Sunday, December 17, 2006

wind blown community

Washington had a little wind on Thursday. Not the kind my grandfather typically inflicted upon us following a traditional English roast, but wind that howled at up to 115 mph east of Mount Rainier.

Trees crashed through houses, blocked streets, tackled telephone wires, and brought down cable poles. Over a million homes and businesses were blacked out; and as temperatures dropped to zero and below, most were also left without heat. Traffic lights, gas stations, and major business centers were all dark. And because no power meant no security, few banks, ATMs, or shopping malls were open for business.

Meetings got cancelled. Appointments rescheduled. And the handful of us who showed up for work, stood around second-guessing the next course of action before getting in our cars and forming the parking lot that used to be a freeway. A ten minute drive through back streets took over an hour. The smell of fresh pine leaves permeated the air, even with windows shut. And familiar roads—now covered in branches, tree stumps, loose wires, trash cans, fallen street lights—became maze-like. Stop, turnaround, up the hill. Oops, blocked. Stop, turnaround, cut through this housing estate; oops. You get the picture … and I was glad to get home.

Despite my Eskimo boots and ski jacket, the wind, now much calmer, cut right through me as I stepped across the lawn picking up wind-torn roof tiles. I looked at the damage to the newly built extension on the home down the road. It’s taller than most of the other houses on the water, and the angry wind of the night before had ripped away two thirds of the roof, taking almost half of the neighboring roof with it.

Feeling edgy, not knowing what to do, I headed up the hill to see what was going on. The coffee shop had power, and although I was often the only customer in there, today all armchairs were filled with people sharing stories of caved in ceilings, collapsed sheds, boat docks folded like accordions, kid’s swing sets that ended up three houses away, and hundreds of dollars worth of food spoiling in the freezer.

Some folks were very matter of fact; they’d been through much worse, and probably would again. Others worried how they would keep their kids warm that night, if their insurance would cover the damage their Douglas Fir did to their neighbor's garage, or how their aged parents were coping.

I thought about the chaos of Christmas that engulfed us up until the day before the storm blew in, and how quickly the pressures of crass commercialism had been replaced with pressures of a different kind, especially for those whose homes were damaged. The important things of yesterday—getting Jack’s Laptop, what to buy Uncle H, mailing baby Ali’s gift—suddenly seemed insignificant. In a surreal way, in spite of (or maybe, because of) the tension of the unknown and the additional financial burdens people talked of, I sensed that most were enjoying this camaraderie blown in by the wind. A community of strangers quickly formed in times of need, but, I wonder, how quickly forgotten.


mist1 said...

Do they make Eskimo boots with a heel?

Jennifer AKA keewee said...

A storm like the one we have just gone through, sure brings everything back into perspective.
We were without power just three days, unlike others who will be without, for many more days. It makes you stop and count your blessings.

andrea said...

Of course -- you, too! Another Seattle or Portlander that I was wondering about.

This sort of extreme weather certainly does call into play all kinds of unexpected twists/reactions in human relationships, doesn't it? My elderly dad didn't get his power back until yesterday, after only being home from hospital for 2 days. I felt like a harridan ordering my brother to pick him up and take him home (my other brother and I have stairs he can't negotiate). I think they drove each other crazy! :)

Wide Lawns said...

Wow, it sounds like a cold version of what we have down here in the Fall. I'm glad you're ok. Its wonderful how people come together when things like this happen. During our hurricanes I had some of the best experiences, coming together with strangers, spending time with neighbors I had always been to busy to stop and talk with.

Bibi said...

Mist1 ... well I haven't found any Eskimo boots with heels, but wouldn't they be fun!

Kewee ... it does put things in perspective. And our storm was in the minor league compared to other places around the world.

Andrea ... but that's what family's for, to drive each other crazy ;-) Glad all worked out well for him.

Wide lawns ... that's quite a title! I'm sure our storm was nothing compared to those you've seen in Florida, but it's all relative. And it's nice to see people come together.

Keshi said...

Storms everywhere ha..even in my life right now :)


MSU gal said...

Great post.

My ex and I had a restaurant down south for a couple of years and every time a bad storm or hurricane winds came through we would get packed out and hear all the stories. I believe people get a real sense of comfort in commiserating at the local cafe.

I saw the weather on the news and thought of you the other day! Glad to hear everything is okay.

Anonymous said...

mother nature is mad at the west coast for some reason.
first the rain
then the the ice storm
then the wind storm

We got some of it on the east side.... but nothing like that.

Maybe the rest of the year will be okay (whats left 2 weeks????)

Deirdre said...

Gosh, I guess I haven't been watching the news the past few days. How did I miss this? I'm glad all is well with you.

Anonymous said...

Adversity does have a way of bringing people together and reminding us of what's really important. But you're right that this feeling fades quickly, and we're soon back in our own insular little worlds.

Great post, and I'm glad you survived the storm!

Anonymous said...

that community feeling disapears when people feel "normal" again. I sat on top of the northridge quake in Ca when it happened.. neighbors couldn't do enough for each other.. it wasn't long at all until you didn't see hide nor hair of them again... but it's still nice to know that everyone will gather round in emergencies

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

Yeah, but the fleeting nature of this camaraderie is what gives it it's special flavour.

It's often the same, albeit it to a less catastrophic degree, when the busses run late.

People just strike up conversation because they suddenly have something in common.

Every cloud...

Anonymous said...

The NWest has been seeing strange things this year. Enjoyed reading your perspective and am glad you are ok.

Kiyotoe said...

1st of all, glad you're alright up there in my future home.

2ndly (i made that up), it's always a good feeling when a community/society comes together after something tragic takes place. And equally as unfortunate when the effects of said tragedy wear off and everybody goes back to not liking each other so much.

Yasmine Galenorn said...

Batten up, Vicki...we're due for another storm tonight, albeit milder, but with gusts up to 50 mph, trees that have roots systems compromised by last week's wild wind could go down. Crossing fingers here. We got our power back Saturday evening, but just a few blocks away, there are whole strips still out. The tangle of trees and wires were freaky to see, and everywhere, the streets are still carpeted with needles and branches.


Anonymous said...

Merry christmas Vicki! :o)

Bibi said...

Oh, I've been bad... I read all your comments when they came in, but I've been bad about replying this time. Things just got really hectic toward the holiday and then I was gone for a while.

Thanks to you all for your well wishes and hope your Christmas break was great and that you have something exciting planned for New Year's Eve!!!