Goodnight, Irene

Posted August 29th, 2011

She came and she went.

We spent several days with ear cocked to the weather reports, doing this and that to prepare for assault on our sovereign territory. I excavated white river stones where they had become embedded in dirt washed down from above, added a wide and deep edge of mulch and surfaced that with the newly freed stones and additional rock removed from a location I plan to plant with moss phlox and creeping juniper. Wheelbarrow and trash cans were shifted into the garage. We crammed aluminum folding chairs, a basket and other lightweight miscellany into the garden shed. Plants in breakable pots went from shelving and steps onto the ground. The old picnic table, turned on its side, wedged the greenhouse securely against the wall.

Then we waited for Hurricane Irene. And waited.

My Dear One made pomodoro cruda for our spaghetti, just tomatoes and olive oil, garlic cloves and bunches of basil and oregano, two jalapeño chilis split, and a little salt and pepper macerating in a pot, until being tossed with hot pasta. We continued with our rewatching of The Wire. In the north-northeast, leaden clouds in battle formation marched across the sky. A steady rain furrowed the slope as water saturated the Lower Forty and puddled at the edge of the woods.

hummingbirds dining in the rain

Still the hummingbirds came. Finches and chickadees and titmice and bluebirds withdrew to sheltered nooks but Mimi and Rodolfo and the cast of La Bohème hovered in the snarls of lonicera vine, perched in the dwarf Japanese maple and paused to drink at the feeders. Raindrops pelted with what seemed like lethal force and still emerald feathers reflected light cast from the kitchen windows as the bug-sized birds stoked for the storm ahead.

At 10:00 we checked Irene’s progress one last time. She had her eye on the border between Virginia and Maryland, and whirled across the Eastern Shore and over us just west of the Chesapeake Bay. We went to bed to dream and wait a little longer. I briefly surfaced from a doze and noted that the numbers on the clock said 11:05.

When I awoke, the room was black and windows dark gray rectangles. The clock face was blank. I peed then scrabbled blindly on my dresser top to find my watch with its glowing dial. My Dear One, also wakeful, offered the flashlight he keeps at his bedside. It was 5:35. The streetlamp whose beams intrude through our window, my Dear One said, had blinked out just after eleven, a moment before the electricity followed suit.

By six I was unwilling to remain a-bed. I rehung the bird feeders and exulted in the gushes of wind and the clean, damp air while surveying the damage. It wasn’t bad. The little weeping willow and small river birch were horizontal but not, I hoped, broken. My Dear One joined me. We boiled water for tea—as long as we have gas and a match we have fire on the gas stove—and broke fast with cold cereal and milk. We leafed through unread magazines. We got bored. We explored the yard; raised, staked and pruned the willow and birch; tidied a bit; and noticed that the newspapers had finally arrived.

Later, fortified by a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and enticed by clearing skies and gentle breezes, we drove around the neighborhood. Everywhere was minor detritus; here and there, fallen trees. All and all, we thought, it was not too bad.

encouraging Houdini's Heir out of the street

On Paradise Road I could see a pile of something in the breakdown lane. As I passed it, the heap resolved into a very large snapping turtle and I pulled over. “Houdini!” I exclaimed, remembering the enormous snapper we found shortly after moving into our home. This fellow was not Houdini, however. He was not quite as big. His shell was soft with moss, his left foot shorn of its long nails. I nudged him with my foot. He grabbed my sneaker, just missing my toe. “Okay,” I thought, “be respectful.” Houdini’s Heir seemed committed to crossing the street, aiming perhaps at a grove of trees and a piece of Swan Creek upstream from where he had climbed the bank. After much discussion about the safest way to move the creature, we bundled him like so much dirty laundry into the packing quilt I keep in the back of the car, unbundled him in the ditch across the road and wished him Godspeed. Or her. Is this turtle more correctly addressed, “Houdiniette?”

The Havre de Grace waterfront was serene. We returned home to blue skies and sunshine, and I sat down to practice guitar as my Monday lesson with the Jazzman looms.

I ran through my exercises, the scales of G and D, the version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” with chords and the version of “Ode to Joy” with drone notes. I reviewed “All the Pretty Little Horses,” which I had found in an Alan Lomax songbook, and “The Flower Carol” as sung by Jean Ritchie, a melody I know as “Good King Wenceslas.”

I closed with a song I will play for the Jazzman tomorrow. I figured it out myself: “Goodnight Irene.”

There is still no electricity, though, and it is 4:50 pm as I write these words.

the sun after the storm

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