Monday, June 29, 2009

Ankle Deep & Hands Plunged

As I stood ankle-deep and hands-plunged in the rapidly rising water, I wondered -- did I really want to leave this life as a result of being welded to a municipal catch basin by an errant bolt of lightning?

On the other hand it would make a pretty entertaining essay.

The influx of H2O was the result of an unusually heavy rain that blew through our neighborhood at around 4:30 last Friday afternoon. Strong winds, hale, and continuous thunder and lightning accompanied the deluge, which left over three inches of rain in less than an hour.

I was inside the house having just returned from a mulch run to our local nursery to the west while Mars was east, across the river in the town of Glastonbury -- about five miles away. We knew that storms were predicted for late that afternoon and had made our plans based upon a 3:45 check of the hour-by-hour forecast at "" which told us that the bad weather would not arrive until at least two hours later. It was wrong.

I had just unloaded my eight bags of cedar bark and walked into the house when the rain began and the power went off. Then on. Then off. Then on. Then off for real.

I grabbed the crossword puzzle and picked a location near a window for natural light. Disturbingly large-sounding objects bounced off the roof and siding. After filling in about ten words I heard a car horn honking at the three-way intersection next to our property.

When I looked out I saw a large branch from one of our oak trees lying akimbo on our front lawn, and wheel-high puddles of water on the road. I donned my Gortex jacket, stepped into my ankle high Muck Boots, slipped on my rubber gardening gloves, manually opened our garage door, and stepped into the fray.

I knew what the problem was. The catch basins on all of the sewers in our immediate neighborhood were clogged with tiny branches of leaves that had been blown and floated to their final resting place.

Traffic, which usually is quite light at that hour, was bumper to bumper -- due, I later found out, to nearby street closings caused by falling trees and power lines.

I started at the drainage conduit located right in the intersection. The water was one third of the way up my calves and immediately poured into my no longer waterproof footwear. I removed my watch, pushed up my jacket sleeves, and plunged my hands into the stagnant road-pond, groping blindly for the metal grate into which the bright green oak and maple leaves had wedged themselves. I found it and began scooping out vegetative invaders and tossing them safely onto dry land. Lightning crackled and thunder boomed.

After a minute or so a small whirlpool formed in the wet space in front of me, and water began running down into the drainage system. After clearing the first sewer I moved on to four others -- each equally as deep -- and when I finally looked up from the last one I saw that the road was now completely clear of any standing water.

It was an extremely cathartic moment.

I went inside and changed into dry clothes. About forty-five minutes later Mars arrived home having missed the brunt of the storm while indoors at her meeting. Her normally ten minute ride home took one half hour due to downed trees on the route that took her back home across the Connecticut River.

The rain subsided shortly thereafter. With no electricity we dined on peanut butter sandwiches, read for a while, and then headed out for a walk to survey the destruction in the immediate area.

A broken tree blocked a part of the first major intersection south of our no longer flooded one. Around the corner and down the street a severed tree trunk lay alongside a set of senior apartments, and another one blocked the road into our neighborhood park. On the street north of our house two trees -- one uprooted and one cracked-off -- blocked the road and apparently damaged the electric transformer to our homestead.

The next day morning Mars and I went out to clean up our yard. We assumed -- correctly it turned out -- that the town would pick up tree debris from the storm if it were piled in some orderly fashion on the snow shelf. After two-and-one-half hours of pretty much continuous sawing, raking, and plain old picking up sticks our lawn was largely clear. And our snow shelf mostly buried -- albeit neatly.

We went for a short ride to do some damage voyeurism. And discovered to our considerable surprise that the town green located in the "olde" section of our village had dozens of trees -- most of considerable age if not historical significance -- lying like dead elephants across the grass and draped awkwardly over nearby power lines and front lawns.

The next day the National Weather Service officially declared that a Level One tornado had touched down in Wethersfield.

Sometimes a flood, even with the added frisson of a potential electrocution, is just a side story.

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