A Collaborative Project, After Irene

(Quill Gordon is away, on assignment.*)

My name is Ken Hall and I live in the Town of Weston, Vermont, uphill and upstream from the village proper. In the wake of the recent disaster known as That Bitch Irene, I am going to do something different with The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond for a time.

Since Irene struck New England two weeks ago, the South has been flooded, parts of Texas have burst into flames, portions of New York and Pennsylvania have washed away and I just read that four million people have been left homeless by flooding in Pakistan. The media scramble to cover event after event, feeding our apparently insatiable appetite for information, disaster, and titillation, serving up portions our devices can process and our attention spans can handle. We watch for a while, shake our heads, thank our lucky stars and move on to the next bit of misfortune while those involved in the last one pick up the pieces, which provides the segue I need to explain just what the heck will be going on around here for the next little while.

This is my friend, Victor Salvo.

I have known Vic since we picked apples together, in 1988, at Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, NH. Vic is a very talented photographer and is involved in a project to rebuild a school in Macombre, Haiti. If ever there was a place left behind in our consciousness, this is it. Hit by a devastating earthquake and series of aftershocks in January of 2010, the people of Haiti still struggle to rebuild and Vic has created a book of photos he took there to help raise funds for the ongoing Haitian recovery effort. You can learn more about Vic’s Haitian project by clicking here. (Even if you can not donate enough to receive the book, you should go to Vic’s web site and check out his photos, but I recommend at least taking advantage of his $20 “Starving Dog” donation option. Donate $20 and Vic will call you on the telephone. Every little bit helps and it will be a memorable call, I promise.)

Vic flew from Florida to Albany, NY, and hitched a ride to my door last week. In addition to hanging out with me, he spent time thumbing rides from place to place, helping with flood clean up and taking pictures. I will be featuring Vic’s photos in this and upcoming posts as he and I team up to share some of Irene’s aftermath and promote the last two weeks of his Haitian fundraising campaign.

Today Vic is hitch-hiking his way to the central part of the state to visit friends and do what he can up there. Safe travels, my furry little friend.

This is me.

My personal losses due to the recent storm were minimal. Nothing at all, compared to the unimaginable losses suffered by others. I live at a headwater on a hill so, while I still have plenty of cleaning up to do, the flooding here was more of a significant event than unmitigated disaster. I am the keeper of a dam, though, and had my fair share of interesting, stressful moments as Irene moved through. We will laugh about those, and other battles later.

Photo by Victor Salvo

The inspiration for whatever this project becomes stems from a conversation Vic had last week with Lyman Orton, owner of the Vermont Country Store, about how important it was to let people know that Vermont was not destroyed by Irene. Knocked down for a bit, perhaps, but the news footage and photos were showing the worst of the worst. Through the hard work of her citizens, Vermont was going to bounce back, better than ever.

House in River, Photo by Victor Salvo

Indeed, within days of the flooding, the Weston village green had been cleared of debris and the show went on that Friday night at the world-famous Weston Playhouse.

Photo by Victor Salvo

“Open” flags flutter in the late summer breeze as businesses reopen, and every day brings news that another road has been made passable again. A week ago, reports showed as many as 166 roads closed in the state; today the list is down to fewer than three dozen. An impressive feat by any standard.

South Woodstock, Photo by Victor Salvo

So, the good news sounds like a Chamber of Commerce slogan (it is): Vermont is open for business! That is another way of saying we would like you to come visit and buy stuff because we could sure use the money right now. It’s true. Some of our roads are rough, with delays and detours common, but you can get around. Drive slowly and prudently, show some respect and courtesy, and forgive some of us if we look to be recovering from a disaster, but come on up.

Even without prompting from Mr. Orton, it must be said that the Vermont Country Store really stepped up and showed a tremendous amount of support for our community. Knowing them, they are helping in many ways, quietly and behind the scenes, but they made a big impact by providing food and much-needed refreshment to the volunteer crews working in Weston to put things back in order. We’re not talking a few boxes of granola bars and some bottled water here. We’re talking grilled lunches, huge sandwiches and hearty chili, salads and more for dozens and dozens of people, all week-long. The staff and management of the Vermont Country Store, as individuals, are our friends and neighbors, touched by disaster like the rest of us; as a company, they are much more than that.

In the big picture, the Town of Weston was lucky. Our infrastructure took a hit, much smaller than it could have been, though, thanks to the efforts of our road crew who worked around the clock.

Route 100

One resident perished in a lake accident while checking on a boat and a few suffered other significant losses, but most of our losses were cultural rather than critical.

The newly renovated and remodeled Playhouse took on up to eight feet of water, wrecking costumes, the cafe, dressing rooms and all sorts of other theater-type stuff. The building is owned by the Weston Community Association and the Theater Company is a separate entity but both suffered losses totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Photo by Victor Salvo

A small dam in Cold Stream Park, remnant of the old water-power days, collapsed and must be dealt with. It is also owned by the Weston Community Association and will require private funds to replace.

Weston is a very small town, with limited resources, and our local assistance organizations are doing what they can to help out with things like replacing winter wood piles and fuel oil supplies that were swept away. Labor and cash are the quickest fixes but in short supply.

In my mind, perhaps the most important cultural loss suffered by our village was the flooding of the Weston Marketplace.

For the latest news and gossip, a hard time and a healthy dose of sarcasm, there was no better place to go. It was also the nearest place to buy gas, milk and beer. And sandwiches. Wicked good sandwiches. If you were looking for a certain person in town, you went to the Weston Marketplace because, sooner or later, that person would wander in.

It looked pretty grim down there, those first days after the flood, and in the days that followed — while nothing could be done before the insurance guy came around — it smelled pretty grim, too. Our hearts went out to the owners, Jeff and Heather, as well as their boys, Will and Max, because not only was their business affected, their residence was in the same building and they had to evacuate. A double whammy for them, to be sure.

Looking back on it now, I am not so sure they were actually given much say in whether or not to re-open. As soon as word got out that the insurance guy had been by, Jeff and Heather were pushed aside and an impromptu cleaning crew went to work. Taking time away from jobs and homes, dozens of people rolled up their sleeves, held their noses and plunged right in.

Photo by Victor Salvo

Peaceful anarchy reigned and things got done. Food that required refrigeration was done for, as was any bottle or can that had been touched by flood water. If only someone had a camera as six people scurried across the road, with armloads of salvaged wine, to a temporary storage area in a barn, but a camera did appear in time to record events leading up to the “taking care of” the cash machine.

Photo by Victor Salvo

In the midst of all that scraping and shifting and scurrying, a group of strangers appeared, asking how they could help. A band of strapping young Christian folk from Philadelphia, they come to Vermont every year with the intention to work and this year they were here. A mad scramble for more buckets and sponges and shovels ensued and after close to 200 man-hours of work the place began to at least smell a little better.

Photo by Victor Salvo

It still stunk pretty good, though, and the giant dumpster in the parking lot leaked vile fluids. A pressure washer appeared, as did lunch from the folks at the Vermont Country Store. Sitting in a circle, grimy and smelly, it was the first time for many to actually put names to the smiling faces they’d acknowledged a hundred times before and neighbors became friends.

Photo by Victor Salvo

It took days to do it, but the old floor has been chipped and scraped away and the new tile should be in next week. The walls have been stripped to the high water mark and are drying out. Compressors and refrigeration units should be on their way soon and, with a lot more hard work, the Weston Marketplace might be back up and running by October, at least on a limited basis, and the heart of our village will beat a bit stronger.

Photo by Victor Salvo

Photo by Victor Salvo

Photo by Victor Salvo

Long Lost Stuff from Behind the Counter, Photo by Victor Salvo

Photo by Victor Salvo

I’ve heard people joke about how hard everyone is working, just to have a place to spend their money again. A village market is a whole lot more than that to its neighbors, but as long as everyone is busting their hump to get things open again, you might as well drive (patiently) on up and spend some of your money, too.

Photo by Victor Salvo

*Quill Gordon’s assignment is one of clean up and damage repair on Long Island. His good friend, Eugene, was last seen in these parts with a hammer in his hand, on a raft made from a door strapped to a pair of compressed gas cylinders. Riding the flood crest in the worst of the storm, it is reported that Eugene used the hammer to knock the valves off the gas cylinders and rocketed away, downstream, into the dark. Evidently, he was rescued and taken in by a nice couple in Montauk and they feel very strongly that it is time for Eugene to go home. I don’t blame them.

Ahead: The Playhouse and a Visit from FEMA; Rainy Day with an Engineer; Chester, Jamaica and South Woodstock; Preparing an Old Fishing Camp for a Big Storm; Beavers and Culverts, and maybe a couple of things I haven’t thought of yet.

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Categories: Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “A Collaborative Project, After Irene

  1. Ken, I’ve been worried about you these post couple of weeks! Glad to hear you’re only a little worse for wear, but I figured you’d handle this disaster with grace and good humor, as you handle everything. Thanks for the update. I love how everyone in your community is working together to bring things back to a semblence of normalcy as quickly as possible.

    The link to your friend Vic’s site didn’t work. I’d like to see what he’s doing in Haiti, and possibly buy his book if I can afford it, so you need to fix the link!

    Hugs from Colorado… Tam 🙂

    • Wow! How nice to hear from the lovely Ms Goldsmith! The veneer of good humor is worn thin in spots but all is well. There are a lot of very tired people who could really use a break but the snow will be flying soon so they just keep on keeping on.

      I tried the links. The one in my sidebar went right on through, but my pop-up blocker made me hold “Ctrl” while I clicked the link in my post to bring it up in another tab. Drop me a line if it doesn’t work for you and I’ll hook you up.

      (Note to readers: Tamera Goldsmith is also quite an accomplished photographer. Click the link in her name above to check out her blog and see some great photos from my old home town!)

  2. Pingback: 2 Friends, 1 Small town, 1 Nasty Irene

  3. I’ve always been a fan , but let me say it’s very cool to see a community come together in the face of adversity. My home away from home on the Outer Banks was hit especially hard. Many of us would have ran down there to help , but unfortunately Hatteras Island is/was cut off from the mainland – unless you have priority access.. The same thing is happening down there now. Neighbors helping neighbors.

    I might visit that stretch of Vermont one fall when the leaves are turning and the trout are rising. I think Eugene and I would be fast friends 🙂

  4. Pingback: From the Government, Here to Help « The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond

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