I might have missed the Flood of 1927, but I was here in 2011 and heard the boulders screaming as they scratched against each other as they flew down the mountain. I heard the Roaring Brook roar with all its might as it catapulted itself down the mountain. I saw the water turn backward under Ravine Road only to have the culvert collapse 20 minutes later. I scrolled, for hours, desperately striving to make connections with family and friends throughout the region I watched, through photos, as friends were rescued from their homes before they floated away. And I sat through the night, filled with fear, as we waited for more damage to come.
I saw a base lodge collapse upon itself. I saw where roads ended and only the guard rails remained, hanging in the air. I saw roads vanish into thin air, large chunks of pavement being pushed downstream as the roads themselves buckled and collapsed. And not just some roads, almost all of them, to the point where Killington and Pittsfield and so many others became an island unto themselves.
But I also saw greatness.
Vermonters came out of everywhere to begin the healing, even before the damage had stopped. Excavators and dump trucks seemed to emerge out of nowhere, lifting the mud from the roads and attempting to rebuild that which Irene had destroyed. An elderly man with his little Kubota was quietly and diligently putting his dirt road back together without complaint, only asking for more gasoline and some Dr. Pepper.
The emergency shelter was filled with so many people offering their assistance, that it seemed as if we had more helpers than those needing help.
Pittsfield had a daycare on their village green so the grownups could go work while the hunters emptied their rapidly defrosting coolers for a community barbecue. In the face of horror, we saw the true heart of Vermonters coming together.
There are barely 650,000 of us living in Vermont, which makes us more like one large city. On the scale of things, we are a wee bit smaller than Boston and a bit larger than Nashville. That means we often operate as one large community rather than the 256 municipalities that make up our great state. And on Monday, as we watched our world being destroyed by water, it felt that way.
I shared a photo of flooding in Ludlow, only to have a friend of mine tell me that was his daughter’s house. I saw a photo of the Woodstock Farmer’s Market, where I worked for several years, under water again. I saw another friend posting photos from her, thankfully, upper level apartment in Montpelier. Another friend shared her images from Richmond and I’m still anxious for one of my besties that lives in Plymouth.
My heart is breaking for my fellow Vermonters all around the state, especially the ones that are waiting anxious to learn if the Wrightsville Dam will protect them … or not. And we wait as a state, our hearts in our throats with bated breath, it hopes that our friends and neighbors around the state will stay safe as our anxiety climbs through the roof.
I could barely function on Monday, waiting to see if our new culverts would hold. Waiting to see if my mom would be okay in her home and if we would be okay in ours. Yes, there are times when I love the sound of rain hitting my standing seam roof, lulling me to a peaceful sleep. But not this week. Not since Friday, when East Mountain Road suffered the same exact damage as it had during Irene and over 15 feet deep of mud slid onto Route 4.
I haven’t been able to sleep, the sound of the water coming off the mountain behind my house overriding any thoughts I had. I feel like my heart is pounding out of my chest constantly, the Irene PTSD hitting a lot harder than I could ever have imagined. My phone hasn’t left my hand, as I am constantly in contact with friends for fear they would get swept away in the water, each of talking the other through our fears and anxiety.
Our home was miraculously unscathed and I cannot understand why. As the sky turns blue overhead on this morning after, there is a feeling of survivor’s guilt and a feeling that I should be out there doing more to help others. A feeling that I could do more, that I should do more.
And that, I think, is what best describes Vermonters: It’s how much we care for each other, not just the friends we know, but the neighbors that we don’t. We don’t wait until we’re asked, we just get out there and help. We rebuild and we do what needs to be done. Our governor walked the VAST trails through the woods to find an open road so he could get to the emergency response center.
That’s who we are. We are Vermont Strong, and nothing, not even this damn water is going to stop us from loving and caring for each other. In times of trouble, there is nowhere that I would rather be than surrounded by Vermonters.
Merisa Sherman is a long time Killington resident, bartender, real estate agent and KMS coach. She can be reached at email@example.com.