Winter is coming. Today the skies are gray, the leaves are almost gone, and I am humming “California Dreaming” as I watch the woods outside my kitchen window. The newspapers are predicting the perfect convergence of weather events to create an early winter storm—a “hurr’easter,” a scary combination of hurricane and nor’easter, just in time for Halloween. People here are justifiably uneasy. Winter may be coming early again.
The aftermath of last fall still hangs in the trees here. Just over a year ago, my husband and I visited Connecticut for a job interview. I was disappointed because the leaves had not yet turned. I had hoped for photos of red and yellow leaves but ended up with green. The fall foliage was late because the heavy winter snow led to a late spring, which meant a late fall. Too late, unfortunately, for when a freak snow storm hit the east coast the day before Halloween, the leaf laden trees could not take the weight of the snow. Whole trees fell on roofs, across roads, and power lines. Our town was without power for seven days.
People still talking about the year Halloween was canceled, the year the trees lost their beauty. In the winter storm last October, branches snapped but did not fall. The ones that endangered the house were removed but many remain high in the trees. During windy summer storms, they have landed on the lawn, across the driveway, in the woods. But others remain, high in the trees. These will be coming down when the winds of Hurricane Sandy touch down on the Jersey shore.
“Are you ready for the storm?” asks the UPS deliveryman. “You should have been here last year. You wouldn’t have been able to leave your house. Trees blocked both ends of the street. Nobody could leave in their car. I had to walk deliveries down to the houses.” Does Amazon.com carry bottled water? I wonder. No power at this house means no water, no cooking. I have generators—but they are not powerful enough to pump the well water. I can keep charging cell phones and run the refrigerator and coffee pots. But water will be a problem.
“Be prepared for the storm!” warns the newspapers, the television, and the internet news. “Stock up now!” Thirty-six hours without power is the current prediction. The stores are out of flashlights. The gas stations have lines. Gallon jugs of water are scarce. The recommendation is a gallon of water for every person in the house for every 24 hours of no power. My daughter shops for water but is only able to buy five gallon jugs. I need twelve, preferably 36. Instead I managed to get a case of 24 bottles for every person in the house. A co-worker tells my husband that we should fill up the tubs with water. This we can use to flush the toilets. We have three full bathrooms but only one tub. At least it is large.
Knowing a natural disaster is coming presents a new challenge. Earthquakes can happen at any time. I stockpiled gallon bottles of water, kept a small amount of canned goods and made sure my propane tanks were full. After the 1994 Northridge quake, we camped in the back yard and used the bar-b-que while we waited for the power to come back on and the natural gas lines to be checked. One house in our neighborhood suffered a small fire when the electricity came back on. Being prepared isn’t something that I thought about and periodically I would find that I had used up the water or had let the granola bars go stale. Fires present another danger in California but I lived in the middle of a suburb. Just once in twenty years I boxed my photo albums and put the dog crates in my SUV as the fires swept down over the hills near our town. From our bedroom balcony, we could see the flames shoot up on the hills across the valley. Evacuation was possible. A few houses on the edge burned. The morning dawned over a blackened hillside—still miles from our house. I am not used to worrying about natural disasters.
I feel emotionally disconnected from the impending storm—I find it hard to worry. When my husband called Thursday to see if I had stocked up on water and flashlights, I told him that I was not at all concerned: “It can’t be that bad two years in a row.” Even after the call from Connecticut Power warning that we could lose our electricity, I still cannot worry. (The message suggested that if you have medication that needs refrigeration or have a well, you should relocate. They did not suggest where.) I made another supply list and sent my daughter back to the grocery store to buy nuts, granola bars, peanut butter and box juices. She gets paper plates and plastic eating utensils. These are things that will keep. Winter is coming, I should be prepared. My husband wants the gas tanks filled and the generators checked. Is it really going to be so bad?
This is one of those moments when I really don’t feel like a New Englander. Will we really lose power and be stuck in a shell of a house for thirty-six hours? Will the storm really whip the house and bring down trees? Perhaps I am California dreaming to the point where I cannot rouse myself to worry. Perhaps it is because I have just returned from California.
I missed the peak of fall foliage on Columbus Day weekend because I flew back to LA to visit my daughters. (I was safe and warm that weekend.) On that weekend, I had my breakfast outside on my daughter’s patio. I walked through her husband’s cactus garden, admiring the succulents. We sat by their fire pit in the evenings. I used the hot tub. I wore a skirt and tank top when we visited Huntington Gardens. On Tuesday I sat outside a small restaurant in Ojai and had lunch with my brother and his wife. The air was warm; the sun was shining. It could have been summer. When I drove up the grapevine on the 5 on my way to Paso Robles, the sun shone on the brown hills. Only when I turned toward the coast, did I encounter any rain. But once I reached my sister’s law office, the sun was shining once again. I slept through the thunder and lightning storm that evening and then drove up the 101 in drizzle. Silicon Valley had a chill that no money could dissipate on Friday, but on Saturday the sun was shining once again. On a hike in the hills near Fremont, I saw California poppies, a spring flower. Fall in California is much like spring in California. Even the natives can’t tell the difference. I long for a Halloween where I can sit in my driveway and watch the children parade in their flimsy costumes.
Instead I hunker down for the monster storm, the hybrid of nature that will eat my yard and destroy the power. The patio furniture has been stored. The grill is chained to the deck. The yard statues have been brought in. Tomorrow I will put my pots of mums in the garage and be sure the cars are parked away from trees. I will make a pot of soup. I will fill the tub and all my buckets and water bottles. Then I will wait and dream.