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So Here's the thing...

Bill Bilodeau

A river runs through it

It 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, it’s 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 it’s 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 ones.

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 go.

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 hit.

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 might happen.

If it could happen here, it could happen anywhere.

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