A year ago today Hurricane Irene hit the banks of North Carolina. By early the next morning it was hitting the Vermont/New Hampshire border where we live. We stayed quiet that day, watching the trees outside our windows bend and sway, waiting for the big winds. But the big winds never came. Instead, it rained, hard. We stayed indoors for the morning watching it rain and checking the weather and feeling grateful that trees weren’t falling on our roof. Around mid-morning we decided to go out for a walk, as the storm seemed relatively calm. We put on our raincoats and rain boots and walked down the road where we discovered my parents, soaking wet, looking harried and thrilled at once, carrying shovels and rakes. They told us the bottom of our road was completely washed out; that a large bridge downstream of us had just been destroyed, that the small, tricking brook we live on, the Whetstone, had turned into a raging river. They said we should go down and look, but that we should stay on a high bank, and be prepared to run uphill, fast.
It was true; the bottom half of our road had been washed out. Only not just washed out; it was gone. There was a two-hundred-foot-long, ten-foot-deep gully where our road had been. The river was like I’d never seen it. The rains picked up and we walked back home and started checking Facebook. I sat there at the table swearing out loud as I watched near-live video footage of houses being destroyed, covered bridges going under, trucks floating down the main streets of our town. People in the videos were yelling “fuck!” and crying. The weather channel said the eye of the storm was now directly above us; outside the sky cleared and the winds stopped completely. There was an eerie calm. Then the winds picked up again, the rain started falling again, and the power went out.
It was five days until electricity came back. The next day we discovered that all the roads between us and everywhere else were completely gone. Route 9 was washed out in over ten places. People lost houses, businesses, livestock, fields of produce, livelihoods. The damage spread through half the state, and has taken nearly a year to repair.
Which is why, when I wake up in the night to the sound of rain on the roof, it stills me. It reminds me of the subtle, quiet way that harm came. Of the way things can creep up on us. Of that blue-skied, eerily still eye of the storm.
But this morning, here, the rain has let up. Avah has forgotten about downed bridges. Cricket doesn’t know he was conceived in those five days of still, grounded quiet. Our laundry is soaked, but that’s the only damage. Instead the fields are happy, and the wells. The woods emanate the heady, sweet scents of wet hemlock and pine. And my children are safe and sound downstairs under this roof we built them. Which seems, today, like a church of sorts, inside of which I am filled with a deep and tender awe.