The storm had left behind mountains of debris. Two weeks should have been enough to clean it up, they said. They were wrong. Two weeks was as long as the media covered the aftermath, but then another storm hit somewhere else, and they were gone. Still no power, but more water than they could have ever hoped for. Too bad it wasn’t potable. She hated using bottled water, but was thankful that the option was there, or she’d be really thirsty.

Heath had been a growing small town. It even had graduated to a traffic light, and there was talk of putting a big box store out on the Interchange with M-94. But that was too far to walk, if they could have driven their cars. Those too were underwater. Main Street wasn’t of much use right now. With no power at the bank, and the generators were out of gas, there was no way to get any money out. And there was no place to spend it. But there was so much that needed to be replaced, so many bills coming down the road. She felt so powerless just waiting in lines for assistance, but it was better than sobbing with the others.

Lines were reality now. They gave a chance to find friends and neighbors, and learn how to the clean up was proceeding. Time spent there was a great way to “people watch.” It was then she noticed some unusual activity – an odd form of looting. Nothing new, or usable, but there were people taking the sheets, curtains, hand tools, broken lumber, and pieces of wire, but they were being gathered and taken away. The “thieves” were not your normal looters. They were older, even elderly, and they lived on the outskirts of town. “Heathers,” had always considered them to be outliers. There were some older folks that had refused to give up their own ways, and kept their chickens, gardens and lived a life more easily found in a museum. These were the scavengers she was seeing now.

“Why weren’t they standing in line with the rest of us?” she wondered. But she didn’t express her concern to anyone else. No reason to get involved in another mess. She had enough on her hands without that headache. But the waiting was getting harder. Her house had one habitable room, but no water, no power, no clean clothes, just damaged mementos to remind her of what she’d lost. She was ready to consider them any kind of blessing right now.

As she queued up for breakfast on day 15 PS (Post Storm) she saw an older person talking to the man on the corner, asking if they would mind it if some of their old furniture was salvaged. He was a little confused, but he had no way to use the mangled mess of a dining table. The finish was ruined, and the wood was stained from the storm water. The old man loaded it up on his tractor and headed out of town. She hadn’t seen the tractor before. Where did he get the gas for that? Now she had to know what was going on?

So Paige followed the tractor out of town. She wasn’t trying to keep up, as she hadn’t really traveled that path very much, but she could hear the roar of the engine even around the corners. She had jogged out here several times, but never really noticed the houses or their owners much. They were just scenery on her way to health. But now she really saw the barn, as the tractor pulled behind it.

Quietly she stalked up the drive, looking for a doorbell or someone way to get attention from the residents. Just as she finally raised the courage to call out, “Brawk!” broke the silence and a drum of wingbeats startled her, taking her voice away. She had disturbed a nested hen who was settled in the wood pile. As the hen resettled on her eggs, Paige could see a half dozen or more little orbs, nestled safely under their mother. She broke a tiny smile that life could continue to go on with all the mayhem back home.

“What’s the matter, girl?” came a voice from inside the little house. The older woman she had seen picking through the garbage emerged, with pins between her lips, and cloth in each hand. “Oh, a visitor! Thanks for telling us.” She took the pins out of her mouth, and bright smile filled her face.

“Welcome to our Little Farm. I’m May Goddard, who are you?”

“Paige,” she answered. “I followed the tractor up here. I’ve seen you in town, and was curious about what you have been doing?”

“Oh, my husband, Bob just got back with a table he scrounged downtown. We’ve been trying to help people get by after this storm. It’s been awful to watch you all be so miserable.”

“It is pretty miserable down there, but aren’t you in the same boat?” Paige had never thought of Main Street as ‘downtown’ The idea that Heath was a big enough city to have a ‘downtown” was amusing.

“Not really. We make our own biodiesel for the tractor and the generator. We don’t use a lot of electricity most of the time anyway, though it’s really nice to have at night.”

“Do you want to come inside and sit? I need to finish this jacket before I forget where I’m at with it.”

Paige followed her into the living room, draped with fabrics, and pieces of cloth scattered all around. “What are you doing?”she asked.

“Can I get you some tea? I’ve got some hot water on the stove.” “Oh, I’m making some clothes for little ones down town. Most of them are down to just one or two sets of clothing, and everyone appreciates a clean set of clothes after such a mess.”

“Do you have gas up here, ‘cause the power is still out?” she wondered.

“No, but the woodstove doesn’t need any power except wood, and we have plenty of that.”

“ So that’s why he took the table,” nodded Paige.

“Oh no, that wood was too valuable to burn. Bob’s making a larger table, kind of like a plank quilt, so people can come up here to eat. You must all be getting pretty tired of the government rations.” “You bet we are, but how many people do you think you can feed up here?” “As many as we can. We just need a little bit more time to get the table and chairs set. We’re hoping to invite everyone this Sunday.”

Paige was confirmed now in her belief, these people were well intentioned, but a little “off.”

“What would you feed them?” she asked.

“ Well, I put up a couple of bushels of potatoes in the root cellar. We’ve got a big side of bacon, some canned corn and fruit, and I’ve been making muffin mix like crazy. I figure we can feed about a hundred or more. It’s not everyone, but it’s a start.”

Paige was startled. May had really thought this through. Once the shirt was sewn together, May took her out to the barn to meet Bob, and their herd of goats. Chickens were everywhere, and life seemed so relaxed up here. She saw the table that Bob was working on. It was massive, but beautiful. He’d set it up on sawhorses, painted the tops in different quilt patterns, and was making seats of whatever he could find. They were really getting set up for a dinner a hundred.

“We figure not everyone will come at first, but those that do can see how we’ve done this, and some will want to learn. They’ll learn themselves, and teach others. It will fill their stomachs today, give ‘em some energy to face tomorrow, and tools and connections to rebuild the town. It’s not much, but it’s a start,” he explained.

“Why weren’t you wiped out like the rest of the town?” Paige asked.

“Well, this farm has been here for nearly two hundred years. It’s survived because of where my grandfather built it. The winds hit the back of the barn, and since we’re uphill from town, the waters didn’t really reach here. We planned ahead for no electricity, but we’re working on solar panels so we don’t have use so much biodiesel. It still makes a lot of noise, and sets off smoke. I’d rather hear the birds than the engine. “

Paige had a great day at Bob and May’s, giving her new strength to deal with the rebuilding at home. May tried to teach her how to use the treadle sewing machine, but Paige was much more comfortable with pinning and pressing. She good a good hot bath using May’s goat milk soap, and was able to feel human again. But with a whole new appreciation of the life she had and what she wanted in the future.

When Sunday came, she helped serve the community dinner, and worked with the Goddard’s to coordinator classes and clean up. She studied the Goddard’s way of life, and learned more about what was really needed to keep living in Heath. She didn’t want the Box store anymore. She wanted a community garden and bike paths. That would give people a reason to exercise, and come back with memories, not shopping bags. Heath cleaned itself up, and life got back to normal, but it was a new normal.

There was more awareness of where things should be put, so if the water came back, they would be protected. But the best protection came, not from geography, but from community. The “outliers” were no longer ignored, but became pivotal teachers in the new sustainability of Heath and the surrounding towns. Main Street filled up with shops and diners which highlighted local goods, and the townspeople began to consider their town as a “Hometown,” not just a place to rest their heads. From the rubble of that storm’s aftermath, a new community hatched, building a new tomorrow on old practices with a new attitude.

North Country Sustainability Center, Inc. creating a resource for “What it takes to keep living here.”
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