Sunday November 11, 2012

RICHMOND

When I was growing up, we in the Berk shires never thought about such enormities as hurricanes or earthquakes. Hurri canes happened down south somewhere and earthquakes occurred in California. Soot was something your mother just broomed away and air tasted good when you took a deep breath.

Our mistreatment of the planet over the past 75 years has caused such an intensifying of the negative aspects that come with our daily lives and habits that we face drought, wildfires and hurricanes in proportions we never imagined. We have had scientists for years telling us that the warming of the earth is responsible for the dangers we are facing from a previously semi-benign Mother Earth. The burning of fossil fuels for warmth and transportation and manufacturing have reached the point of almost no return. We make small gestures -- building wind towers and sun gatherers and banning plastic bags and buying hybrid cars and turning down heat and air conditioning -- but these are mostly small gestures that do not make up for our casual wastefulness. It would take a pretty big shock to get our manner of living under control.

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The whole thing was pretty well summed up when Mitt Romney during one of his campaign speeches made fun of President Barack Obama for trying to keep the oceans from rising. The crowd hooted and Romney got that annoying smirk on his face.

The only hurricane our family experienced as a group was in August of 1991 when we were enjoying our usual Cape Cod vacation in the town of Dennis. We had plenty of notice about the forthcoming storm and we all sat down for a powwow. Do we leave now or see it through? My wife, who had endured a brutal experience during the big wind of 1938, was the only one who wanted to pack up and head back to the Berkshire hills. Everybody else, especially me, wanted to stay.

"If we don’t get over the bridge now," said my wife "then it will be too late." We didn’t know it at the time but as we spoke there was an 11-mile backup on the Sagamore Bridge. Other people were smarter than my group.

President George W. Bush was staying at his family’s vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and he and his family were evacuated to Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire. It was too windy for a helicopter so they moved him by car. Portions of Interstate 95 were blocked off so he could have easy access, and as a result thousands of motorists were backed up for miles. At least the man was consistent in everything he did.

Our Cape Cod apartment was on the second floor with big windows to view the seascape. When the wind finally hit at just over a hundred miles an hour, the sound was eerie as we watched the wind hit the water and make big waves.

And then it was over without anything in the house being broken and the roof intact. I walked down to the beach and everything looked fine. But then I turned around.

Behind me the landscape was unbelievable even as you were looking at it.

Big trees were flattened with interminably snarled electric wires everywhere. Bushes had been ripped out and several houses had no roofs. It was a bombscape such as I had seen in Europe years before. Some people were out gingerly picking up a scrap or two, but all of us had the look on our faces as if we had just landed on an alien planet.

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We were five days without water or electricity. People bathed in the bay and shared bottled water and peanut butter sandwiches. When we heard that an adjacent area had power, we piled in the cars and went looking for motels with lights on. Then we made deals with the managers for everybody to shower and put on clean shorts and blouses. Then we found a restaurant with lights and had a hot meal.

In a few days things were back to semi-normal and we finished out our stay. You cannot imagine how good it was to feel secure in the Berkshires again.

Now the nation has undergone Sandy. One environmentalist suggested we not use cute names like Sandy but rather call the hurricanes by the names of the companies that engender them, like BP or Texaco or Big Oil or Big Coal or Fractured Gas or suchlike. They should get the credit they deserve. They figured that the Bob damage was $11Ž2 billion and Sandy will be closer to $51 billion.

Are we getting better or worse at this phenomenon? The next time we have a super-storm and you see a line of cars heading out, that will be me in the lead vehicle.

Milton Bass is a regular Eagle
contributor.