My Dad and I have an annual tradition of taking a day in mid-October and going on a road trip looking for interesting foliage. Each year we choose a different New England journey. This year, we had the opportunity to travel several of the back roads in central and southern Vermont. It’s been a couple of months since Hurricane Irene hit the area and we were shocked to see the state of things at this point. Saying this, I will also say, it was astounding to see how much has already been done to remedy storm damage in the area. So, trying to imagine the extent of the original devastation is rather daunting, to say the least, not having been there since prior to the fateful storm.
Long stretches of brand new roadway bear witness to serious damage in multiple areas. Twisted sections of guardrail still coil along many roadsides, no doubt waiting for higher priority projects to be completed before being dealt with.
Stretches of river seemingly missing or dislocated, sometimes, diverted to places I know they did not flow in recent memory. Entire hillsides slid into roads and rivers, needing to be cleared away, one truck load at a time.
My Dad and I spent the day meandering, with an eventual destination of the Weston Country Store in sight. We were rerouted several times due to road construction, detoured often, down back roads we were unfamiliar with, which, when you are in no hurry, as we were not in a hurry, was rather fun. I imagine the locals don’t see it that way at all. When we were not actually detoured, temporarily one-lane roads along long stretches of road reconstruction frequently delayed us.
We left New Hampshire and headed to Weston via Quechee Vermont. I was curious to see the rumored damage to a region I regularly visit, the village of Quechee. We drove to the Mill where the Simon Pearce Glassblowing studio and restaurant are located. Even though I’d heard there was damage to the road near the covered bridge, I was entirely unprepared for the extent of the destruction we were faced with as we approached.
Miraculously, the covered bridge in Quechee center remains in the middle of the Ottaquechee River. Hauntingly, the road at both ends of the bridge, has simply disappeared. The building on the corner nearest the mill, leans precariously into the river, sections obviously missing… The riverbank is unrecognizable, much wider than in memory, with angry, ugly slashes gashed into it on both sides.
When we could absorb no more, we continued west through Woodstock and Bridgewater, following along the Ottaquechee River, and were shocked to see homes, garages and other entire buildings slumped along the road and riversides. Most were clearly dislocated from their foundations; some apparently nowhere near where they started out. It was all very surreal. We observed numerous acres of mud where fields of crops or low-lying buildings once were. There was heavy construction equipment seemingly everywhere, in roads and rivers.
Vehicle carcasses were in rivers and over turned on the shores. Lakes looked like chocolate milk, frothy and brown with mud and debris. Whole giant trees, roots and all, lay scattered like toys in a child’s building set. Items high up in trees still somehow rooted in the ground, never meant to be in trees, evidently, caught there during crazy high winds and water. Dad and I know that area pretty well and we’d been reasonably well informed about the storm damage, nonetheless; we found ourselves shaking our heads over and over at each new visual affront. It was a gruesome reminder of nature’s fury.
The good news is, things are being repaired in a hurry and the foliage is still glowing with rich color. It was still Vermont in the autumn, but it was a Vermont we barely recognized. It was rather like visiting an old friend in the hospital who has survived a terrible accident. They look not at all like themselves but their attitude is still upbeat and disposition as cheerful as ever. You come away knowing things will be okay in the end and you wish them a speedy recovery.
Dad and I still had a great time. We visited the Weston Country Store where Dad stocked up on Bay Rum aftershave and then we had a nice picnic on the Green nearby. We drove back home a bit circuitously, discovering even more ‘new to us’ back roads.
I will return soon to Vermont to check and report on the progress of the patient. Meanwhile, your prayers and well wishes will be appreciated I’m sure!