When I got up Sunday morning I was feeling pretty good. OK—maybe just a bit smug.
My , since scrapped, was pretty much finished. The leaves in the front yard were raked and the grass cut for the last time until spring. Hockey wouldn’t start until the next weekend. And the rumors of Kim Kardashian’s divorce after just 72 days made my own marriage of 40 years look downright astounding.
An early morning walk around the neighborhood revealed that this was going to be another one of those weeks.
Almost nobody had power. We did, but would lose it later in the day. Cable went out before the power did, so we had no phone, Internet access, or TV.
Nights without heat or electric lights are not especially worrisome to Wendy and me. We once lived in a Volkswagen bus from September through December while camping in Canada and I am, after all, a Scoutmaster of an outdoor troop, so there is a stove ready to go in the basement and good sleeping bags in the closet along with a games bag with things like Scrabble in it.
And there is that woodstove in the family room.
My friend, Andy Dixon, once told me “If it is 75 in your house and it is from wood you cut and split yourself, then it is not immoral.” I was so glad that I had just finished splitting several days supply of kindling and firewood just the day before. It wasn’t going to be 75, but it might be above 60 at least.
So all seemed fine on the home front, but living in a VW bus is not quite like living in a New England town where there are others besides yourself. So I walked downtown and started finding out what really makes a town work.
I am not as bothered by the loss of trees as some are. Many years ago, about the time the primordial ooze was solidifying and before I discovered computers, I thought I wanted to be a professional forester. So I went to Montana State University, where I ran into a very salty Dendrology professor named O.B. Howell. Many guesses were made as to what the initials stood for, most of which would be unprintable in a family-friendly publication.
In class one day, as we lamented the loss to a winter storm of one of a matched pair of 40-foot blue spruces outside our building, Professor Howell said two things which have stuck with me. “Gentlemen—these are trees, a renewable resource, not your children” and, later in the class, “You can either prune your trees or Mother Nature will do it for you.”
I won’t belabor the last point, but if you look closely at many of the fallen limbs and down trees you will see indications of problems like decay or previous damage. When a tree with an 11” trunk snaps off near the base as one did near , you have to figure something was wrong with that tree.
I am also not terribly bothered by the notion that we will have power outages from time to time. We like trees, so we try not to trim them too much. We underground in new subdivisions, but that leaves us with many aboveground wires. And our appetite for electricity grows, so we need higher poles and more wires.
But what does interest me is what happens when there are problems. I worry about how the town will react. I worry about how many new problems will come to our notice and if we can handle those which come our way.
It is comforting to think that we can anticipate all of the problems that a crisis will bring. Comforting, but not realistic.
Oh, we can plan in advance for things like how to keep the pumping stations going with generators.
Pumping stations, by the way, are for sewage. Without a plan for providing emergency power, widespread power loss would cause serious problems, which I am sure need no further description. There were six pumping stations which were kept alive by emergency generators during the latest emergency.
There are always new problems, though, and that is where things can get sticky. An elderly person stuck in their home. No electricity. In need of power for the insulin pump. And the phone doesn’t work. And the hospitals are full. Suddenly, some down trees don’t look like as big a problem unless they are blocking access to a building, or unless a falling limb has just smashed the windshield of a town ambulance.
A person is found wandering outside. Are they just looking around or are they in need of assistance? Somebody has to figure that out. And if they do need help, who can be found to provide it?
An elder housing complex without heat or light and with a cold night coming presents a real problem this time and, with others in the same predicament, the is turned first into a comfort station and then into an overnight shelter. The next day becomes a place to charge cell phones, access the Internet, get warm, and hang out with friends.
The basics, like where to get cots and blankets are in place as part of the solution, but there are always wrinkles, like where to get staff and how to communicate with citizens, which make solutions unique to the situation and not easy to predict in advance.
We will all learn from this latest crisis, of course. Changes to procedures will be made. An effort will be made to guess what will be needed next time.
Every time something like this occurs, I meet new people and I am once again reminded that often my problems are not half as important as those which face others who have been less fortunate.
Now if the Center shops will just re-open, we will all have a place to talk about it.