This dropped by. If it's the anniversary of moving into our home it's also the anniversary of this. To read the science stuff go here. Welcome to the East Coast. Hurricane Isabel thought she'd throw a little welcome party. What a wild start to our life here. Looking back I'm not sure I can even describe how surreal I felt as that storm bore down upon us. If you weren't in her path, perhaps you weren't aware that for several days she moved back and forth between Category Four and Five status, and every morning I would creep downstairs to chew my nails and watch the morning news, surrounded by unpacked boxes and a too long cable wire.
At first I didn't think much about Hurricane Isabel. We had just moved into what we thought was the house of our dreams. We had a yard! We had neighbors! We had a Pig Pick'n! Neel was doing what he always does at this time of year: writing a grant. And Callum and I were getting us settled in. For four-year-old Callum it was like Christmas as he opened boxes of toys he hadn't seen in a month, and for me it was much the same as I picked out paint chips.
I heard the first faint ping of a warning bell when Callum and I stopped in at The Home Depot for paint one day. A young lady at the door said (before I'd really even stepped foot in the place), "If you're looking for generators, we're sold out."
We just want some paint, actually. And some switchplate covers. Thanks.
But then I started to look around at everyone else's carts. About half the people there were like me. Toilets. Pipe. A pack of washers or screws. Your basic Home Depot Run that you make a bajillion times during any given home improvement project.
The other half of those Home Depot-goers had carts filled with cases of water, big drills, flashlights, batteries and sheets and sheets of plywood. They were out of generators. That's when I got a little nervous. I got brave and asked around. People made suggestions. Get some of those tap lights (they last longer than flashlights), stock up on water. Callum made our way back into The Home Depot and followed their advice and then we went home and called Neel.
And every morning as Isabel bore down on us, I watched my new local news station and wondered what to do. Do we stay and ride it out or do we go? I asked neighbors, but hey, I didn't know these people. How rational were they really? (Turns out, some of them, not so much.) So Neel would beaver away on his grant and Callum and I would beaver away on the house, stocking up on spaghettios and water and batteries and we waited.
Fortunately as the storm creeped closer, it diminished down to a Three then (thank God) a Two and finally a One. We decided to stay. Our house is oldish (about seventy years), so I wasn't too worried about it, except for the fact that we have a new, untried addition and it was quickly becoming clear that said addition had been built mostly with masking tape. And spit. Maybe some safety pins. Neel nailed plywood along the french doors and we crossed our fingers. And I had to hope that this tiny, tiny hill in this flat, flat land would really be enough for us not to need flood insurance. It was too late to get it anyway.
As night fell on the seventeenth of September, squalls of rain started moving through. We noticed that a lot of women and children had left town, and wondered if we'd been foolish to stick around. On the morning of the eighteenth the wind had picked up, as had the rain. With the plywood up, the house was eerily dark for so early in the day. I was painting in the livingroom around ten when a particularly strong gust hit the house and the power went out. It stayed out for five more days, and we were the lucky ones. Lots of neighborhoods were without power for almost two weeks, but then the mayor lives a few blocks down (not that that has anything to do with anything). Around noon we got in the car and took a quick drive around. Remember the house that we almost bought? The one the migraine talked me out of? Totally surrounded by water. The water was a real concern. We're not on water here, but surrounded, only blocks away in any direction by tidal rivers, and as the hardest part of rain and wind was hitting our coast, so was the highest tide. Late in the afternoon, when we were safely tucked in, our neighbor Tyler took his car out for a look around. Twenty minutes or so later our other neighbor John was towing him back up the street.
I'm a casual studier of the hurricane. My friend Sarah once said that I like works-in-progress. Long before I lived on a coast so effected by these storms, I've watched their progress and studied their seasons. So I knew that we'd have it rough for awhile, that the wind would eventually shift and that after hours and hours things would calm down. We bedded down in the dining room, surrounded by the boxes which we'd kept packed thinking that if it flooded they'd be easier to move up and that if a tree fell on the house they'd be easier to move down. And although this room was the most protected in the house, that wind shift made it feel the most vulnerable. I kept a tap light by my side of the mattress, and when I woke up needing to go to the bathroom, I lay in the bed a long time trying to decide what to do. What was my safest route? The wind, although we should be on the back side of the storm, was screaming around the house now, and the night was dark as pitch. Was the guest bath on the landing of the stairs the safest? Or the one behind the kitchen, which may be closer, but deeper in the dark? This house was too new to me to know its secret safe spots yet. That was a long night.
We woke the next morning the way most communities do after events like these: to skies scrubbed scouring-pad clean. We loaded Callum in the wagon and leashed our old pup Phoebe and like many neighbors, ventured forth to check things out. Things had happened during the day before that we wanted to check out. I remember looking across the street thinking, "am I seeing more sky than I did before?" Turns out that early in the day those neighbors lost a Bartlett Pear. A branch from our gumball fell on Tyler's shed, pretty much killing it, but he was planning to do that himself anyway. Our tree just helped. And the plywood that Neel put up? Turns out that was a good idea. It looked like it had been pressure washed with twigs and branches and leaves.
Still, I remember standing on our front porch and looking around thinking we got off pretty good. But that was just our street. One street down, I thought was a dead end, and it was...but about six blocks further down. The trees that were down only made it look like a dead end. We still contend a twister touched down there. Further down in the neighborhood live wires littered the streets. Trees rested on roof tops and across streets and cars. We joined a gathering of people on a corner as a couple were working on exiting their house, by climbing a tree. Turned out it was our realtor. Welcome to the neighborhood.
Turned out some wonderful things happened too, though. Some neighbors came over during the storm so we'd have everyone's phone numbers in case anything happened. Every night that the power was off after the storm we were invited to someone's house for a cookout as they cleared out freezers (we were lucky, we hadn't even stocked our fridge). And I almost wonder, what would it be like now? I'm not at all saying that I want it now. But we did it almost totally alone. We didn't know anything. Much less anyone. It was terrifying. It was exciting. It was unifying. Even then. How different would it be knowing we could all open a beer together? Welcome to the neighborhood.
Got your own Isabel story? I'd love to hear it. Pop a post in the comments and let me know.