When It Rains, It Pours

Lions, tigers, and bears. Oh my!” states the famous quote from The Wizard of Oz.  Recently, I rewritten it, “Covid, snow, ice, rain, flooding. Oh my!”  While my rhythm and words don’t quite line up with the original, it certainly fits the 12 month period from March 2020 to March 2021.  Of course, other words like loss, death, pandemic, quarantine, masks, virtual meetings, virtual learning/teaching, work from home, job loss, business closures and so forth, could likewise be added to this list.

However, there are other words too.  Words such as faith, opportunity, growth, stretch, change, appreciation, home, family, friends, compassion, community, kindness . . . . No, I am not trying to make light of the seriousness of everything our local and global community collectively have experienced, not in the least.  Instead, I am trying to discern the lesson(s) that Divine Providence has placed within my own life path, and perhaps, yours too, Dear Reader.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

“There is always a good lesson in whatever happens to us, even in the midst of our losses . . . Every individual should think, ‘I am the only student. Everyone and everything are my professors.’”–Sri Swami Satchidananda

Personally speaking, like so many within our local Tri-state community, my family and I have been directly impacted by, not only all of the ramifications of the pandemic, but more recently, the power outages, water outages, and flooding.  As the saying goes, “When it rains, it pours,” and this adage most certainly fits mid-February through early March.  Beginning with steady rains, followed by snows, followed by ice, and wrapping up with more rain, the resulting effects of each one was felt by thousands within our three state region.

I have listened and overheard many stories from co-workers, friends, and acquaintances describing life without power for up to 14 days during the height of our coldest weather. Several more were without water for part or all of that same time period.  Meanwhile, I have encountered, or read accounts, of those working within our local communities–braving the frigid temperature, dangerous conditions, icy roads–working extraordinarily long hours to restore power, wifi, communication, water lines and so forth.  Their past and present acts of labor cannot be underestimated or underappreciated.

A major state route covered with water in recent early March flooding.

“He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’”–Job 37:6

Just as power, communications, water lines, and roads began reopening–as well as the beginnings of the vaccination process–thoughts of life settling down with slightly warming temperatures seemed like an imminent reality.  Then came rain, a steady pitter patter of several days of rain during those final few days of February, in an already water-logged Tri-State area, giving way for March to come in like a lion.  

As the rains fell, more roads closed as the burgeoning Ohio River waters backed up its tributary waters.

“The nicest thing about the rain is that it always stops.  Eventually.”–Eeyore

Throughout the weekend, John, my husband, and I were keeping a close eye on Symmes Creek, a 76.4 mile long tributary of the Ohio River, which runs alongside OH 243, in a small section of Lawrence County.  By the end of the last weekend in February, The Symmes, as it is often called, was rebelling against its banks.  Additionally, the backwaters of the Ohio River, along OH 7, were spilling into the lowlands along the river.  

The National Weather Service issued, changed, and updated flood warnings all along the Ohio River and its tributaries.  However, the last time this type of widespread flooding occurred, our daughter, Maddie, was five years old–she is now 21.  Surely, this wouldn’t happen again, right?  We had had close calls in recent years, but we had not been flooded in, or flooded out, for that matter, since that singular year of Maddie’s life.

For the record, our family home is not in harm’s way with regards to flooding; however, the stretch of road on which we must travel to and from work and home, can potentially flood.  However, it takes unusual, long-term circumstances of wet and rainy conditions in order for this to occur.  Therefore, while we kept our eye on the waters, we really didn’t think it would happen.  Still, there was that little niggle . . .

In the early morning predawn hours, with rain pouring down, it was becoming evident, there would be wide-spread road closures.

Monday evening, driving home from a local gym after work, I couldn’t help but notice that all along OH 7, water was up to both sides of this state route.  Driving alongside OH 243, Symmes Creek was beginning to slip closer to the edge of the white line.  This. Was. Not. Good.  

“Steph, I think we’d better pack a bag in case we can’t get home,” John resolutely stated Tuesday morning.

Really?  Really?  As if going without power and water for nearly a week wasn’t enough.  As if a pandemic wasn’t enough.  As if . . .well, the tunes from WHINE radio station were spinning through my mind like a commercial-free power hour.  Packing my bag was an act of resentment and anger–spoiled adult that I am.  However, driving to work, as John and I tried to find a safe route out–the waters were swiftly advancing–my attitude quickly tempered as it became clear, there was only one route open, and it would be a close call.

Unable to get home due to widespread flooding, we stayed in local hotels overflowing with power & communication workers as well as numerous members of the National Guard still making repairs and cleaning up from the ice storm from the previous weeks.

“After the rain, the sun will reappear.”–Walt Disney

Without belaboring the point, John and I spent two days unable to return home while still working.  It was equal parts of stress and adventure.  Local hotels were still overflowing with National Guard and laborers who continued to work in surrounding areas that remained without power, water, reliable forms of communication, fallen trees and limbs, as well as blocked roads from the February ice storms. Thus, we were unable to stay in the same hotel.

Meanwhile, Maddie, who was flooded in, sent us daily reports of the rising, and eventually, falling waters.  Thursday evening, when we were finally able to make it home, I was, well, overflowing with joy.  Our home, be it full of flaws, in need of multiple repairs with a yard full of downed trees and limbs, was still our home.  It was, and is, a sanctuary of personal comfort and calm. Cooking my own food, sleeping in my own bed, hugging my daughter and listening to her stranded adventures, petting our cats, wearing my favorite stretch pants (You know you have a pair too!), and the sun shining brilliantly through our dirty windows–home never looked so good.

Sections of OH 243 remained completely submerged in spite of the lovely weather following days of rain, snow, & ice

And maybe, that is part of the lesson–appreciation for one another and for what we have–be it ever so modest–not to mention the realization that we are not in control. We can grasp, plan, and strive for future plans, such as vacations, bigger home, better job, more money, and so forth.  However, none of these “things” bring us inner peace, nor do they offer us any form of control.  Certainly, having the ability to pay the bills and meet your basic needs does bring about a certain peace of mind; but happiness and inner peace start with appreciating what you have in the here and now.  

To be happy, we don’t need much.  Family, friends, a safe place to live, meaningful work and/or life purpose, with faith acting as the glue that holds it all together, is, at the end of the day, more important than any title, job status, fancy address, or extravagant vacation. All the names and titles we use to define ourselves, all the carefully crafted plans and routines, all of our meticulously curated possessions and dwellings–all of these can be gone in a moment’s notice.  Therefore, it is vital to have faith in the Divine Force greater than all that has happened or can happen to us. I am walking away from the past 12 months with a greater understanding of what TRULY matters, a deepening faith in the Divine, and appreciation–while it is cliche– that it genuinely is the simple things in life that matter most. 

“Do not fear, the rain is only here to help you grow.”–Jennae Cecelia

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Thank You to All Those Working Tirelessly to Recover from Ice Storm

Comments from Governor Mike DeWine, Ohio, respectively, February 17 & 19, 2021: 

 “Gallia County has been placed under a state of emergency. Lawrence County was put under a state of emergency Wednesday night.” 

“Thousands of people in the area are still without power because downed trees are getting in the way of utility crews that are trying to fix the power lines. By calling in the Ohio National Guard, we can help restore power faster and also prevent future flooding by removing debris from the water before the weather warms up.”

When the first ice storm hit on a Thursday evening, John, my husband, and I had just eaten an early dinner.  Within the hour of finishing dinner, the power kicked off.  We tried to get our generator working, but to no avail.  Ultimately, the power only ended up being off 6-8 hours.  No big deal in the grand scheme of things.  

Life went on as normal for John, our college-aged daughter, Madelyn, and me.  However, we could see some signs of storm demolition all along the state route on which we live in Ohio.  Additionally, many of our co-workers living in WV were without power for days, with a few never regaining power before the second round of ice hit February 15.  

The following Monday, due to the storm’s impending presence, I made the call to once again, prepare dinner early.  (My Depression-era Grandmother Slater would be so proud by the way in which I prioritized food on the nights of both storms!)  We had just sat down to eat, when we heard what sounded like a gun-fire.  Then came another, and another, and another as branches all around our rural home began breaking.  ½ inch, or thicker, of ice coated trees making them look like winter goblins with tentacles of certain danger and doom.

Next began, what at first my confused mind thought was, lightning.  Lightning in the midst of snow, ice, and sleet?  Wait a minute . . .the cogs in my brain spun faster. Flashes of light repeatedly displayed all around us.  Transformers and power lines were exploding like bombs as the pop, pop, pop of trees branches continued to battle on.  Craaack!  With the snap of a limb, our home’s power seemed to disintegrate along with the trees.  Darkness enveloped us, and the sound of the weather war soldiered on all around.  This. Was. It. 

Scrambling for flashlights, candles, and emergency radio, Maddie and I made our way through the house as John kept stepping outside checking on the house and our vehicles.  Gallon jugs of water were strategically placed throughout the house because when we lose power, we likewise lose running water due to the fact we have well-water that makes its way into our pipes via an electric well pump.  We made jokes regarding the toilet.  “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.”  Resorting to potty humor was, indeed, juvenile, but laughter seemed better than crying.  Little did we know we were in for five days worth of no power or running water.

Going to bed that night, extra quilts on the bed (Thank you, Mammaw Musick!), we fell asleep to the snap, crackle, pop of what was NOT the famous cereal, but instead the very real surrounding woodland.  Waking in the morning, the house temperature had significantly dropped.  Walking quietly into the kitchen, as I was the first one up, I realized I would not be starting my day with a hot cup of coffee.  The fun had only begun.

Using an emergency lamp/radio/weather alert/thermometer, temperatures inside our family room, even with the fire going, hovered in the low to mid-fifties as seen here.

Facts from Jeff Jenkins, Saturday, February 20, 2021, Metro News The Voice of West Virginia:

 “Ice storms hit on Feb. 11 and then again on Feb. 15.”

“After the two storms, outages peaked at 97,000.” (In WV alone)

 “Around 44,000 customers remain out of power. Counties most affected include Cabell, where 15,019 customers are without service; Wayne, 14,203; Putnam, 5,074; Lincoln, 3,973; Jackson, 2,343; and Mason, 2,402.” (As of February 20)

  “A total of 27 bunkhouses are now in place at the Huntington Mall to house the additional (power) workers. Due to COVID-19 precautions, they will be filled only at half capacity, or 15 workers per trailer.”

Our neighbor shared with us that early Tuesday morning–he typically leaves for work around 4:00 a.m.–when he attempted the short three mile drive to the next state route in order to reach his place of employment, he was stopped by a sheriff deputy who told him that 20 or more trees were down over the road!  Hours later, when John and I finally ventured out for more gallon jugs of water, instant coffee (I found a camp stove pot for heating water.) and a few other supplies, it was like traveling an obstacle course over those same three miles.  We navigated around downed trees and limbs, fallen telephone and electric poles, power lines, and so much natural debris.  All around us, the typically scenic route looked like a war zone.  There were countless dark, injured homes and vehicles with shattered safety glass.  Shrapnel of wood covered the roads and glistening white snow.  Meanwhile sparkling tree limbs, weighed down by ice, bent their weapons of glassy appendages toward those of us daring to drive under and around their glacial shafts. Scraaape! Their frosted tips like fingernails scraped our windows, hood, and doors.

Ever the conscientious recyclers, John and I veered off-course on our way to Huntington, to drop off our recyclables in the designated receptacles located in a large parking lot behind the local post office.  Much to our astonishment, this parking lot of a large abandoned storefront was not empty as it usually is.  Instead, there were twenty to thirty power vehicles loaded with buckets, bulldozing equipment, transformers, power poles, and so forth.  Men were gathered in circles talking–hard hats and traditional cold weather garments adorned these burly, red faced men.  John and I felt an overwhelming surge of gratitude.  These men, based upon their truck identification, were from Indiana, parts of Ohio–near and far, as well as Kentucky.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”–William Arthur Ward

John rolled down his window.  I rolled down mine.  Out each of our windows, we began thanking these unknown men for the efforts to abate the surrounding devastation and destruction.  Meanwhile, in an ironic twist of fate, sea gulls circled and called, seemingly encouraging these workers onward. 

Seagulls that had been circling around the power workers, lifted in flight and landed on a more empty part of the parking lot as we drove closer to the power trucks and workers.

We repeated our words of gratitude any time we ventured for supplies throughout this past icy week.  Often, opportunity would occur after waiting for our turn to drive in a single lane as we slowly made our past men working on power lines along our state route.  It was important to us that they know their efforts were heartfully appreciated, especially given the bitter weather conditions.

While I know that these power workers, tree removal specialists, state troopers, local law enforcement, National Guard members, and other community members were compensated for their time, they were, nonetheless, sacrificing time away from their family, friends, and loved ones.  This is time that they will never get back in order to help restore power for complete strangers. Hours spent in frigid temperatures, snow squalls, and dangerous conditions is not for the faint of heart.  This type of work requires grit, determination, and empathy–the ability to feel the needs of others. 

Therefore, to all the men and women who have and/or are working to repair the power, remove the fallen trees, restore safe road travel, and return water and power services to the many without, my family and I thank you.  Thank you for your long hours, your exposure to the winter elements, and your personal risk in often dangerous situations.  We are grateful for your time, energy, focus.  Behind each repair that you make, were/are people’s lives for whom your work is making a difference.  May your generosity circle back to you in some form.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.