The ice storm cometh
I’m writing this week from a lounge chair at my Uncle TL’s, with “Wheel of Fortune” in the background, a rare Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi on the table next me, and I’m as happy as a lark who started her day in a 54-degree house with no electric.
I am crossing my fingers that by the time this column runs, we all have electric back and the ice storm that came on Feb. 15 is just a bad memory. And what a memory it will be. I tell you, I’ve weathered some pretty extreme storms in the holler: blizzards that left us snowbound and with no electric, floods where we could barely get over the brides and see the road through rushing water, and even the occasional tornado warning (making me very grateful for a well-built basement with no windows), and I’ve been scared plenty driving through bad weather to get home. But y’all, last Monday was the first time I’ve been scared of the weather while being in my own house.
You know, one of the best things about living in West Virginia is that we are surrounded by trees. In fact, people often choose where they live based on the cluster of trees around their house site. We like the privacy trees afford us. We like the critters that live in them, and we like how they change colors in the fall. We even like how the bare branches look in the snow.
But no one, no one, enjoys the look of branches encased in an inch of ice, and we like those branches even less when they start snapping, and then the trees start falling.
Our power went out right before 6 p.m., the cracking sound of a tree going down followed by all the lights going out. Minutes later, there was total darkness, that deep winter darkness that keeps us all inside and cozied up near lamps and fires. But I’ve worked on being more prepared for inclement weather: I grabbed up my freshly-batteried flashlights, turned on the gas fireplaces, tossed on the fuzziest pairs of socks I own, and settled down with a good book, ready to read away the hours until bedtime. That’s when the sound of trees falling like bombs started.
Now, we had the opportunity this summer to have a bunch of dead trees removed and the branches most precariously hanging near the house trimmed, so in my mind, I knew that I was in less danger than I might have been six months ago. But my mind couldn’t contemplate that crashing sound, the whoosh and bang of a tree giving way to the weight of ice on it. Every few minutes the sounds of that storm would cut through my reading: that heavy, icy rain pounding down outside, twigs hitting the deck, larger branches bouncing off the metal roof, and that constant whoosh and bang of big trees falling through the woods.
In the light, those sounds may not have seemed so frightening. But there in the near-dark, all by myself, and realizing with every bang that my chances of getting out of the hollow in the morning getting slimmer and slimmer: it scared me. Because what if one of those trees came down on my house? What would I do if one came crashing through the living room, and me with no way to get out till morning?
So of course, by the time I was getting into bed, I was a nervous wreck. I used what precious battery I had left on my iPad to play a book on tape, hoping that would help block out the falling tree sounds. It worked, until the iPad battery died, and then it was a fitful few hours until daylight finally came and I could see what I had only been imagining the night before.
One of the biggest bangs I apparently heard was my electric pole snapping in half from the weight of the trees on the line, leaving my entire holler without electric, and the line leading from the pole to my house draped across my deck and laying across the yard. That line was laying across the path that lets me get to my mom’s house, so there was no going to her place to enjoy her Generac, and I could see as I went out to my truck to turn it on and charge my phone that there were trees on the road everywhere. I was trapped on all sides, just as I feared.
AEP had been notified last night that there was a line down, and I knew that I wasn’t an anomaly: 100,000 people in West Virginia had lost power last night, and my Facebook feed was lit up with pictures of trees across lines. And I knew I was luckier than most: that city water was still flowing through my taps, that natural gas was still burning through my fireplaces, and I had just filled up my truck, so it could run as long as I needed it to, if I needed to charge my phone, but that wouldn’t be necessary, because I managed to unearth an honest-to-God 1990s-style phone that, unlike my cordless ones, just needed plugged into the phone line. I might leave it plugged in forever now, just as a reminder why some technologies never go out of style.
I’m luckier than most too because I am surrounded by family and friends who either like me or love to chainsaw things (maybe a combo of both). Last week, my Uncle TL and my dad’s buddies had sawed out a tree that fell in last week’s storm so I could get out; this time, it was Cousin Chad and his posse of Next Generation Ransons who got me (and my million bags of stuff, lol) out. They cut out trees and whisked me safely up to Chad’s house (and his Generac) in a side-by-side, where his awesome girlfriend, Brooke, fed me one of the best soups I’ve eaten in the long time (Cheeseburger-seriously, it was so good) and let me recharge my phone all the way while waiting for the Tree Cutting Crew to come back.
And they came back with good news: a lineman crew had come up to assess the damage, and were going to set a new pole possibly as soon as the next day. Which was really nice to hear, because I’m adult enough to know that it makes the most sense for them to fix the electric of populous areas first, then work their way through the more rural parts of the county. We’re not rural by JCO standards, but there’s not a lot of us in the hollow, so it would make total sense that we’d be lower on the priority list, even with lines hanging so low, they’d make good Limbo ropes.
So once I was charged up, fed, and updated about the day’s goings on, Cousin Chad sent me off in a borrowed vehicle to stay with our city relatives, Uncle TL and Aunt Cindy (Evans counts as a city, in West Virginia terms), who had the garage door open and waiting on me. Now I’m sitting here in the quiet of their warm, snug house, with no trees falling and scaring me to death, and I’m so grateful for the supreme efforts and hospitality of family that will let me get a good night’s rest, and beyond grateful for all the linemen who are working around the clock so we can all rest comfortably in our houses and beds, even when they haven’t seen theirs for weeks.
Now, my goal is that I’m back in my house by the time you read this column, but already the rumblings of an additional 3-6” of snow has me convinced that I might be in Evans for longer than I originally planned (so if you see me Monday wearing the same sweater you saw me wearing Friday, you keep that observation to yourself. I only packed three outfits, lol). And there will still be people who haven’t gotten electric back from the storm that happened the Thursday before Valentine’s Day, so I’m not going to complain if the electric goes off, then comes back on, back and forth however many times between here and spring, as long as it always keeps coming on, and as long as the trees stay standing.
To borrow from “The Mandalorian:” this is the way, if you want to live among the trees of West Virginia. Enjoy the privacy and the beauty, but be prepared for them to turn on you, when the ice storm cometh. And it might be years between, but it always cometh eventually.