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The Damage Done. August 30, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Love and Death.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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.


1. Bob - August 30, 2011


I can’t think of anything else to say.

2. jomegat - August 31, 2011

Man. At least you were able to document those beautiful places before they were taken away.

jomegat - August 31, 2011

I just keep coming back to this. It is utterly astounding. Our Pathfinder Club was supposed to camp at Molly Stark next month. I don’t think that can possibly happen.

3. Randal Graves - August 31, 2011

Well damn. BBQers have more spirit than most, I’ll give ’em that.

4. Paul in ABQ - August 31, 2011

Ralph, I am so sorry. Impermanence is the nature of things but we tend to have trouble adapting to it. A cyberhug to you and your beloved territory from dry New Mexico. Glad you and the people you know are all right. The tree people and the water people and the bones of the Creator (rocks) will continue in new patterns.

5. kim - August 31, 2011

The guy on the right looks like Timothy Hutton!

6. kim - August 31, 2011

shoot – part of my answer deleted !

Glad you are alright at least, but nature – while gorgeous – is also strong and dangerous. I hope you have pictures of your favorite spots, and if not, at least the memories are there. So sorry you have lost some things that are dear to you.

7. Louise Banks - August 31, 2011

How heartbreaking. Witness to power of nature!!!!

8. Omri - August 31, 2011

Last year I spent a week in Austria, where there is similar terrain, and similar risk of massive flooding. Our government officials really need to visit there and see what the Austrians built to protect themselves. The answer is mostly that they built LESS. Most of the roads in the mountainous areas are 2-way, 1 lane. Only the major roads are 2 lane. And the 4 lanes? That’s the autobahn, which does not reach very far.

9. Backwater - August 31, 2011

Condolences, CR. I’ve witnessed the death, at Mother Nature’s hand, of landscapes I loved. I know the deep feel of that hurt.

10. Surface Tension « Jomegat’s Weblog - August 31, 2011

[…] Vermont has not been getting more news coverage following TS Irene. In my blogroll I have a link to Little Bang Theory. I have been reading his blog for a year or two. He lives in Western MA near Southern VT, and he […]

11. susan - August 31, 2011

Oh, CR, I’m so very sorry to see these pictures and read what you’ve written about the disaster that struck your beautiful home. I don’t know what else to say.

12. littlebangtheory - August 31, 2011

Bob, you’ve seen similar with the mountaintop-removal mining down your [former] way, which might just be worse, as it’s driven by greed rather than by the forces of nature. And it’s continuing daily. That doesn’t make this loss any easier, just a bit less lonely.

jomegat, all of our State facilities were closed last time I checked, but many weren’t affected and could be open by your planned dates. Don’t abandon your plans yet – you might still have a great visit, and we need the visitors!

Randal, yeah, they’re troopers, as all good red-necks are. Killer as friends, worse as enemies! 😉

Paul, I know this, but knowing it and accepting the reality are two different things, and I’m not yet on a plane which accommodates that. But with mentors who are a bit farther along (ahem!), I hope to get there someday.

kim, welcome, and thanks for your thoughts. I’m a big fan of Mother, though she can be cruel at times.

I do indeed have photos, though not nearly enough.

Louise, Hi, thanks for commenting. “Power” is the understatement of the day; it was earth-shaking here on the banks of the Deerfield, and soul-wrenching watching other people’s lives roar by.

Omri, thanks for the thoughts. We here in ‘Murika aren’t into accommodation – it sounds too much like playing on a level playing field! We’d rather, apparently, go for the gold and point fingers when our grandiose plans are thwarted. Some day, I hope, we’ll learn a bit of humility and find a way to cooperate with Mother rather than trying to subjugate her.

Backwater, condolences back atcha. There’s nothing for it but acceptance, think Serenity Prayer, but it still is a bitter pill to swallow.

Surface Tension, you’re a Bot, but welcome anyway. Don’t eat my young and we’ll get along just fine.

jomegat - September 1, 2011

Hey Ralph – Our conference director thinks we should still be able to camp at Molly Stark. I’ve suggested to him that we engage all the Pathfinders in a muck-out operation or two. I’ve not heard back yet, but if he goes for it, we should have about 200 people to throw at the problem. It would be a shame for us to camp in VT and not render such a service.

13. lisahgolden - August 31, 2011

Oh, this made my heart hurt. Nature can be a beast. It gives and it takes.

14. Gail Hatch - September 1, 2011

Thank you for sharing this news. Those of us who are just visitors to the area are saddened by the great loss.

15. Leslie - September 1, 2011

Thank you the heartfelt view of your space. I am so grateful that our damage was minimal, but grieving that so many lost so much.

16. Paul in ABQ - September 1, 2011

I am so not there yet, CR, and given how I bond with physical environments and take change rather gracelessly, I can only imagine the pain right now. Nature will be OK but for now we are not. Glad you are letting yourself grieve. You should. And then you will find new places to love. Hope, relentless as a shoot of grass cracking concrete.

17. Paul in ABQ - September 1, 2011

“new” place to love. Stoopit fingers.

Paul, I never leave typos if I see them. It’s fixed. 😉 – TCR

18. M.P. - September 1, 2011

I haven’t been up to the region yet, but I too feel the grief. It’s eased, somewhat, by knowing this is a natural cycle. The forest will regenerate quickly, as it has over and over. The hillside in Westfield that caught on fire several years ago is so green that you might never know what happened. The road can be washed out, people isolated, but this beautiful world will endure long after we have left.

19. SM - September 1, 2011

Thank you for posting this.

20. littlebangtheory - September 1, 2011

susan, “Doo-doo se passe,” as the French say. It ain’t Katrina, except for the folks who lost everything. I just lost some beautiful places, but there are others. I need to “Man Up” and let go of my provincial concept of permanence.

jomegat, that area is particularly hard-hit, with many of the State recreational areas closed/inaccessible, so dot your i’s before coming. Having said that, all help is welcomed, and the local economies need every bit of “stimulus” we can give them.

Lisa, indeed she is a beast. Kinda like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, so beautiful yet dangerous. Except Mother has every right to get riled up; we’re stirring the pot in an irresponsible way, and the soup we’re serving up may not be quite to our taste.

Gail, Lisa, welcome. I’m trying to share the reality of what’s happened here without playing the pity card, but it’s hard to just be an objective reporter when your world takes this kind of a hit.

Paul, I’ll certainly find new places, as well as new ways of appreciating the old ones. The transition period will be bumpy, but then, life is like that.

M.P., thanks for that. You’re right, this will look right in the future, but it won’t ever approximate what was there before. I’m good with that, now that I’ve had time to take many deep breaths.

SM, you’re welcome, and thanks for stopping by.

21. Laurie B - September 1, 2011

Thanks for that last post. Here in the lowlands we know, but can’t quite see what our hilltown friends are dealing with. Where, oh where will the power lines go? I drove on most of those roads for a few years and picturing the damage is like a visit to old home damaged week.

Otherwise, Mo’ Nature moves on and floods be damned. More rain and Ms. Goldenrod shows up. Hope the rains today didn’t create more havoc up there in your part of the world.

22. Unintentional plates « Pearl with Gun - September 2, 2011

[…] the official stop: cop turning everyone away, road flooded, pavement broken and washed away (I saw pictures, later). Breakfast sandwiches eaten, we turn back, stop for fake meat, coffee, soda at the […]

23. littlebangtheory - September 2, 2011

Laurie, no, we were spared the redux, but southern Vermont got more rain, to no good effect. And you’re right about the power lines – one of the sticking points in replacing the power poles is that there are plenty of places where the rivers and streams ate the shoulders off the roads!

24. Annginette Adelia Anderson - September 3, 2011

CR Thank you for posting so much detail, your personal experiences, and all the pictures. We’re strangers but we send you our sympathy and best wishes for a solid recovery from this extraordinary act of nature.

I’m now a reluctant resident of NJ but lived in Guilford VT for several years and worked in Greenfield so knew some of those back ways you tried to take. During the storm we were on the Maine coast in a remote camp and only heard frightening sound bites like “Vermont is toast” and “Western Mass is a mess” when we got into town afterwards. We’d planned to go from Maine to the Woodstock VT area to camp this weekend but the campground is badly damaged and inaccessible, so we’re home in NJ, glued to the internet looking for more detailed news and information about the places and people we love.

Your blog is heartbreaking but we are so grateful for your detailed reporting. As you hear more about Molly Stark or Shelburne Falls or even Guilford, would you post it? We’ll be regular readers from now on. Thank you again,

— Annie and Matt

25. kkryno - September 3, 2011

My heart goes out to you Ralph, and to all who’ve lost their homes and things that were dear to them. In time there will be reason to find joy, and I know that you’ll share that with us with your beautiful and honest way. Just glad that you are safe.

26. TheCunningRunt - September 4, 2011

Annie, Matt, welcome. I’ve just been looking at photos of the destruction in VT, and it’s absolutely unbelievable – I feel like a whiner, crying about what happened here. It’s awful, but there are degrees of awfulness, and we’re nowhere near the worst-hit. Recovery up there will take a long, long time.

Vikki, thanks. We’ll be back to normal before VT digs out.

27. noodleepoodlee - September 4, 2011

Glad to see you are ok, and sorry to see all the loss and devastation caused by Irene. Hope the bridge of flowers can be saved. Keeping you in my thoughts. Take care.

28. arnly - September 5, 2011

It’s been a great long time (over thirty years) since the destruction of a grove that was my personal teenage holy of holies gave me a grief like what you must feel about your beloved Cold River. In my case I was enraged and outraged at people – it might have been easier if it had been a storm, instead. But I’ll never know that.

I also shed tears – it’s a gut wrenching pain, almost like losing a beloved person, to lose a spot that holds part of your soul. I am feeling for you in your terrible loss.

You and so many in NY and VT in particular. Homes, businesses, beauty spots, communities.., As you said, not going to be the same in your lifetime. The world shifted, turning a major corner, and cutting you all off from things on the other side. How unexpected, how shocking, how heart wrenching. My thoughts are with you and so many others up there.

And, as always, your photos make it real in a way that main stream media can’t touch.

29. littlebangtheory - September 5, 2011

Empathy is a gift, and you’ve got it. Thanks for understanding.

After seeing the destruction others have weathered, I’m a little embarrassed to have felt my own paltry losses so deeply…

But I did. And you gotta let it out to get over it.

Which is where I’m bound.

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