The Night Of The Ice (With Update And Gratitude)

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

cross posted from The Dream Antilles


Chatham, New York, SE of Albany

If I had one of those Weather Channel jackets, right now I could stand in the yard and narrate this essay.  Then you’d be able to see me looking into the camera, the rain falling falling falling sideways from the sky, hitting the earth and everything else, and freezing.  Immediately.  Everything glistens in its coat of ice. Trees. Houses. Grass. The dog has ice chunks on her tail.  Wind and rain blow into the microphone making a whooshing sound.  It’s a special genre: Heavy Weather. Upstate, Eastern New York.

This morning was ridiculous, and the brunt of the storm hadn’t even arrived.  The car doors were iced shut.  When I finally got them open, I had to scrape thick ice off the windows.  That took a long time. Then the driving. I had to stop because the windshield was again freezing up.  Why, I want to know, does the air conditioner go on in this car when you press defrost?  It’s a mystery.  Why is the car fishtailing down the road, skidding happily along?

And, as if that weren’t more than enough, tonight between 7 pm ET and 7 am ET, is supposed to be the heaviest accumulation of ice.  The radio says that, ut oh, trees might fall down on power lines, so you, dear listeners, can freeze and sit in the dark.  The radio says that you should stay off of the roads no matter what, as if we were some kind of idiots who want to drive around on roads that deserve to have their own Zambonis.

Strangely, this is not a drag.  Not at all.  It’s just like this, Dar Williams’s Southern California Wants To Be Western New York:

There’s a part of the country could drop off

tomorrow in an earthquake,

Yeah it’s out there on

the cutting edge, the people move, the sidewalks


And there’s another part of the country

with a land that gently creaks and thuds, Where

the heavy snows make faucets leak in bathrooms

with free-standing tubs.

They’re in houses that

are haunted, the with kids who lie awake and think


All the generations past who used to use

that dripping sink.

And sometimes one place wants to slip into the

other just to see

What it’s like to trade its

demons for the restless ghost of Mrs. Ogilvey,

She used to pick the mint from her front yard to dress

the Sunday pork,

Sometimes southern California

wants to be western New York.

It wants to have a family business in sheet metal

or power tools,

It wants to have a diner where the

coffee tastes like diesel fuel,

And it wants to find the glory of a town they say has hit the


And it wants to have a snow day that will

turn its parents into kids,

And it’s embarrassed,

but it’s lusting after a SUNY student with mousy

brown hair who is

Taking out the compost, making

coffee in long underwear.

Sometimes southern California wants to be

western New York.

And they’ll have puttering on rainy weekends,

autumn days that make you feel sad,

They’ll have hundred year old plumbing and the family you never


And a Hudson River clean-up concert and a

bundle-bearing stork,

And I hear they’ve got a

menu planned, it’s true

It’s western New York.

Except it’s Eastern New York.  

Update: (6:17 pm ET, 12/12).  The power went off at about midnight.  The ice apparently pulled down branches which in turn pulled down electric wires.  Lots of them.  I awoke at 6 am in the dark to see that there was no power.  And silence in the house.  I could hear the wall clock in the bathroom ticking.  Otherwise, no furnace sound.  No humming from anything.  Cold and silent.  Outside beautiful and chaotic.  A glistening coating of corruscating ice on everything, but ice is heavy, so trees bend, evergreens pull in their elbows, many limbs snap off, you can hear the snapping, lots of trees fall and block roadway, many wires break and fall onto roadways.  Out here no electricity means no heat, no pump for water, no lights, no Internet.  And most important when there are huge rains, as we had last night, no electricity means no sump pump to drain the basement, which means I may end up needing to pay for a basement leak repair.

9 am. I walked down the road– the road itself was fairly clear– to the Spencertown Volunteer Fire Department.  Lots of cars, only one truck still there, many people.  Do I want a cup of coffee?  No, I just want to get my basement pumped.  Talk to him, pointing.  A couple hours later, Steve showed up with a pump and sussed it all out.  He said it was thousands of gallons of water.  Just in time, the water was about 6″ deep and slowly climbing toward the vitals of the aging boiler.  Said Steve the Fireman, the infrastructure for electricity around here was last updated in 1974, and it needs to be completely overhauled.  That’s one of the reasons why I have half a foot of water in my basement, fear and dread that my boiler will die, fear and dread of the insurance claim.

9:30 am.  I got a call on the only landline phone in the house that’s working (cell phones don’t work out here) that the County has declared a county wide state of emergency.  That means everything is closed, stay off the roads, and there are shelters if you want/need one.  I called the NYSEG hotline number.  The animated voice told me that power would be restored by 10 pm on Sunday night.  Not good.  This, I thought, is going to be extra uncomfortable for a very, very long time.  I looked out the window.  It was snowing. It was really pretty.

The rest of the day.  I spent the day near the fireplace.  I hauled and split wood.  My dog friend rolled on the ice and snow.  The cats went in and out.  I read.  I fell asleep near the fire for about an hour.  I awoke to a cold house and dull sunlight at the horizon.  The ice on the weeping crab apple tree glinted.

4:30 pm. I realized I needed bottled water, because the pressure in my house was about gone and the tap was going to stop working. I drove to the supermarket.  All the big water bottles were gone.  But thank goodness, there was a deal, $3.99 for 24 small bottles of Poland Spring nicely packaged in plastic.  Perfect.  Only when I checked out, the cashier told me that I don’t get that sale price without “the card.”  I said, “You gotta be kidding, right?”  The guy behind me in line shrugged, handed the cashier his card.  I thanked him.

5:07 pm. When I drove home, I noticed that various houses I passed now had lights.  My house was still dark.  I went into the house.  I heard a sound.  It was the aging boiler chugging along.  The lovely sound of the boiler making hot water, making heat, burning expensive oil. How wonderful, what a great system.  I turned on all of the lights, I reset the thermostat on the hot tub, I turned up the heat.  I fed the animals.  They were ravenous.

I am absolutely delighted that I have electricity.  I know that there are literally tens of thousands of people who do not have it back yet.  I notice the ironies.  Moments before I got my electricity back, I was thinking that temperatures were supposed to fall this evening, and I was afraid that my pipes would all freeze tonight, making an even more colossal mess.  And now, now that that emergency has vanished, I’m chagrined that the ice maker in the refrigerator hasn’t been making ice (doh!) so the cubes are all stuck together.  I pour myself a glass of fizzy mandarin orange Poland Spring (a treat I bought along with the 24 pack).  This, I think, is wonderful.  It has all of the excellent qualities of non alcoholic beer without the beer taste.  Salud!

My gratitude goes out to Steve the Fireman, the Spencertown Volunteer Fire Department, the NYSEG lines people who were out all day, and still out now, trying to make a 34 year old system deliver reliable energy.  My gratitude also goes out to all of the NY State Transportation workers, the Columbia County DPW workers, and the Town of Austerlitz DPW, all of whom spent the day clearing roads closed by downed trees mixed in with live wires.


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  1. Yes, Winter here gets a capital “W”.

    Thanks for reading.

    • Edger on December 12, 2008 at 02:49

    across the country to the west coast 30 odd years ago. After shoveling the driveway and throwing the snow UP on top of the snow from the day before, on top of the six foot walls of snow on either side of the driveway…

    Ok, I’m exaggerating. They were 10 foot walls. No, 15 foot walls…  

  2. …are so much nicer than the flipping out over the death penalty I just did at dk.  

    Time to set up the blocks again and get back to trying to find a (^((@&$(@*% job…

  3. a SUNY student across the river in Albany. Stay warm bro, weather there can get badass. Better still get some hot wings, since the real ones grow around those parts.   😉

  4. It rained all day yesterday & all day today & all night so far…and then will probably snow in the a.m.  But even that is better than an ice storm.

    What kind of car do you have?  My father’s old car (1992? something like that) had the a/c come on when you had to defrost the windshield, too.  Stupidest thing I ever saw in my life.

    • pfiore8 on December 12, 2008 at 10:34

    and snow, falling in the late night

    caught in the moon light

    it is quiet

    and perfectly cold

    it is . . . dazzling

    • Edger on December 12, 2008 at 13:41

    at a radar station in the high arctic at Hall Beach, NWT. We used to get ice fog there – literally frozen fog, made of microscopic ice crystals instead of water droplets – and it would create these beautiful purplish glowing halos around all the outside lights, and coat everything with ice.

  5. and it was on a birthday, we had an ice storm that left 2-3″ of ice.  It was utterly beautiful.  Unfortunately, my room was in the log cabin we had built next to our house (more log home in today’s lexicon).  It sat, actually sits, diagonal to the original house (it’s connected today, but wasn’t then).  So the trick was to ge to the original house (the cabin didn’t have a bathroom, for starters).  I stepped out of the cabin, managed to get down the stairs (two) and then slid 40 feet.  It took me about a half hour to manage to get to the front porch of the house.

    It was, all in all, great fun since our power didn’t go out.

    Good luck davidseth!

  6. around Chicago.  We were virtually crippled by the snow.  We were unable to get to work and I recall taking my daughter to the grocery store on a sled to buy groceries.  We might have lost power, but only for a little.  The hardest part was to get around period.

    As is so often so, people were so friendly and helpful during that period.  Sometimes, it takes a “crisis” to bring people together — but, somehow, I think you know that!

    Hope you will be warm and safe, and hope others will, too, during this storm.

    Thanks for you story, davidseth!

    • kj on December 14, 2008 at 18:12

    just wanted to tell you how much i enjoyed reading this essay.

    this paragraph especially (‘dull sunlight at the horizon’):

    The rest of the day.  I spent the day near the fireplace.  I hauled and split wood.  My dog friend rolled on the ice and snow.  The cats went in and out.  I read.  I fell asleep near the fire for about an hour.  I awoke to a cold house and dull sunlight at the horizon.  The ice on the weeping crab apple tree glinted.

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