The food is bought, the furniture is off the deck and safely in the shed, the gas cans for the generator are full, and my beloved crape myrtle tree is cut low to protect it from wind damage. I guess we’re as ready as we’ll ever be for the massive storm which may be heading our way. Now it’s just a waiting game. I had a few other ideas for my post this week, but the coming apocalypse has driven all other thoughts away. It’s not as if we haven’t been here before; last year Hurricane Irene and a late October snow storm both left us without power for extended periods. But this storm seems more worrisome. Of course, the hype on the media about the “Frankenstorm” is part of the anxiety, but every storm seems to be proclaimed as a coming disaster, resulting in more than a bit of skepticism when I hear the excited forecasters’ dire warnings.
What seems different this time is the combination of atmospheric stillness and flurried activity by living creatures. The weather for the last two days has been eerily calm; cloudy, misty, not the hint of a breeze, warm for this time of year. Yet the birds are swarming our feeders, filling themselves as they do only in the dead of winter. I just went to the garage and was frightened by a mouse scampering across the floor (actually, I’m not sure which of us was more frightened); we live in the country and are used to mice, but they don’t start coming inside until it gets cold. The deer, too, are on the move. They are always active at this time of year, but I saw more dead deer on the roads close to my home today than I do in a normal month.
The human flurry is abnormal too. Because of other commitments Saturday and Sunday, I decided to do my preparatory grocery shopping early Friday morning, assuming I was well ahead of the rush. Even during the holidays, 7AM at the market is a relatively stress-free time. The store was packed, the shopping carts were on overflow, and the gentleman I saw turning his cart in circles muttering “batteries, matches, yes, I need matches” was the embodiment of the prevailing mood. The rush to buy bread and milk is predictable before any storm, but the atmosphere at the market is usually jovial as we laugh with each other about behaving as if we will be cut off from civilization for a month. Friday morning, at least, everyone was dead serious.
One of the benefits of having a shop close to where I live is that, although somewhat bound to my location, I hear what is happening around town. Traffic was horrendous as everyone scurried to prepare. The local warehouse home repair stores (we have one of each of the top two) were sold out of not only generators, but plywood and other materials for boarding up windows. We are about 40 miles from the ocean (as the crow flies, not as the roads go), and this activity is particularly atypical. Today someone from the Office of Emergency Management came around to each store and advised us to bring any tables, chairs, flower pots, etc. inside before leaving on Sunday evening. Another first. And tonight, I had a recorded, but nonetheless uncharacteristic, phone call from the electric company, indicating that we are listed as a “well” customer (we are well, but they meant our water supply) and reminding us to stock up on water, as the pump runs on electricity.
Perhaps the storms last year with massive flooding and extended power outages have caused everyone to take the warnings more seriously. Even in my bookshop, where I experienced the usual uptick in business that precedes a storm (I am the next stop after the market when a blizzard is forecast – no one wants to run out of bread, milk, or books), the customers were friendly but lacking the usual pre-storm cheerfulness; even buying books to ride out the storm was a solemn undertaking. There is a Street Fair scheduled in Flemington tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see how many people come; I suspect that there will not be a carefree ambiance.
I had planned to write a more lighthearted post, questioning my own behavior in getting caught up in the frenzy and buying three loaves of bread and a gallon of milk for two people who rarely consume either. Or wondering why people wait until two days before a storm to shop for the generators or batteries they were unable to purchase before the last storm. Or relating my past adventures with the generator (we have had one for years because of a crucial need to keep two massive sump pumps running during any heavy rain), learning that a 5 gallon can of gas weighs 40 pounds, which is about my maximum lifting capacity. (Should I have reported that spill to the Department of Environmental Protection?) Or humorously describing wading through six inches (and rising) of cold water to run an extension cord from one of the pumps, through the basement and up the stairs to the kitchen outlet when a circuit breaker blew at an inconvenient time. But I can’t shake the sense of foreboding. It’s not really funny. The air is too still.