Gunshots? Rapid succession… like a machine gun? Can’t be!
Pull back the drapes. Glistening in the early light of morn is an icy gloss coating trees that shout transformation. The green of leaves is barely visible through the weighty wet glass that covers them along with their now encumbered branches.
Crack! Screech! Thunderous crash! Old trees flip out of the earth, baring long, gnarly roots as their thick trunks collapse on the ground.
Incessant popping… the sound of fingernails scratching a blackboard… all are meagre attempts to describe the cry of limbs long and full splitting from trees and smashing lifeless to the frozen floor of the woods.
Power is out. No running water, therefore no using indoor toilets. A mishmash of candles for light awakens our respect for modern conveniences. How best to save the food in the freezer and fridge?
Power Company’s emergency service phone line fails to accommodate the influx of cries for help. “Try back again”… in five hours.
The elderly neighbour doesn’t answer her phone. Trees snapping and cracking tingle nerves. Our never-used generator doesn’t start.
Chainsaws out, trunks and boughs severed and tossed aside, the lane is cleared so my beloved can drive to the nearest hamlet to pick up a borrowed generator. As I wait for their return, I move from one window to the next, checking for threat of a spruce or birch falling on the house.
Ringing landline jerks me out of concentrated focus. My beloved’s voice… neighbour’s power line hurled to the ground but a short distance from her front door. Fingers crossed, prayers shot heavenward, I call the emergency power company service line again. Celebration… on hold rather than not answering altogether. Advised of a lengthy wait-time, callback option is exercised.
Temperature rises. Ice begins melting. Saturated limbs continue breaking, some strangled by nearby dismembered boughs, some hanging by threads of bark, others falling lifeless to the soppy earth below.
Hours pass slowly into the next day. We continue our scramble to navigate the constant change forced upon us.
The noisy drone of a small generator is graciously endured as it powers the fridge and freezer. Well-water boils in a pot blackened by camp-stove flames.
Though ill-advised, I venture outside to assess the damage in our yard… and to breathe in fresh, moist air that promises to temper one’s worry. My dogs’ tails would normally swish happily at the thought of an outdoor adventure, but there’s no swishing… sensing danger and uncertainty. Will the wind pick up and cause further havoc? My much-loved canines stick close to my thigh.
In but a few paces, I lose count of the number of uprooted trees next to our house, their robust roots leaving small craters in their wake. A few paces further and it’s hard not to blink twice at the row of 50-footers now standing 25 feet tall, their tops lopped off as if a helicopter with an aerial blade completed its mission. Meanwhile, spear-like remains of maples and birch with limbs sheared clean present as fierce sculptures!
The sound of a squealing pig soars through the air, leaving me stock-still. Canine feet and my pair sink into the soft earth, our ears desperate to understand. Smoke! We sniff, our noses lifted to identify the scent stuck to the muggy air. Roasting vegetables? Smouldering greens?
Panic rips through me. Propane tank… hit by a tree? Dogs and I run towards the house just as a power line snaps, writhing briefly before coming to a rest across our path. Stunned, we stand mute. Is it safe to jump over the limp metal stripe on the grass, or should we risk going into the bush to get around it?
As if understanding my reluctance, the dogs canter over the cable without incident. I follow.
“Wow! You have quite a problem here, mam,” the electrical expert comments, his glance following the length of the strewn power line as it enters the woods. “Power line burned right through an ash tree! You’re lucky it’s so wet that fire didn’t take hold. We’ll get this fixed up!”
The expert drives his large repair truck across the yard and into the field to further assess the extent of damage that he and his team will have to deal with. Will the last bit of daylight be enough for them to complete the task?
It’s not long before the electrical expert appears again, this time followed by a train of three heavy-duty mobile crane trucks. Hours pass. We continue our wait, lighting candles to thwart darkness. My thoughts wander to those who struggle with uncertainties most days in their lives, and to those who could never understand how attached Canadians are to their conveniences. My gratitude for my home and country swells.
The owls are silent. I realize that over the past few days, the sight and sound of the eagles, doves, and moose that live in our woods is lost. I quietly hope that each continues to create its home in our woodland in spite of the damage or destruction to current dwellings. Indeed, my brief sojourn outside earlier in the day bore witness to fallen nests, organic constructions that otherwise remain sturdy over decades of wind, rain, and snow storms.
Hours later… The electrical repair expert waits with us for his crew to confirm that the power line is repaired, its function fully restored. It’s late. It’s dark. He tells us that his crew has been working around the clock over the past few days, traveling throughout our region to repair fallen lines. While we chat with fingers crossed, emotions fluctuate between hope and doubt.
“Never have I experienced an ice storm such as this in my lifetime!” a seventy-five year old teacher friend expresses. “Rare. Never been nothin’ like it!” says an aging farmer. “That was something else!” says a retired minister, born and raised in the area.
We’ve been here two decades, and indeed, this storm is unique in every way. It’s impossible to adequately describe the intense beauty of the thick ice that wrapped itself around every trunk and branch, that coated each leaf. Greens were greener. Rough bark was slick, smooth and impenetrable.
The melting ice did nourish parched ground, allowing farmers’ seeded fields to drink. Inspiring it has been to see the leafy renewal on trees left standing.
How disheartening it is to hear continual cracking and snapping when hot, dry winds rip through the area, whipping tree tops and limbs left dangling after the ice devastation. How overwhelming it is to face the massive clean-up needed over the next few months.
How thankful we are that no one was injured and that wet leaves suffocated flames from the power line in our woods, all because of rain that morphed into a rare ice storm on the weekend of May 21st in the 21st year of this century!