Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ice Capades: New Englanders Are Still in the Dark Tonight

APTOPIX Ice Storm "IDYLLIC", originally uploaded by nike6.

Throughout New England, more than 600,000 households are still without power following Friday's horrific ice storm that laminated the landscape, sent trees crashing into homes and barns, closed roads, blocked driveways, damaged vehicles, and sent the normally hardy residents of New England into candlelit darkness in their cold, cold homes.

Sure, lots of resourceful people have generators and the old-fashioned types of wood stoves and fireplaces that still burn real wood. But all those who own horses and livestock are experiencing the double challenges of meeting their own needs as well as those of horses who may not have on their winter shoes with ice calks. Horses that should be turned out, but the paddocks look like a hockey rink. And the fences are electric, anyway. Horses that need water, but the pumps are electric too. Horses that need hay or grain, but the driveway is blocked and the feed store is closed, without a doubt.

For many people, a horse is the only way to get around. Tree branches still lie on top of cars and trucks and block driveways.

December is a busy month for the farriers around here. The show- and sport-horse customers want a final set of shoes before the horses leave for Florida or Aiken or Southern Pines. And the grin-and-bear-it stay-at-homes want to delay putting on expensive winter shoes for as long as possible. They gamble for another week, another month, especially this year with so many people losing jobs or having just taken a heavy hit on the stock and real estate markets. They remember hacking out throughout the winter on bare ground last year, the year it forgot to snow.

So far, I have only been able to speak with one farrier. Phones are out everywhere, and cell phone chargers dangle uselessly from dead outlets. Not so for one farrier: Tom Maker has 50 Morgan horses to take care of at the beautiful old Townshend Farm atop a hill in Bolton, Massachusetts. The town, which is about 30 miles west of Boston, has been shut down since 10:55 p.m. on Thursday night, the exact moment the power died. Law enforcement has all roads closed in the town: no one goes in, no one goes out.

Tom said that, even today, if you stared at a tree line in any direction for a minute or two, you'd see a treetop break off. He said that virtually all the trees had been topped off, as if a helicopter flew over and trimmed them. Falling limbs buried the fence lines...and became fences themselves.

Unfortunately, Tom said, his clever Morgans are learning that the juice to the fences is off. He has one generator to use at two houses, an apartment, and a big barn, in an attempt to keep all the water pipes and drains from freezing.

Another handicap is that we are approaching the shortest day of the year. It gets dark in New England just after 4 p.m. this time of year, and stays dark for about 15 hours.

"Maybe tomorrow," Tom said optimistically tonight from a candlelit farmhouse on an icy hillside.

It's a sentiment echoed from all over Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, although power company officials say it may be another week for some towns.

Thanks to the Associated Press for the beautiful photo. Click on this link to read a story about the widespread darkness that continues tonight here in New England.

You wouldn't believe how bright the stars are.