Georgia native N.C. Harrison reflects on the brutal ice storms that brought life in his state to a screeching halt.
I played football, as a little middle school kid, in the ragged remnant of a tropical storm. We coursed up and down the field with youthful abandon, buckets of warm water poured right out of heaven onto our faces. I have also practiced during varsity two-a-days (which were, actually, two-a-days plus a “voluntary” afternoon scrimmage) in heat that would scald a camel. Tornadoes hold no fear for me, as I sat atop the coaches’ box during a game to film it while one touched down less than a mile from where we were—football is serious business in the South.
And so is ice. In spite of all my weather related toughness and bravado, I was reared in a place where forty degrees is considered cold and thirty almost unlivable. We prepare ourselves for all manner of rain, wind and lightning related damage, even readying against the possibility of wildfires during drought season. But ice turns the South on its ear like nothing else.
Not snow; I don’t mean snow. A few inches of white powder might make everybody go a little mad for a few days, clearing out the stores of bread, milk, eggs and butter. Snow feels almost like a holiday, especially since I do my work mostly from home right now and don’t have anywhere in particular to go. This kind of ice comes along once or twice a decade for us, the result of a freezing downpour—measured as a flood on the precise instruments where my dad works, for the government, and precise instruments need to be very precise indeed.
It came down and then contracted, as it froze, to draw a shining, silver fist across our world, still mostly green in February. The ice groaned, a horde of damned undead, and then the trees started going. Pines, oaks and in my backyard an enormous catalpa tree burst under the pressure. Power poles, including mine, did the same. The lonely rumble of transformers bellowing their last and falling silent sounded in the distance. Darkness enveloped us and I wondered at the authentic blackness of the night sky—wishing sincerely that clouds were not veiling the stars and full moon. Contact with my ancestors seemed so real in that moment, since they, for so many centuries—and, in the case of my family, a couple of generations ago—did not have ready access to electric power.
I decided, at that moment, to do what one of them might have done: I went to the bedroom, got my banjo, and sat on the porch in the freezing cold and played songs like “Run, Rabbit, Run,” “Mountain Dew” and anything I could think of that was annoyingly cheerful, boisterous and hillbilly. Grandpa Jones and Stringbean couldn’t have frailed more frantically together (it may have been an effort to keep warm). I don’t know if my little Chihuahua/pug mix appreciated it, though. She huddled on the other end of the bench, under a blanket, and cast dark little carmine eyes to the side at me. What does she know, right? Chugs have notoriously terrible taste in music.
I came in, after a while, and did research for my paper on the stormy, passionate, Baptist abolitionist of Jamaica, William Knibb, by the flickering light of a candle. I felt very like Abraham Lincoln, in this moment, although he probably did not have five curious little dogs milling about him like otters during those times, nor two dopey cats trying to figure out how much better darkness was for getting into mischief than light.
The main house, praise Adonai, was spared by the worst of it—others were not so lucky—but ice pulled our barn completely apart. We hailed the linemen like heroes breaking a siege when they came and started the long work of tearing down what remained of the barn, sawing big limbs into little limbs so that they could be carted away. It know it wasn’t bad, by absolute standards—my mother’s Minnesota friends and a couple of friendly Mormon missionaries I know from Utah and Idaho remind us of this—and that, all told, it probably did a lot less damage than any tornado, but, like I said before, we just weren’t ready for it. We never are, with ice. We can’t look out across an icy vista, like Marge Gundersson at the end of Fargo, and proclaim it such a beautiful day. I’d like to submit, though, that someone from her part of the world might find the same conundrum regarding a hurricane tossed ocean, or a sweltering, late-summer, black water swamp–both sights I find thrilling, even if the first is heart stopping. North or south, cold or hot, it’s all in where you stand.
Now I want to go and stand somewhere warm, with my little dog. Come fast, May, June, July! You can’t come fast enough.