could happen to you.
During the winter, frankly, it sucks living
in rural New England. It's cold -- no, freezing cold. Every morning
begins with your bare feet hitting the cold floor, and, on a good
day, transforms into time spent scraping clear your windshield.
On a bad day it turns into shoveling wet, heavy snow. The snow?
Sure it's pretty. If you ski, its a plus. Otherwise, forget
it. Bah, freakin'humbug.
But here's the thing: other than the odd
blizzard or ice storm, which are inconvenient but certainly survivable,
it's about the safest place in the country to live. Stay off the
mountains when its bitter cold, don't get lost in the woods,
don't drown in a river, and you're good. No tornadoes (well, hardly
any), no hurricanes (unless you're on the coast, and even then,
they're damn rare), no mudslides, wildfires, flooding, earthquakes,
tsunamis. No war, drug cartels fighting, ferries capsizing, terrorist
attacks, alligators, snakes or sharks.
I see people struggling for their lives
on TV, see the photos in the newspaper of homes turned into so many
splintered boards, boats and cars tossed about like toys a churlish
child is finished with, people wading through water chest deep,
carrying their children or most-cherished belongings.
But it's THERE, not HERE, see. These things
don't happen here, where it's safe. They happen in Florida, India,
Japan or Africa.
For three weeks now I've been seeing a
man named Bill Seale in my mind. I hardly knew him, but he's the
most real, most tangible reminder I have that safety is illusory
-- like religion, it's something we create in our minds because
without it, we can't cope with the reality of how fragile and fleeting
our existence is.
And, like religion, there will come a
time when those beliefs are put to the test, when we find out whether
we were right.
Such a night happened three weeks ago,
when the remnants of Hurricane Tammy sat over New Hampshire, dumping
inch after inch of rain on us for two days. There were no real wind
problems, few limbs down and no trailers whisked away. Tammy, such
that she was, was far beyond that by the time it reached New England.
But there was rain, sheets of rain that swelled streams and rivers,
pushed lakes and ponds past the point of retention.
Many in Keene, where I live, are still
recovering their belongings from flooded basements. Some were evacuated;
others tried to save their homes, without success. We were the lucky
In Alstead, ten miles north, town officials
spent Saturday night in a downpour going house-to-house, telling
people below the Lake Warren dam to get out while they could. The
town's police chief went to Bill Seale's farm three times, telling
him he should leave. But Bill Seale was a stubborn man, and wouldn't
When I see Bill Seale, I see him standing
in his fields, defiantly watching a thirty-foot wall of water wipe
out everything he loved in life. It took his farm, it took his sugarhouse,
and when it was done, Bill Seale's body was found face down in a
cornfield far down the Cold River.
I think of Bill Seale because it's easier
than thinking of the other six people killed nearby during the flash-flooding
that struck here on October 9. I knew Bill Seale and I didn't know
the rest. I remember Bill and his wife eagerly showing my kids their
sugaring operation on a cold autumn day three years ago. We'd gone
to his house in answer to a classified ad for cheap maple syrup,
and we've gotten our syrup from him ever since.
Along with the rest of his homestead,
that sugar shack was wiped clean off the earth when the flooding
So when something reminds me of that day,
Bill Seale is what I think of.
In the months after Sept. 11, 2001, I
remember looking up suspiciously every time I heard an airplane.
I remember the fear of opening the mail after the anthrax threat.
And, as I said, I live nowhere near New York or D.C., in a city
no one would ever consider a terrorist target (although I had an
answer for that one: what better way to strike fear into the heartland
than to pick a nondescript city away from the action, Any City,
if you will? Wouldn't that have scared the piss out of everyone
in the country, not to be safe in urban OR rural settings?). Everything
seemed surreal, like a dream that we were all slogging through,
waiting for the alarm to ring.
I feel the same way now. For weeks everything
has seemed off-kilter, like there's a cloud hanging over this area.
Of course, for weeks, there WAS a cloud hanging over this area,
dumping rain on us. That was the problem to begin with. But this
has been different, a feeling that maybe it's not quite over yet.
There are people who claim all these natural
disasters the hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and fires
are signs of the impending apocalypse, the Ending Time. Generally,
I think, they are religious people convinced some biblical prophecy
is at hand.
There are others, less fundamentalist,
perhaps, who say it's simply the planet fighting back, but who are
just as convinced this means "the end."
I don't see it as an end, but I sure wish
it would feel like an end has been reached. I still believe I live
in one of the safest places in the country, but now there's a bit
more nagging doubt, a bit more apprehension that something unexpected
If it could happen here, it could happen