During bomb cyclone Grayson, remembering the ice storm of ’98

Hello from North Haven!

I’m writing from the other side of bomb cyclone Grayson, the dramatically named snurricane that left us with several feet of snow drifts and some incredible flooding along the waterfront. Everyone more or less hunkered down (except one of our cats, who chose yesterday to go on a nerve wracking walkabout – he was meowing at the door at 1 this morning, hale and hearty) and stayed safe. The power didn’t even go out, miracle of miracles!

High tide covering the ferry terminal parking lot on North Haven during bomb cyclone Grayson. Photo by William Trevaskis

I couldn’t help but remember the Ice Storm of ’98 as we luxuriated in front of the woodstove, watching Singin’ in the Rain and eating root vegetable gratin. That storm wasn’t nearly as forgiving, and it colored the second half of my senior year at Mt. Blue High School.

It hit in January, twenty years ago this month, and its relentless freezing rain encased every tree, mailbox and power line in the southern half of the state with a half inch of ice. Trees exploded, branches careened to the ground, and most Mainers lost power.

Vienna, the village where I grew up, is just on the border between Franklin and Kennebec counties. Interestingly, that also delineated the border between the merely inconvenient power loss and the really challenging.

Power was out in our restored farm house for five days, during which my sisters and I, and my parents, made ramen and nachos on top of our woodstove for most meals. We spent a lot of time in front of it, too, spread out on blankets. We called it “the beach”.

Our well pump needed electricity to operate, so we traveled fifteen miles north to Farmington, which was sufficiently colder to have gotten more snow than ice, and therefore power was restored more quickly or hadn’t gone out at all, to shower at the hospital where my father worked, or at a motel. We broke through the ice on the frog pond to get enough water to flush the toilets and bought jugs of drinking water once the roads were passable. Farmington was also a source of food once we got tired of wood stove cuisine, and we frequented Pizza Hut for their vegetable “edge” pizza, confusingly named after the David Mamet film that came out that winter.

When the traveling back and forth for food and showers got tedious, I spent the night at a friend’s house in Farmington. It would also be easier to get to school the next day rather than repeat the long drive. Carried away by the disrupted routine and icy winter splendor, I was kissed by another friend who was staying there as we argued about whether the stars were more or less beautiful if you knew they were balls of space gas (I was pro space gas). Nothing came of it romantically, but it seemed like a good thing to do after an ice storm.

When the lights came back on five days later, life returned to more or less normal in northern Kennebec county. Friends living just a few miles south of us, however, weren’t so lucky. Encased in even thicker ice, they went without electricity for up to three weeks as a swamped CMP struggled to keep up with the pace of repairs.

The drama, eerie beauty and literal and figurative powerlessness we felt after the ice storm earned it a full color photo spread in the back of my senior year book that spring. Twenty years later, I’m grateful for my own wood stove, which I’ve never made nachos on but often use to cook a pot of beans, an electrical co-op and road crew who work tirelessly to keep trees off the lines and get the lights back on quickly, and an entertaining family with whom I can hunker down.

Courtney Naliboff

About Courtney Naliboff

In addition to this blog, I'm a contributing writer to kveller.com, a Jewish parenting site, a blogger and book reviewer for reformjudaism.org, and the author of Salt Water Cure, a column in Working Waterfront. I report news from North Haven for Working Waterfront and Island Journal, and was a speaker at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life in 2015. Follow Frozen Chosen on facebook or visit my Web site for more writing and free music to download!