Friday, September 2, 2011

The Resilience of New Englanders

Although my heritage is European and I was born in Canada, I consider myself very lucky to be living in such a historic part of the US, that is, in New England.

Indeed, when not living in such great places as Sweden and Austria and even Cambridge, Massachusetts or traveling far and wide, Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, with such great towns as Amherst, Deerfield, and others, has become our home.

Since our daughter has gone to elementary school at The Bement School, in Old Deerfield, and is now at Deerfield Academy, located just down the street from Bement, both in a truly historic and beautiful part of Massachusetts, we have come to know many families from New England (and even across the globe since Deerfield Academy is primarily a boarding school).

What has struck me most after Hurricane / Tropical Storm Irene hit New England last Sunday is how the neighbors and communities pulled together (with some great help from the National Guard I might add and local emergency responders plus electric power folks from far and wide).

After the torrential rains had subsided, a neighbor's son showed up at our door with a chainsaw and chipper ready to clean up our front yard on which two big trees had fallen. We appreciated his offer but declined since he is a minor. A local crew showed up on Monday morning to do the job and we were just thrilled. A DPW worker arrived yesterday in his free time to chop up the logs and piled them into his pickup truck to use as firewood (a win-win situation since he gets fuel for the winter and this cost us nothing and we enjoyed talking to him).

I have written about and posted photos of Deerfield after Irene and what has been called a once in 500 years flood. The cleanup operations continue and Historic Deerfield will reopen tomorrow (but the lovely Deerfield Inn will remain closed for an unknown amount of time).

One day after the flooding, my daughter was back at her summer job as a tour guide at Deerfield Academy and this week, despite the flooded fields and neighboring farmlands, gave tours to prospective students and their families not only from California but from as far away as Korea and Turkey. She did not show the flooded areas, which today, 5 days after the hurricane, remain covered in thick, gooey mud.

Her elementary school, The Bement School, had had to have families evacuated and a gorgeous new dorm has had to have its flooring entirely replaced and other damage recovery done. The head of the School, Ms. Shelley Borror Jackson, wrote a wonderful, poignant message of how the flood surrounded her home and the waters filled the basement and moved up the stairs. Her message can be read here. A neighboring school, The Eaglebrook School (you may not know but the present King of Jordan went to both Eaglebrook and Deerfield Academy) provided refuge for both the Jacksons and some other evacuated families.

Our neighbors just north of Deerfield, from Greenfield to Brattleboro, Vermont, and further up sustained much damage and it will take years for Vermont to recover and to repair its devastated roads and bridges whose destruction isolated communities before help, ranging from hikers to state troopers to military in Chinook helicopters arrived to deliver necessary water, food, and medicines to stranded folks.

And the good news arrived, in the form of an email message today, from the President of Historic Deerfield that said:

Just in time for Labor Day Weekend, Historic Deerfield museum will again welcome visitors to its world-class collections and historic houses on Sat., Sept. 3 at 9:30 a.m. The reopening marks a return to some semblance of normalcy and a chance to refocus on the fall season at hand after seven days of forced closure to the public due to infrastructure damage caused by flooding from Hurricane Irene.

"Now that we can guarantee the safety of our visitors and our collections we will gladly reopen," said Philip Zea, President of Historic Deerfield. "We're very grateful for the heroic efforts of staff, volunteers, and vendors who have helped us prepare for and recover from this crisis."

Visitors will find almost all museum offerings intact. The two exceptions will be the continued closure of the Sheldon House and the Channing Blake Meadow Walk.