Midafternoon, he knocked at my door. Very calmly Bert suggested, “You might want to keep an eye on your elm tree. It’s sparking and smoking.” Heavy wet snow collected in the leaves, weighed down the branches, causing them to rub and pull on the power lines. Just then as we looked up there were sizzles, pops, booms and bangs, a brilliant orange flash as the power line snapped and fell across my lawn and driveway and my neighbor's cars parked at the curb. The other part of the wire lay in a puddle at the edge of the alley on the west side of my house. Across the street, my neighbor Jackie, brushing snow from her hedges, looked up and ran to call the power company. I called the fire department and Bert patrolled the street to keep people, dogs and cars away from the downed lines and falling limbs.
All over town the same scenario played out. At one point in the early evening, our entire town was quiet. Not a light was visible in all directions. Then slowly, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, power was restored over the course of a couple of days. Snowfall here measured just 5 or 6 inches; other Black Hills towns got 4 feet and more! Thousands of people were without power or water and had no place to go if they could dig out. Drifts and whiteouts in open country closed roads and all services, roofs collapsed, cattle and sheep died or are lost till ranchers can get out to find them. Some places are still without power and may be for days longer. In other places as temperatures move back into the 50’s and 60’s flooding is occuring and homes in low lying areas are being evacuated. More rain and high winds are predicted starting tomorrow.
It is said that disaster brings out the best and the worst in people. I’ve witnessed only the best in my little corner. Neighbors knocked on doors to check on one another. They shared food and hot coffee; traded books and candles; moved broken branches off roofs and walkways, called the power company, gave rides, offered blankets and a cozy bed by the woodstove. In our busy lives, tied to our power sources, important in our individual pursuits, we often pass each other in an impersonal and superficial way. Apart from the outer world, plunged into the necessity of the moment, we rediscover the goodness residing in ourselves and in each other. Nothing else matters more than a human voice, a touch, a smile, sincere questions: “Are you alright? How can I help?”
We are strangers joined together by our oft-neglected deep well of kindness. From time to time we are given reminders that this is so, in ways, like blizzards, that we can’t ignore.
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