Not trapped at home this time, but at The Birds of Vermont Museum, yesterday. It started to rain about one thirty in the afternoon. We had thee staff members in the museum, my father, and two children who were taking part in our day camp. Both were under ten years old. One was the nephew of our director, the other the granddaughter of a volunteer. We stood glued to the glass front door as it rained harder and harder, watching a little, tiny trickle that hardly could be called a brook rise higher and higher. It filled its normal culvert under the path that leads to the parking lot. Then it began to fill the second culvert that worked as an emergency spare, never expected to be necessary. Then it started licking at the top of the path. We had a family of visitors waiting out the storm -- we urged them to leave, thinking to keep them from getting their feet wet if the brook crossed the path. They left. We noticed when they drove past that there were big puddles on the road, which was high enough not to be visible from our doorway.
Moments later, something funny started happening to the bank coming down from the road. It was turning brown and muddy. I pointed it out. We stared. And then water just started pouring down across the road, down the bank, across our path, and down a narrow road to another bigger brook which had a bridge leading to our land on the other side. We just watched, completely stunned, as probably thousands of dollars worth of damage just happened.
Then a car pulled into the parking lot and a family of four dashed toward us. We dashed outside and waved them back, yelling across the torrent that it wasn't safe. They got back into their car and drove away.
First the spare culvert washed away. Then the buried power cable that runs to the sheds became exposed, straining in the current. What would happen if it broke, or ripped out of the museum building? We didn't know.We switched off the breaker. Doing that also turned off the cash register and the credit card machine. Not good.
Then the car of visitors came back and parked. A bad sign -- they couldn't get out.
The water flow began to shift so that it started to fill the parking lot. They kept backing up. We began to fear for our four cars parked out there, too. I could easily imagine them washing away before our eyes. The people in the car, we learned later, called 911, panicking. The Burlington Free Press put up an article saying there were people stranded in a car in Huntington with water rising.
Then we began to fear for my father's bridge, which spanned the big brook. He'd built it probably forty years ago to reach acres of land he and his partner own on the other side. We ran out into the rain and saw that the ground had washed away on both sides of it, leaving it a wooden span in the middle of a torrent, which was right up under it. I expected to see it buckle and flip and wash away any moment. One of the children noticed some lumber going downstream. It was the part of the retaining wall on our side of the bridge.
I went back inside. My 93 year old father was standing alone in the doorway. One of the children whispered to me that she thought he was crying. I went and stood next to him and said quietly, "I think we might lose your bridge."
He just nodded and didn't say anything.
The phone began to ring as news got out of the plight in Huntington. The people in the car in the parking lot called us. We told them to sit tight and that we had bathrooms and hot tea waiting when the water dropped. I called my daughter. She said, "What are you talking about? The sun is shining."
The rain let up. The water stopped rising. It began to drop. My father's partner, Gale, who had been out shopping and been able to drive part way in, arrived, arm in arm with a woman up the road, wading through the torrent. I'm not sure how far she had walked, but it was long way. She and I walked down the road in other direction to see if we could wade out that way. We thought maybe, but we were later told by an emergency worker that children shouldn't try to cross at big washout further down the road. It started to rain again. I got drenched. Gale gave me one of my father's t-shirts.
The people from the car waded over to us, at last, on the road. One of them offered to pay admission. I told her for heaven's sake, don't even think about it. Then they all ran for the bathrooms. We made them hot chocolate and tea. We now had four kids. They made friends very quickly. Gale took my father up to the house so he didn't have to watch any longer.
But what really mattered was that his carvings, all 500 of them, his life's work, were safe.
Hours later, the water level had dropped enough for even children to walk out. We all made phone calls.At six o'clock, I walked about a mile down the road, wading through ankle deep water in one place, gazing at the destruction. My husband had parked at the end of the road and was walking up to meet me. Amazingly, there wasn't much damage there. He didn't really believe how bad it was until I showed him my photos.
When I'll be able to get my car out, I don't know. When the museum will be able to open again, I don't know. How much damage happened to our trails and bridges in the woods, I don't know. If my father's bridge will ever be safe to cross again, I don't know. And how this symbol that even what we think is indestructible really isn't will affect him, at age 93, I don't know, either. And that worries me.