The worst day of my life was not the day my family was told to evacuate our antiquated farmhouse in the village of Schoharie during the last week of summer.
It wasn’t the hours we spent hurriedly lugging everything valuable out of our dank basement in anticipation of the coming storm as flood sirens wailed.
Neither was it that night as a group of friends forced out of their homes sojourned on higher ground, waiting in silence around an ancient radio for news of the imminent disaster.
It could have been that next rain-soaked dawn when the daylight filtering through the clouds revealed the magnitude of the flood spawned by Hurricane Irene. A swell of water thirteen feet above recorded levels had utterly devastated our village of a thousand people, engulfing eighty percent of our town, all our local farms, and my home of seventeen years.
I paced on the hillside, anxious for when the National Guard would allow us to walk down our streets now caked in mud and sewage.
I squirmed during the prolonged waiting because I’m a doer- perhaps a trait that comes from years of diligent, honest farm work in a rural community. I wasn’t irate at the flood, a fluke disaster; I was disconcerted that I couldn’t do anything to make my village right again, to re-lay each ruined brick foundation, or to scrape the mud off every bedroom floor.
Eventually our community of doers was able to plunge into the wreckage with the same voracity with which the water had torn into it; for weeks, the town was a cluster of sodden buildings swarming with even soggier neighbors and volunteers.
We worked together tearing out walls with sickening squelches from our homes, dumping refrigerators full of sludge and squirming maggots into the road. We moved on to see which of our neighbors needed a hand, or even a shoulder to slump on. In those days after the flood, I was aware that we were being stripped down and exposed like the frames of the houses in which we were born.
In a crisis, true traits emerge; you were either a doer, or not. You were a pair of hands helping someone to piece their life together, or you were busy holding on for dear life. You metamorphosed into an optimist, turning pages of your muddied photo album to see if there were any salvageable snapshots, or you weren’t.
I’m thankful for such values as these that the people of Schoharie have instilled in me since I was born, and for the collective spirit that drives us to return day after day. Here, the optimist’s silver lining is sometimes elusive as we search for it amidst the mud that the clouds engineered instead. In my mind, the silver is omnipresent; it is found in the glint of nails being hammered into homes, in the triumph of an heirloom plucked from the mud, and in the reflection on a swollen creek slowly receding to run its natural course through a valley once more.
Katie submitted this photo taken by Jay Harsevoort of the
destruction caused to her neighborhood by Hurricane Irene.