "You gotta be kidding, right?" The guy behind me in line shrugged, handed the cashier his card. I thanked him.
5:07 pm. When I drove home, I noticed that various houses I passed now had lights. My house was still dark. I went into the house. I heard a sound. It was the aging boiler chugging along. The lovely sound of the boiler making hot water, making heat, burning expensive oil. How wonderful, what a great system. I turned on all of the lights, I reset the thermostat on the hot tub, I turned up the heat. I fed the animals. They were ravenous.
I am absolutely delighted that I have electricity. I know that there are literally tens of thousands of people who do not have it back yet. I notice the ironies. Moments before I got my electricity back, I was thinking that temperatures were supposed to fall this evening, and I was afraid that my pipes would all freeze tonight, making an even more colossal mess. And now, now that that emergency has vanished, I'm chagrined that the ice maker in the refrigerator hasn't been making ice (doh!) so the cubes are all stuck together. I pour myself a glass of fizzy mandarin orange Poland Spring (a treat I bought along with the 24 pack). This, I think, is wonderful. It has all of the excellent qualities of non alcoholic beer without the beer taste. Salud!
My gratitude goes out to Steve the Fireman, the Spencertown Volunteer Fire Department, the NYSEG lines people who were out all day, and still out now, trying to make a 34 year old system deliver reliable energy. My gratitude also goes out to all of the NY State Transportation workers, the Columbia County DPW workers, and the Town of Austerlitz DPW, all of whom spent the day clearing roads closed by downed trees mixed in with live wires.