Kirsten Mustain

Monday I packed my clothes and my dogs and moved down to lower ground in anticipation of the coming ice storm.

We dodged the bullet this time, but thousands of others are suffering across several states.

It got me thinking about the ice storm that came through two years ago.

At the time I thought I had seen ice storms. I loved the way they glazed the trees and made jewels of orange leaves and red berries.

I was happy that I would have a valid reason to spend a couple of days at home.

The weather radio predicted that there would be widespread power outages, but I figured that was okay. I could go for a couple of days without power.

Two nights later, I was lying in my bed with every blanket in the house, two dogs, and two cats. I was wearing long underwear, flannel pajamas, and a fleece robe. My parka was on top of the blankets. I was shivering. My animals, who wear fur coats year round, were shivering.

The only sound I could hear was the constant crack and groan of falling trees. Like the entire forest was falling in on itself.

My phone was out. The battery in my weather radio had died.

After the ice had moved on, I went outside to examine the damage. My driveway, which is a half-mile long, was impassible due to countless fallen trees. I walked to the end to discover that all my neighbors had left their homes, presumably to go someplace where there was electricity.

Rather than walk to town, which was a good five miles, I went back to the house. Surely, I reasoned, the power would come back soon.

The next day a sheriff’s deputy came out to check on me.

My family – all out of the state for the moment – had called him.

He suggested that he could drive me out, but he wouldn’t take my dogs. I told him I would stay.

A person begins to have strange thoughts when they are completely alone in the freezing cold and subsisting on cold cooked rice and canned beans. It occurred to me that Nature in all its glory really didn’t care whether I was alive or dead.

Not that it hated me. Not that it was bad. It just had no opinion one way or the other. It would be fine if I lived. It would be fine if I died.

After my third day in quiet solitude some angels with chainsaws appeared in the form of my Uncle William and my cousin Darrell.

I put my dogs in the car and drove out, only to discover that what I had thought was my personal disaster was a disaster for the entire community. There were Red Cross trucks everywhere – people handing out bottled water and warm meals.

Power poles were snapped in half. Whole stands of trees were decimated.

It was two weeks before power was restored to my area, and I was one of the lucky ones.  I had someplace else to go. Turned out mine wasn’t the most important story after all.

Looking back from the comfort of a heated and lit room, I can see the lessons I took with me from those harrowing few days and the weeks of living like a refugee that followed.

The key lesson, of course, is one my life seems to teach me over and over again – the basic insignificance of one small person – the impartial circumstances of the world.

In a manner of speaking, each of us is vulnerable and alone in a big world that doesn’t much care if we live or die. Not that the world is a bad place – it just doesn’t take sides. Weather and many other extenuating circumstances happen no matter what we do. The choices we have are to do what is meaningful to us or not, to persevere or not, to help other people who need us or not, to survive and thrive, or to lie down and curl into a ball.

If we are fortunate, we might find that we are connected to a larger community and that other individuals in that community are worth caring about and care about us.

I have been blessed with some of the best friends a person could have. They know who there are.