Power, Insignificance, and Sentimental Items

The Mountain Farmgirl is pondering her insignificance in the wake of Hurricane Irene, which tore through her hometown with a vengeance. With water levels twice above flood stage, there is nothing like the power of Mother Nature to put you in your place!  Join her as she faces the aftermath of torrential rains and local evacuations, and thinks about what treasures are worthy of saving in a hasty departure during a natural disaster…

As Hurricane Irene headed for land last week, my first thought was of my sister who lives in Florida.  She is no stranger to hurricanes and all the rituals that go with preparing for them. I had no idea, however, that this storm would miss her entirely and that my home state of New Hampshire and neighboring Vermont would get clobbered instead. 

We northerners are no strangers to severe weather either … after all, the worst recorded weather on earth happens about 10 minutes from my door (as the crow flies, that is), atop Mount Washington. And yet, we’re not accustomed to severe winds and peak flooding here below tree line in the White Mountains. However, what is “normal” can change in a heartbeat, as we all discovered last week,  when Irene poured out her wrath in a deluge that rivaled Noah’s flood!

It HAS  happened here before, actually … but not for 185 years.  Have you ever heard the expression that something creepy ‘ gives you the willeys’?  That phrase was coined after a family named ‘Willey’ who lived not far from me back in the early 1800’s. They had a farm near the Saco River, which was surrounded by steep mountains. Mud and rockslides often swept through these mountains after heavy rains, often enough apparently, that the Willey family made contingency plans by building a shelter a few hundred  feet from their home.  Back in the summer of 1826 there was a drought the likes of which had never been seen before. During the night of August 28, 1826, after a long drought which had dried the mountain soil to an unusual depth, came one of the most violent and destructive rain storms ever known in the White Mountains. The Saco River rose twenty feet overnight. Livestock was carried off, farms set afloat, and great gorges were cut in the mountains. Two days after the storm, anxious friends and relatives penetrated the debris-strewn valley to learn the fate of the Willey family. They found the house unharmed, but the surrounding fields were covered with debris. Huge boulders, trees, and masses of soil had been swept from Mt. Willey's newly bared slopes. The house had escaped damage because it was apparently situated just below a ledge that divided the major slide into two streams. The split caused the slide to pass by the house on both sides leaving it untouched. Inside, beds appeared to have been left hurriedly. On the table, a Bible lay open to the 23rd Psalm, with Mr. Willey’s glasses perched atop.  They apparently decided to head for the shelter, but Mr. and Mrs. Willey, two children, and both hired men were found nearby, crushed in the wreckage of the slide. Three of the children were never found. Oddly enough, Hurricane Irene passed through our area 185 years to the day after the Willey Slide, causing another rockslide in pretty much the same location as the first. What are the chances? Fortunately, this time around there were no human casualties, but the physical destruction was enormous.

By the time Irene got to New Hampshire, the winds had all but died down. What we lacked in bluster however, we made up for in rainfall. Eight to ten inches fell in a relatively short time, washing away roads and bridges, and raising water levels almost as many FEET! Here at our Lodge, we are fortunately located on a rise above the Ellis River, which has always kept us out of harm’s way. Within hours, however, our idyllic, 20-foot wide, pristine waters became a frothing, foaming, raging sea that stretched almost 200 feet wide, and was the color of hot chocolate! Whole, upturned trees jettisoned downriver in the boiling waters so fast it made our heads spin. The  playground we have for our younger guests was suddenly in the middle of the river, which kept rising uncomfortably close to our Lodge. Never before has it ever approached that stage.  The power of uncontrolled water is truly frightening, and gives us a profound respect for nature,(as well as our own insignificance in comparison).


Jackson Falls, one of the most lovely and idyllic places on earth, usually looks like this:


During the hurricane, however, it turned into nothing short of Niagara Falls! Check out this YouTube video that one of our neighbors posted of our little town of Jackson during the storm:


Roads and bridges here will be out for months, and many people lost the contents of their homes. One of our long-time employees, Pauline, had to be evacuated from hers. And it got me thinking about what is REALLY important in life. Obviously, people and pets, then livestock would be the first priority … but if I had been in a similar situation, what would I have grabbed on the way out the door? Next time I’ll share some of the things that are really important to me.  Some of them might surprise you. If you were in a natural disaster such as Hurricane Irene, and you had only minutes to evacuate, what would YOU take with you?


Hope you all fared well in this storm. Until next time,
Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings,
The Mountain Farmgirl



By: CJ
On: 09/06/2011 12:34:14
I can only TRY to imagine the devastation, loss, and subsequent struggles and discouragement. I have never had to deal with a flood, nor has anyone in my family and for that I'm grateful.
We have, however, had to deal with fire! On July 17, 1994 we lost our home, everything in it, and the wooded area all around three sides of our house in an arson fire.
So I can relate to that loss, devastation and what it takes to recover. Of course, there was no warning that it was coming so we could prepare. How does one prepare to become the victims of crime??
What we did learn was about the amazing generosity of our community and the grace of God in "moving us" through this catastrophe. We also learned that the stuff we lost were just that" stuff" . . . we were not hurt, nor were our children both of whom had already moved out. No one was hurt and we learned how GOOD God really is . . . He showed us His heart and His hand through this gigantic loss!
By: Adrienne
On: 09/06/2011 12:34:31
I live in San Francisco and all earthquake-savvy city dwellers have a "go-bag" next to the door. In the backpack are copies of important documents like birth certificates, enough dehydrated food and water for three days, $100 in gold dollar coins in five 35mm film canisters ($20 each), water purifying kit, prescription meds, toiletries kit with dental supplies, washcloth, TP, a bandana, a pair of socks, and a first aid kit (I'm certified in advanced first aid and CPR).
By: Denise
On: 09/06/2011 13:09:52
I live off of exit 12 on route 16 We are on the coastal end of the highway. The news focused on the Plymouth area and I was not aware of what you went through in Jackson. Thank you for sharing we are keeping you in our thoughts and hope the pieces will come together for you and your lovely town.
By: Debbie
On: 09/06/2011 13:10:04
Hi Cathi! I wondered how you made up up north! We received the call to evacuate as well, but didn't end up having to actually go through with it. We were without power for over 24 hours and that I had prepared for... I brought in plenty of water, and picnic food to eat that wouldn't require cooking. For us, Hurricane Irene wasn't any worse than some of the storms we get here in MA. but our hearts went out to those who suffered damage and had to leave the comfort of their homes. Our sons Scout troop was on call for help at a local evacuation hosting site but they were never needed. Off the top of my head, my list goes like this: people, pets, photos, important papers... and plenty of gas in the car! I can't wait to read your next post and hear what you'd grab in a hurry if you were forced to evacuate!
Sending love and a farmgirl hug!
Deb ( your beachy farmgirl sister )
By: Gini
On: 09/06/2011 14:10:31
We currently live in a small town very much like your town, in So VT. While our town had only one home damaged. But every road has been devastated to every larger town to get needed supplies. The road crews are on it but, I cannot see how we're going to get back to"normal" (whatever that is) this year, at least. Blessings to all.
By: Sherie Rowe
On: 09/06/2011 15:47:40
My goodness. We were praying for everyone who would be affected by the storms. We were involved in those tornadoes on April 27, an occurance few and far between here in the mountains of East Tennessee. That night I was terrified, having to experience something so uncontrollable at the age of 45. God bless you and your family and friends.
By: Brenda
On: 09/06/2011 15:53:31
so glad you are all safe. You really don't think of the power of water till it hits you full force. What would I grab on my way out that is a hard question I hate to say it but the things that I would want to save after family and pets I probably couldn't fine in a time of panic. I really need to get with it. In this day and times you don't know when you may have to get out fast. Guess I need to get with the program and have things ready, funny when my boys were home and depended on me I had a box with things I thought we would need right where I could grab it. Any way hope you are drying out be waiting to hear the rest of your story.
By: Joan
On: 09/06/2011 19:10:13
Oh my Cathi, I am so sorry to hear that the hurricane made it to your area but happy no major loss. We here in Colorado have had several floods but the last few years - to include this year - we have had many huge fires and with sitting here tonight typing I hear the rain coming down in buckets - hopefully the burn areas here will not be flooding before it is over. All of this has made me think what would be my 'take with' - thought of different scenarios - length of time notice from NOW to a few hours - still not sure I have it all together and prepared - will be anxious to hear what you have thought of. Again I am so happy for your safety. God Bless
By: Marcia
On: 09/07/2011 17:51:41
Thoughts and prayers to all who endured this recent reminder that ultimately we have no control over mother nature and her fury. Living in Florida and hearing constantly about what is "brewing" in the ocean, will keep my prayers that none of the systems will grace the Northeast any time soon!
By: Jacqueline Jakle
On: 09/19/2011 10:32:45
First, I want to say my prayers go out to all who endured the storms. I hope you will get through the physical and emotional cleanup and will be OK.

I've lived in many places and lived through a tornado, snow storms, three fires and heavy rains that destroyed personal possesions and mementoes I can never replace. I currently live in California where we experience earthquakes regularly.

Back in the 1980s, after one of our quakes, I designated one special closet in the house, filled with all kinds of emergency supplies, a change of clothing/shoes, including supplies for my dogs, and both trunks of our cars are filled with the same things in duffle bags. There's a 50-50 chance we might be away from home when an earthquake hits.

I also created a "grab and go" box filled with important copies of documents, and other valuable info I might need in an emergency. The customer service telephone numbers for your credit cards, life and car insurance, doctors, medicines for you and your pets, etc., including account numbers, kept in the box is invaluable in an emergency!

I was confronted with the same thoughts about what else would I take besides the kids, dogs, important papers, the cell phone and charger, etc., in the event of evacuating. It pays to be prepared and KNOW what and where those valuable items are in case we have to leave within moments of a warning of a fire, etc. It's a tough decision but I reasoned it's best made when my head is clear and not when I'm desperately trying to decide what to do, because there is not enough time to react in an emergency. I have my most cherished possesions in a special place that I can grab and take with me; the rest would have to stay behind. It's an emotionally difficult decision but if made when we're calmer and not in an emergency, it's easier to make and to know exactly where to locate our sacred items. I also loaded my car with these items to make sure everything fits, including my dog's travel crates!

Wishing you all safety...blessings...and simple joys.

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir