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The Damage Done. August 30, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Love and Death.
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I got out for a bit yesterday, with the dual intention of finding a passable route westward for today’s travel to work.  The main route through the region (Route 2) was closed just west of town, so I ranged farther east, then north, in search of open roads.

Now, I’d already been stunned by the spectacle of high water and amazed at the wreckage of mud-encrusted Shelburne Falls, but with the water levels dropping, a whole new level of devastation was being revealed.

I got to Shelburne, then headed north on Route 112 through Colrain.  At the hamlet of Lyonsville, the first bridge was closed – the roadway, gone:

I back-tracked, knowing a long-cut through the hills.

Beyond the bridge was more destruction.  Dams:



Not gone, but nonetheless destroyed.  These high tension lines suspended a mangled tower over the North river.  They’re fully loaded, supplying a large part of the region with power, and can’t be shut down until a reach-around is arranged.  Good luck with that.

The road northward through Halifax, VT was, shall we say, “compromised:”

It’s over the State Line and so won’t be my job, but it’s worth noting that the miles of road in this condition in Southern Vermont are nearly uncountable.

Jacksonville, VT took a monstrous hit; they opened the Glory Hole at Whitingham Reservoir to avert a dam breach, but totaled a lot of the places downstream, including the Honore  (formerly North River) Winery:

It wouldn’t be there at all if the dam had let loose, so I’d say this mess qualifies as the Lesser of Several Evils.

I stopped to inquire about the way westward, and learned that it wasn’t going to happen – Wilmington was unreachable by land by any means.  Bennington, the next large city going west, was similarly unreachable.  National Guard helicopters were doing the essential lifting there.

I headed south at Readsboro, following the Deerfield back south into Massachusetts, making it as far as Dunbar Brook:

It’s gonna take more than asphalt to patch that pothole, I do believe.

A long ride over Monroe Bridge, astonishingly intact, led back through Rowe to the lower part of River Road, where Zoar Gap had reduced the road to one undercut lane.  Finally, I’d found a way out, via Whitcomb Hill Road.  That would be, um, sweet come winter.

With daylight fading I retreated to Charlemont, hoping to get a glimpse of what was keeping Route 2 from opening – it’s the main east-west artery in northern Massachusetts,  and sees a tremendous amount of commercial as well as private traffic.  I slipped on my yellow work vest and hard hat, passing the National Guard roadblock with a business-like wave, stopping to bullshit wth the local police who knew my work, and swerving slowly around the last group of local residents beyond the roadblock:

It was good to see people whose lives had been devastated turning the disaster into a rare opportunity to grill on the double yellow line.  They handed me a hot-dog on home-made jalepeno bread as I passed, admonishing me with a wink to “take pictures.”  They’d been up the road and knew I’d be impressed.

I was.

I know the Cold River along this beautiful stretch of Route 2 well, every swimming hole and sunning rock.  But not today.

Today, it was gone.  Gone!  All of it, the swimming holes, the forested shorelines, the valley I love so much I can taste it, gone.

Route 2, the lifeline of our county, miles of it, gone:

Car sized boulders and a forest’s worth of trees buried the pavement, filled the gaping holes, obliterated the way forward:

And the river was unrecognizable, its massive concrete retaining walls collapsed, its course altered for all time, its beautiful pools obliterated.

I don’t mind saying that I cried.  I’m still grieving as I write this, for the beauty which won’t be back in my lifetime, for the special places I’ll never see again, that no-one will ever see again.  Places I was so looking forward to seeing this Autumn are now lost forever, joining their ancestral mountain fathers in the sea, perhaps to rise again in a billion years, In Sh’Allah.

It’s my job to fix this sort of thing; roads and bridges, that’s what I do.  But when the money’s not there, fixing things takes a long, long time.  In the meantime, while I’m infinitely grateful that everyone I know and love survived this storm, everything  I love didn’t.  And I’m going to miss it.

I know, “It’s a big world.  Find other spots.”  Of course I will.  That’s what we do.

Back at the cold river, I turned and drove back down the valley, stopping for one more burger, served with courage and good cheer by folks who knew exactly what I was feeling:

After all, it’s their  river, too.

Good News And Bad News. August 29, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Love and Death.
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Well, like all rumors, the news that Shelburne Falls was destroyed was, thankfully, somewhat of an overstatement.  The truth is that there was a hell of a lot of damage done, but much of the village was spared.  The sad part is that what was most affected may be irreparably damaged.

By the time I got a good look at the place (by a slightly duplicitous ploy; as I sat at a Route 2 roadblock watching the police turn Eastbound cars around I saw an emergency vehicle go around the police car and continue eastward, so I threw on my yellow roadwork vest and followed the next official-looking vehicle through, shouting “I’m with him!” to the helplessly waving officer) the waters had receded substantially.  I got to the observation deck at the former Mole Hollow Candle store to find the dam running at (by eye) about 10,000 cubic feet per second, compared to a usual summertime high of 1200 cfs:

The Lamson Cuttlery Factory, the complex of red buildings to the left, has by all accounts been rendered junk and may well be demolished; it was quite deeply involved at the height of the flood.

How deeply, you might ask?  Well, if this is 10,000 cfs:

…the whole tree left on the bank attests to what this scene must have looked like at the river’s high point of 40,000 cfs.  The pink building at left used to be a quilt shop; it’s a total loss, and the houses around it may be as well.  I counted perhaps a dozen businesses in the immediate vicinity which are similarly total losses, and suspect there are many more which I missed on my cursory inventory.

At its height the flood did indeed top the Bridge of Flowers and slosh over the deck of the town’s central Steel Bridge:

…but just barely.  A pile of 12″ logs wedged between the steel and stone of the road bridge attests to that:

While at first glance the Bridge of Flowers seemed relatively unscathed:

…it was ghostly silent with no one on it, and a peek around the upriver side yeilded a heart-wrenching sight of structural devastation due to the battering inflicted by passing objects such as great whole oaks, cars, trucks and buses (Crabapple Rafting lost at least one), and the seventy or so van-sized propane tanks ripped from their moorings at the Rice Oil and Propane depot in Charlemont, as well as various deck and barn pieces:

There’s talk that the structure may be a total loss, though at this point it’s just talk.  We’ll have to wait and pray and see what happens.

As long as I was out I threw a load of washed clothes in the dryer at the local laundromat – they doubtless need the business in this nearly shut down town – and ran some errands in Greenfield, absent mindedly hopping on Route 91 Southbound for a quick trip back to  the west side of town, forgetting that the Interstate was closed eight miles farther south because of possible damage to a bridge over the lower Deerfield.  I spent an hour and a half going the short two miles:

Heading back westward, I took one more spin through Shelburne Falls to pick up my laundry and noticed this sign in the window of the great West End Pub, which is one of the riverside businesses suffering enough structural damage so that its fate is dubious at best:

I’ll have more shots soon of my reconnaissance to find a way westward for Tuesday’s return to work.

Goodnight, Irene! August 28, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, Love and Death.
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Irene paid us a visit here in Charlemont, Massachusetts, and though her winds were nowhere near hurricane force by the time she dropped in, she dumped massive amounts of rain on our area, causing flooding the extent of which hasn’t been seen ’round here since 1938.

We woke this Sunday morning to find the Deerfield river (directly across Route 2 from our house) roaring like an Eastbound Train; it was nearly up to the road, despite having what is normally a very tall bank.  We’d managed to purchase a small generator on Saturday evening and set to work running extension cords to crucial areas of the house in case, as was predicted, we lost power.  Of particular concern was the sump pump dug into a pit in our dirt-floored cellar – if the storm was a bad as we were expecting, we could expect to need it.  The last time we lost power was during Spring thaw, and we got three feet of water in the basement before I rigged an alternate power source for the pump.  We lost our furnace, water pump and hot water heater.  It was an expensive episode, and one not to be repeated by lack of foresight.

Sure enough, the lights went out sometime late morning, about the time the seeps in the cellar turned to trickles, then freshets, then torrents.  Our little generator purred into action, powering the pump, chest freezer and a small light downstairs and, intermittently, our refrigerator and modem upstairs; we wanted to be able to keep abreast of developments regarding the weather and emergency alerts.  I’d also picked up a cheap ($6) corded phone at the Dollar Store on the way home from work on Friday; our cordless phones would be useless without household power, and we hadn’t yet found a generator at that point.

The biggest remaining casualty of the loss of power was running water, hot or not; our well’s pump is hard-wired into the breaker panel and can’t be powered by a generator without substantial work by an electrician.  As an alternative I’d filled eight gallon jugs with potable water and a five gallon can for flushing toilets, and Lizz and Holly had lined the house’s drip-line and down-spouts with more five gallon pails just in case.

With the power out and the generator running we checked our systems and, satisfied with their efficacy, walked across the road in a drenching rain to see how the river was doing.

It was doing this:

In case you can’t read that sign, here it is in all its prescient glory:

Excuse the photo quality, that’s a really hard crop of a photo taken in the rain.

Seeing the river so far into the woods (and so close to the road) made us a little nervous, so we hopped into Lizz’s truck to go see just how bad things were getting.  We only got two hundred yards from the house before we came to this:

That’s two feet of flowing water; we gawked for a bit then turned around.

We got farther going eastward, but not much; a bit over a mile down the road we were stopped by a more sinister sight:

The river, out of the frame to the right, was over-topping a small levee in crashing waves more worthy of a seascape.  There’s a dumpster in the distance, floated into the middle of Route 2 and sunk in five feet of water, along with a car which was no longer visible ( if indeed it was still there!)

We headed back toward home and took a series of small back roads up over the hills looking for a way out – if things got much worse, we might need it.  One possible escape route ended at a massive washout, with a ten foot deep gap between us and a new bridge:

That photo was taken through a plastic bag, so sue me if it sucks.  😉

Another attempt ended on a small dirt road, where we were told there was a big crater up ahead with an overturned truck in it.

Lizz and I pooled our collective knowledge of the area’s roads and pieced together a complex route that eventually got us back to Route 2 beyond the east-side flood.  What we found there was a heartbreaking series of submerged corn fields and homes:

…and lots of places where the road was very close to closed.  We stopped to take a few photos, and were met with the sight of trees being uprooted and swept away:

There were massive standing waves where tranquil trout waters normally are this time of year.  At one point the water was well above road level, held back only be the debris piled behind the guard rail.

We continued eastward to see how Shelburne Falls was faring, but as we passed a State Trooper he chased us down.  We stopped, of course (hey, we’re grown-ups) and he told us that if we turned right around we could go home, but if we left, we wouldn’t be allowed back.  We though of Holly at home and the generator and sump pump, and did a u-turn.

On the way back we asked a local fireman who was manning a road-block, if he knew how Shelburne Falls was doing.  He was glum in his response: the Bridge of Flowers had been overtopped long ago.  The entire village had been evacuated, with most of the downtown homes and businesses in deep water.  Local manufacturing legend Lamson Cuttlery was abandoned when their machines went under, likely never to resume production.

Stunned, we retraced our route back through the hills and arrived home as the rain ended and patches of blue began to appear in the sky.  The sight of them was so incongruous in light of the news we’d just received.

A few hours later, the water to our west had receded enough to get through, so we headed into Charlemont to see how our own little town had fared.  Again, we were met with bad news – the elementary school and fire station had both been flooded, the sewerage treatment plant was submerged and inoperable, and all bridges out of town were closed or badly damaged.  Rice Oil and Propane’s Charlemont facility was destroyed, explaining the dozens of huge propane tanks we’d seen floating down the raging river amongst the picnic tables and patio furniture and back yard decks.  Everything near the river was destroyed or damaged beyond salvation:

Zoar Outdoor, a whitewater rafting and kayaking outfit, had lost their equipment barn and several vehicles, including this one, which was washed into the middle of Route 2:

A truck of theirs was reportedly last seen being squeezed under the Route 8A bridge headed for Salmon Falls.

That’s not the Deerfield in the above photo, by the way.  It’s Legate Brook.  The actual river is out of the picture to the left.

We also learned while in town that massive mudslides had closed another portion of Route 2 a couple miles farther west, and that the weight of the debris from this swollen torrent had damaged a bridge way down river, closing Interstate 91 south of Greenfield.  And that the dam on Harriman Reservoir up in Vermont, where all of this water originates, was in grave danger of failing, which would send a wall of water down the valley estimated to be fifteen feet more than we’re currently seeing.  With no way for most of the area’s residents to evacuate, we’re praying that doesn’t happen.

This is one of the most destructive and heartbreaking events I’ve ever seen in these parts, and yet, miraculously, there has as yet been no loss of life.  I guess there’s that to be thankful for, at least.

During the writing of this post the power has come back on, the sump pump is running and we’ve had a hearty dinner of last night’s leftovers, and  I feel like the luckiest man alive.

Now, if I can only find a way to get to work tomorrow.




Shooting In The Dark. August 26, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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My housemate and photographic mentor Lizz came out west this weekend to help bail the fruits of incoming Irene, and as tonight was disarmingly beautiful, we grilled a steak and ate in the dooryard.

After dinner we retired to the garden to practice a bit of what she’d learned about night photography in a workshop out West this past Spring, including light painting and the subtleties of long exposures in the digital realm.  Here’s my first attempt at the genre, a shot of the sunflowers in our garden:

High, thin clouds didn’t quite cooperate with my intention of capturing the stars, and a wireless remote problem had me holding down the shutter release for several minutes, so there’s lots of room for improvement here.  But still, it’s a shot of our sunflowers at night, with the stars up above them, and I’m diggin’ it.  Expect progress on this front as I work out the glitches and get it straight.

A Combo Dam And Waterfall. August 25, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Here’s a spot I recently checked out along Rte 8A in Heath:

I did it as a black & white, thinking I’ll get back there during the Autumn color season for something substantially more saturated.  Winter may yield something interesting as well.

Field Work. August 22, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, Politics and Society.
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There’s something basic and good about working the land.  Plowing and planting, tending and harvesting, mowing and baling.  It’s back-breaking work, but it’s rewarding in a way that only participating in the natural cycle can be.

I encountered Andy on my most recent visit to the high meadows of Windsor, the scene of some of my favorite Western Massachusetts landscapes.  The gate to the stone road leading up over the hill was open, so I drove right in hoping to connect with someone, ask if they minded me being there with Elliot and the gang.  Andy was up to his elbows in hydraulic fluid, doing the knuckle-busting work of getting sleeping farm machinery up and running.  Turns out he’s the guy who tends this Fish and Game property so it’s productive, rather than returning to the tangled wild.  He invited me to shoot away, just don’t drive out into the fields (check!) and don’t get locked in when he leaves.

So I set to shooting, getting a hay wagon in waiting:

…and what they turn the hay with in the field, I don’t know the name of it (* “tedder,” from jomegat in comments):

Anyway, it fluffs and dries it, weather permitting, before baling.

Andy got his old Allis Chalmers up and running (his newer rig was broken) and set to work mowing under charcoal skies:

…while I scurried to get a parting shot of some Goldenrod before it met The Reaper:

It was a New England afternoon with its Wyoming moments; I like that kind of weather.

All of these shots are courtesy of Elliot, with considerable shift on the hay wagon and tons of tilt on the rest.

He’s a good boy, that Elliot.

And approaching home, a nice sunset from the bridge over the Deerfield in the center of town:

And that’s that.


Farm And Field. August 20, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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So, rainy evenings might spoil a picnic, but they serve us photographers well.  There’s drama and contrast to read about, albeit with light low enough to fret over.  Here are a trio of Farm Shots for your consideration.

A rake on a rainy evening:

Curious cows want to know, “Who goes there!”

They followed me to the nearest fence to pose for this shot,

Sweet girlies, those.

What a bunch!

Chickley In The Rain. August 19, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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It rained on the way home from work today.  I paddled eastward over the hills through darkly photogenic fogs, but it was coming down too hard to get out and shoot.

I kept going till I was nearly home, then took advantage of a lightening in the gloom to snap this shot of the Chickley river along Route 8A:

It was an atmospheric scene, but my kit was getting wet pretty quickly, so I beat it.

More Summer Wildflowers. August 19, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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At the risk of looking like a one trick pony, here are a few more shots of wildflowers taken this past week.

Spotted Joe Pie Weed, dotting our meadows with towering sprays of mauvey goodness:

Bur cucumber, an invasive vine with lovely cream flower spikes, topping every bush and shrub within this field of view in Williamstown:

Touch-me-not (or Jewel weed, as you wish) in both its orange and yellow incarnations:

This leafy succulent frequently grows amidst poison ivy and, miracle of miracles, its thick, aloe-like stem fluids can be applied to the skin to prevent the deleterious effects of the latter!

And a gone-by sprig of Queen Anne’s Lace, assuming its birds-nest late form as it stands guard for a bit of purple Cow vetch at its feet:

I used a variety of lenses to get these shots, from Elliot for the Bur cucumber to Ziggy for that last one and probably Ollie for the others; it’s been a long week, and I’m really not remembering all the details.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  Weather’s coming, so something other than wildflowers is likely to appear here soon.

Bull Thistle. August 18, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, macro photos.
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Summer is bloom-time for Bull thistle in these parts:

This is the largest of our common thistles, with robust shaving-brush-size flowers atop stalks reaching five or six feet in height:

Despite the gnarliness of its spiny foliage (a thicket of this stuff would be impenetrable; thankfully, it isn’t that gregarious) I love this stuff for its bold color and I-Dare-You attitude.

Bumble bees love it, too!

These last two shots were taken with Ziggy; the first was courtesy of Elliot.