Keep the Lines Open

In a general sense, I know life is better and easier when the lines of communication remain open and flow freely in both directions. Recent notes from friends and family who have been visited by disasters—natural or otherwise—remind me of how spectacularly crucial the communication becomes in moments of crisis. The mere words “it’s okay” have virtual magic powers in those instances when we know that something big is happening and we can’t be there to offer help or consolation. I have mostly been incredibly fortunate in this regard, rarely hearing of terrible goings-on in progress without being able to get regular reports from my connexions in their midst, but like everyone, I have had enough moments of that intense fear and anxiety arising out of ‘dead air‘ to know what high value is in keeping the flow of information steady.

The latest round of wind- and snowstorms in various parts of my loved ones’ worlds is an instant review of those times when, amid a winter howler or while driving through flooded terrain or hunkered down in a good-sized earthquake, I had no easy access to a telephone or (if they were yet a household item) computer. A perfect example from my own memory is one clear winter Saturday when I was working around the house and the winds began picking up significantly. I hadn’t watched the weather forecast and was unaware that any storm was incoming, only realizing over a matter of a couple of hours that the gusts had grown to a point where I was hearing the towering evergreens and maples close to the house creak and branches snap, and could look out the back windows and see Douglas-firs dancing like hula dancers. But nothing major had broken when I looked outside. I was so preoccupied with the impressive action and the whistling and moaning noises of the trees that it startled me into an electric jump when the phone rang.Photo: Storm Clouds

I trotted into the back bedroom to grab the phone where I could sit at bedside and watch the wind’s power at play through the window while reassuring my sister, who had called from a bit farther north to see if everything down our way was safe since the reports of the storm had in fact preceded it northward. I was cheerily reporting on the show and the snug and intact condition of house and inhabitants when I saw a six-by-four-foot section of the back fence uproot twenty feet behind the house and sail like a kite right through the plate glass window. Thankfully, the shards of flying glass went in the direction of the fence, which in turn was not aimed directly at me, so as soon as the crash and shatter quieted I could speak into the receiver that was still gripped in my hand and assure my sister that I was quite all right, tell her what had happened, and promise to call back after the window was closed off again. Because, of course, with that wind, the rain was close behind.

The instance was fortuitous in many ways, not least of which was that my mother arrived on the scene mere moments later, and that we had pieces of plywood in the garage large enough to cover the whole big window with just two hunks. We dutifully covered the new opening with plastic sheeting, screwed plywood panels over it to close, and put up a bit more sealed plastic to hold off the remaining elements, and managed, if I remember right, to beat all but the first sprinkles of the downpour. A good seal was, we knew, important, since in our region there were not only vast swaths of evergreens to knock over or prune limb by limb onto roofs and through windows but many of them were Douglas-firs, a shallow rooted variety that is not hard to fell full length if the wind catches it just right. And in such windstorms in the area, many do go down. Growing up in a family of carpenters, I knew full well that even if we could reach one of the relatives and set up repairs earlier than other folk, their calendars would be jammed for days or weeks after a storm like this one.Photo: Kicking up a Storm

The first order of business was, of course, to call my sister back and tell her that not only were we all safe but the house was closed up tightly again, the bedroom carpet vacuumed about six times over to get all of the glass out of it, the fence section dismantled and relocated outdoors, a temporary barrier put up where it had been so that the neighbors’ horses couldn’t just walk over for an unsupervised visit, and that the wind was already abating, leaving mostly rain in its wake. She, in turn, called the other sisters to pass along the news. No one else was ‘visited’ by anything untoward in that storm, and we all lived happily ever after. And though it was a challenge to reach my uncle’s construction company and get a repair appointment, we even managed that before the day was done. Of course, having closed up the broken window sufficiently, we did have to get in line behind people without roofs, with trees lying lengthwise through their bedrooms, and the like, as was only fair. For them, I could only hope that they hadn’t also been harmed themselves—and could still call their loved ones to report on their safety.