Vaguely I remember the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965. My father gathered us together and took us for a drive. See the USA in your Chevrolet. It was that era still. Perhaps we went along Jones Road in Englewood with its views of New York City now on this odd night not a-glow in brilliant light, but suffused in a desolate darkness. That of course was the point: to see that there was nothing to see but that darkness that surrounds, though usually we mask it, apply the patina carnival-like.
Then there was the Ice Storm of 1973. My older brother took the family car out that night, not a good idea, slid along the ice-coated roadway of Franklin Turnpike in Allendale, New Jersey and smashed the front end, but he was thankfully safe and uninjured.
Not so for the neighbor’s boy, Mike, in Rick Moody’s 1994 novel The Ice Storm that takes place in New Canaan, Connecticut. Mike gets electrocuted by a wayward wire during this post-Thanksgiving weather-crisis. The external storm is but a cruel call and response to the alternately tumultuous and vacuous lives of these affluent souls who well-illustrate William Cronon’s last line of Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England: “The people of plenty are a people of waste.”
Our recent pre-Halloween storm echoes much of the earlier one as described by Moody. “The sound of tree limbs giving out under this weight was like the crackling of gunfire,” he writes. “The worse such storm in thirty years, according to Mike Powers, spokesman for Connecticut Light and Power,” he writes. “The methodical roar of the wind leveled out all unusual night sounds. The whole environment, the ecosystem, had become this one thing,” he writes.
And these storms, these outages are great equalizers. As Moody put it in his novel, “The precipitation fell with a relentless uniformity. On nearby communities with less affluent tax bases – Stamford and Norwalk – as well as on New Canaan’s wealthy.” The trick or treat storm of late October brought low the Mercedes owner who found himself aground at Bishop’s Corner alongside the University of Hartford undergrad in her Ford Focus, both too late for gas, both waiting on industrial deliverance.
Now that the power is back on, one can visit the Connecticut Historical Society to see two current and timely exhibits. Lost Landscapes: Great Trees from Connecticut’s Past features photographs of grand trees that fell long before the last weekend of October. There are a lot of recent photographs that could be appended to this exhibit. The second exhibit which also runs from November, 2011 to March 17, 2012 displays some works by Higganum furniture makers who rescue cut trees that otherwise would be headed for the town dump. These guys have a lot to work with now! Through their craft they can provide “New Life for Connecticut Trees.”
Then there’s the last book by Trinity College professor and poet, the late Hugh Ogden. Published by Higganum Hill Books in 2008, Turtle Island Tree Poems bemoans the destructive nature of society rather than – as one might be won’t to do after the recent storm – destructive nature.
And here’s the poem I wrote not during the storm, but just after:
From a joyless beach
small craft give safe
passage, the cursing made
plain by rule.
In its talking—
what does it say?
Without cards, a keel scrapes
into sedge, stops and
goes with the body
elongated by delay.
In its talking –
what does it say?
The strangeness of it:
such turbid air and one’s wish
to hear monumental despair.