Recently Betsy and I paid a visit to friends who live in Ely, over on the easternmost edge of Vermont. In spite of several prior days of “nor’easter” weather reports, I deemed it safe to travel there even with summer tires ...”after all, we’re hardly through foliage season,” I thought.
The trip east was uneventful but during our short, hour-long visit, nature’s attitude turned sour for the trip home. My good ol’ summers, along with some skillful Vermont driving, sufficed just fine over most of the trip’s thin slush, but the notorious Orange Heights suddenly turned into white-knuckle territory. Betsy mistakenly thought we had snow tires on the old Toyota. I saved my confession until we drove into our yard, miraculously having survived the Orange Heights skating rink.
Yes, weather can be particularly fickle around here, especially this time of year. Back on Nov. 2 of 1927, in fact, “ferocious” was more the appropriate “f” word.
Old timers talk about the ’27 flood in apocalyptic ways for good reason. Although there was nothing “perfect” about it, it seems the ‘27 Flood resulted from “a perfect storm” of weather events: Unique directions of air currents promoted torrential rain, up to 300 percent more than usual that fall. Like a full sponge, Vermont’s soil would accept no more water and fall’s vegetation, being already dead, would not absorb any either. All that water had no other course than to spill right into cities and villages, leaving the entire state of Vermont waterlogged and broken.
Speaking of “broken,” I’m reminded of another flood that once affected me in a lesser way. I was part of a Christmas tree growers group that managed trees all over this area. One of our lots was in the town of Marshfield, down on flat, river bottom land next to the Winooski River. At that Marshfield location, most of our trees were on a raised plateau but about 3 acres of them grew at the lower level, right down by the river. I remember helping to shear the “river bottom” trees in July that year and walking away exclaiming about the quality: To use one of our crude descriptions for excellent-shaped Christmas trees, we all agreed we’d cut a bumper crop of “pissahs” come harvest time.
That year’s harvest time, however, brought a sudden realization that the “bumper crop of ‘pissahs’” was not meant to be. There had been a mini-version of the ’27 flood that year in early November where localized areas were hard hit. We knew that our “lower level” trees might have been affected by a surging Winooski but were not prepared for what we found. That day we walked, chainsaws in hand, down the roadway that slabbed the hill from the upper level’s abundance, we were suddenly shocked by the biggest “Grinch” of all ... not only were 100 percent of our trees gone, but that whole part of Planet Earth was gone. The Winooski had radically changed its course and in the process, taken 3 acres of soil plus all our trees away. Nothing was left but a bleak and dreary “Moonscape.”
As I write this, I sit here in my living room and look out the window at our bleak November countryside. We haven’t seen the sun in over a week, and rain, although much-needed, has cramped our style for that same length of time. Our weather reports point toward a bit more sun in late November, and we certainly should not have a repeat of 1927. Lest we get lax, though, another brief reminder would totally be in order — Mother Nature is driving and she has her snows on.
Burr Morse lives in East Montpelier.