Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ice Storm Inspirations

The cold, snow, and ice this year has become a cliché, but as we sit here on the day before yet another winter weather event, I'm going to write about the storms of 2006 and how they inspired our short story collection, Bones of the Woods.
The storm that first inspired the book was not an ice storm at all. It was a flat-line wind event in early July. The heat had been oppressive that day and when I went out to the garden to pick the vegetables for dinner, I felt the uneasiness that comes before a thunderstorm. Call it a hunch, but I called John at the shop and told him to pick up some sausage, cheese, crackers, and fruit for dinner. He said I was being paranoid, but did it anyway.

He had not even finished cutting the meat when the thunder started rumbling and the lights flickered. I decided to light some candles just in case. As the first flame flickered alive, the lights went out. The winds tore at the house and the house groaned. I stood in the candlelit hallway, trying to soothe our panicked dogs. At one point, the winds were so intense, it sounded like the roof was being ripped away.

When it finally let up, John left to go check on his Mom, who lives up the road from us. He had to walk because the road was littered with trees -- not just branches. Whole trees had fallen across the road, as had a telephone pole. His Mom was fine. She had slept through the whole thing.

Unlike most thunderstorms, this one had done nothing to break the heat. We ate our dinner and drank the chilled wine greedily and then went to bed, sleeping naked on top of the covers in the stifling room, without even a breeze now that the storm had passed. In the middle of the night, I woke up thirsty. I tried the tap, not even thinking about the fact that water wouldn't run without a electricity to the pump. No water. I started to panic. I laid there and inventoried everything we had to drink in the house. There was not much and we were trapped.

Sometime during the night, I heard another rumble and saw lights in the picture window. The road crews were clearing the trees from the road. We wouldn't die after all. I watched the line of cars following the tree mover and realized that, as frightening as it was, at least we had not been trapped on the road.

The next morning, we surveyed the damage.Fallen, broken trees lay everywhere. The garden was a loss -- even without the searing week of heat and drought that followed without power.

As the leaves changed colors and fell away from the trees, the shattered bones of the woods stood stark against the sky. Limbs hung dejectedly and some trees were split in two -- their spirits not quite free. I thought about how many years some of those trees had listened to the sounds of these woods and how many stories they must know. I told John what I was thinking and we agreed that we should publish our own collection of short stories named Bones of the Woods.And so, we started to write.

I had just started a story in the collection named "The Protectors" when another fateful storm hit us that December. The weather report threatened a mix of snow and ice. I encouraged John to close the shop early and come home. It was cold, so he planned to make chili for dinner and I was looking forward to its warmth. By the time he arrived home, the freezing rain had started. As he got the chili going, the lights started to flicker.

“I hope we don’t lose power,” I said.

“We won’t,” he assured me.

I went back to writing. Fortunately, I was using my laptop because the power did go out. We settled for cold cuts and crackers for dinner instead of the chili  we craved.

John went out to get wood and hurried back in for the tape recorder and camera.“I thought it was someone shooting,” he said. “I thought how stupid can someone be to be out poaching in an ice storm. Then I realized I was listening to trees and branches falling.”

That night and, in fact, for several days, we listened to trees and branches, already weakened by the summer storms, snap and crash to the ground under the weight of the ice. The next morning, the world was a glistening fairyland. 

I took picture after picture, including the cover picture and some of the others in this book. It was beautiful, yet harsh. We took turns tending the fire, but we were lucky to have one. Many didn’t. We also had the generator and I finished writing “The Protectors” dressed in layers of clothing, sandwiching my words between crunching through the ice to get wood and stoking the fire. Although I didn’t write it until a month later, the idea for “The Thaw” rose from the embers of that fire.

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