Vermont flooding has made national news – on the front page of CNN right now, actually.
There’s a Facebook community called Vermont Flooding 2011 that had 2,000 users in a matter of hours, and rocketed up to 9,000 overnight. It’s now up to almost 15,000. My friend Lauren made a relief/information page specific to Killington and she, I and some other friends are co-administrating it. It was started an hour or so ago and is now up over 150 users.
This is big.
My parents’ road (aptly named River Road… Now “all river, no road”) off Route 4 had some of the worst damage in town. Route 4 right by the entrance to their road has been ripped to shreds. A house across from the little white church is just completely gone.
My parents had picked up my grandmother Nonnie and were trapped at their house – the swamp/river across the street was up over the street and there was a valley filled with water in the other direction. Ever cool, they spent the night playing Scrabble, lights powered by the generator. My dad the daredevil ventured out to check things out during the worst of it which rattled my mom, but they were fine. My mom said they get stranded all the time in the winter. They’re used to it.
Mom said her neighbors, the Hickory family, were joking that they had their own little Austin-Hickory (or is it Hickory-Austin?) island — My parents’ house is, fortunately, set up on a hill. I begged my parents to stay put. But my dad said he was voting himself off the island. The next day he went out on his motorcycle to buy smokes and extra gas for the generator. The waters receded and the Town Crew repaired Thundering Brook Road so they could go the roundabout way to get up on the mountain.
My old VT classmate Melina Coogan said it best in her Wilder Coast blog: Vermonters like myself who now live in other places- the Vermont diaspora, as we call ourselves- are left staring at the news and Facebook with disbelief, heartbroken, stunned. Wanting so much to go home.
Scattered through the country, heartstrings attached to VT, we are anxious. Restless. Heartbroken. It’s impossible to focus on your day-to-day life when there’s such damage in Vermont. No matter how far away we ran, it’s still home. These are places we frequented, we traveled every day. We were kids here. We never thought it could be destroyed. My sister said, “We know that all things, places and people change over time… But it’s absolutely catastrophic when it happens in one day.” So true.
It’s heartwarming how it’s brought that “Vermont diaspora” together, too. Townspeople and old classmates you might avoid in real life if you bumped into them on the street, not because you hate their guts but just to get out of that falsified “HI!!!! It’s SO good to SEE you!!!” awkward thing — we’re all connected now, asking how each others’ families are, sharing pictures, commenting on photos and genuinely wishing each other well. This broke barriers. Because we’re in this together. Our collective Vermont heart is broken. We only have each other to pull through this. People in our new cities and towns aren’t feeling this like we are.
Before Sunday I didn’t care much about covered bridges. Just like cows and maple syrup, it was just one of those Vermonty things on all the postcards and junk T-shirts and mugs. They’re pretty, but whatever, they’re for the tourists, not me. But when I saw the Bartonville video, I felt like I had just seen a person die. It wrenched my guts and I thought I might puke. The loss of the history… of one of those things that makes Vermont itself – there aren’t even words.
Mostly it’s just been awe. Still, it’s numbing to look at these photos of the destruction. It’s like we’re in some crazy alternate universe and you can just see THIS building and THAT road and THIS house and THAT pass in what they’d look like after the apocalypse and it’s … awesome. Awe-some, not like totally excellent. But just insane to see. Wild. Addicting to look and see what crazy photo is next. What can top the previous one? What’s happening now?
The White Cottage and Woodstock Farmer’s Market just about completely underwater. Simon Pearce flooded. A river coming down the mountain where there’s not supposed to be a river, and taking out a house and Route 4, gushing down River Road. The roads cracked, destroyed and in some places just completely gone. A riverbed where there once was a road. The Back Behind Saloon sign floating. The Mill Mall parking lot flooded. The trailer park by my high school. The pictures are just amazing. You run out of things to say in your comments. Just “Oh my God.” Over and over.
Then it seeps in that this is real.
And you get a chin wobble and a few tears – but only for a quick second, before your brain goes back to boggle-ville, just not able to wrap itself around it… And you need to see more pictures to actually try and force yourself to realize that it’s for real. It’s happening right now and it’s real life. Things will never be the same. If you went to visit your folks right now you couldn’t.
It reminds me of this passage from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
“There was no way his imagination could feel the impact of the whole Earth having gone, it was too big. He prodded his feelings by thinking that his parent and his sister had gone. No reaction. He thought of all the people he had been close to. No reaction. Then he thought of a complete stranger he had been standing behind in the queue at the supermarket two days before and felt a sudden stab: the supermarket was gone, everyone in it was gone! Nelson’s Column had gone! and there would be no outcry, because there was no one left to make an outcry! From now on Nelson’s Column only existed in his mind. England only existed in his mind. A wave of claustrophobia closed in on him.
He tried again: America, he thought, has gone. He couldn’t grasp it, He decided to start smaller again. New York has gone. No reaction. He’d never seriously believed it existed anyway. The dollar, he thought, has sunk for ever. Slight tremor there. Every “Bogart” movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock.
McDonald’s, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald’s hamburger.
He passed out.”
It’s a lot like that. Every time you think of something else, hear about another business or home or road’s damage, it hits you again that this is actually happening. It’s too big to grasp as a whole, but these little bits of it are what poke their way through the brain-boggle and kick you in the gut.
What’s actually pretty cool about this is that VT’s true nature shines through.
My mom said that the Town Crew, headed by Kenny Merrill, slept over at the Town Garage before the storm hit so they’d be prepared, and called everyone they know who operates equipment (in VT, loads of people have plow trucks and stuff) and coordinated the rebuilding efforts. Mom’s words: “He’s a freaking hero.” They’ve now got something like 40 dump trucks of stone and gravel by the library to put the river back where it’s supposed to be. Everyone’s working together – like when they built the elementary school’s playground Kid’s Kingdom – regular people showed up with their hammer or saw and put the thing together.
Mom says today it’s like Town Meeting Day with the whole town out and about, surveying the damage, talking with each other, helping each other out. People open up their homes to one another.
One of my sister’s old classmates is venturing to Killington from Burlington with a backpack full of batteries and whatever else people need. He’s going to go as far as he can by car and then go on foot, he says. His dad was in Rutland when the hurricane hit and bought a dirtbike to ride home to Killington, he says.
My dad decided to go check on his customers, road closures be damned. He rode his motorcycle up to Cascades Lodge to see how they were doing. What a guy.
Vermont, you beautiful crazy thing. You’ll get through this. You’re rocking out, helping one another and fixing up the damage. My mom said: “Vermonters are a hardy bunch, here. Taking care of ourselves and taking care of our own.”
In the meantime, it’s similar to the way I felt when 9/11 happened. Like I needed to be right by a radio or TV or online sharing the experience with everyone I could. Hard to talk about anything else or DO anything else because it just seems insignificant. Regardless of my parents’ carefree attitude, I’m freaking out over here. It’s really hard to concentrate on my work or to step away from Facebook and Vermont news.
VT, we’re all thinking of you and wishing we were there to share the experience and to help.
It’s hard to be on the outside. We send love, solidarity, and whatever aid we are able to give.
How to help?
Text FOODNOW to 52000 to donate $10 to Vermont Foodbank. The Foodbank will turn each donation into $60 for families in need.
To specifically help the Town of Killington, write a check out to Town of Killington and mail to Killington Town Manager, Attn: Relief, 2076 River Road, Killington, VT 05751