Craven: Irene Stories

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(HOST) When commentator, filmmaker and Marlboro
College teacher Jay Craven set out
for southern Vermont, in the face
of warnings for Hurricane Irene, he figured he’d emerge with some kind of
story – and he did.

(CRAVEN) Most Vermonters now have vivid tales to share – of courage,
tragedy, generosity, imagination, endurance, and most of all, community.  Still, we’d gladly trade all our accumulated
stories for fully restored homes, farms, businesses, roads, theaters, and

My story began when I drove through the rain, from the Northeast
Kingdom to Brattleboro,
late that last Saturday night in August. 
I was due to give a Sunday morning talk to new students at Marlboro
College.  With worsening conditions predicted, I
decided to at least get as far as the Latchis Hotel. 

On Sunday morning, I slipped into my Mini Cooper for the
nine-mile climb up route 9 toward Marlboro. 
I was glad to be one of only a few cars within sight because the rain
was beginning to pool on the road and at one point I nearly hydroplaned off the
highway.  I slowed down but then without
warning, I encountered a wall of rushing water spilling from a nearby culvert,
just as a huge 18-wheeler loomed out of the driving rain, coming straight at me.  There was nothing to do but
accelerate through the water, and I missed the tractor trailer by inches.  Moments later a tree fell across the road
behind me and the highway I had just traveled broke apart.

Images flashed though my mind of the floods we’ve seen on
television, blanketing flat fields in the mid-west.  These Vermont
flood waters were different – gaining destructive force as they torpedoed down
mountains, powerful enough to shred asphalt and catapult whole buildings from
their moorings.

I made it to the college, but got soaked to the bone, racing
through the rain and fumbling with locked doors.  But I gave my talk to a captive audience,
then realized I was now marooned with no way off the mountain.

When I’m in Marlboro, I usually stay at the Whetstone Inn,
an old stagecoach stop, but it was full of stranded wedding guests dining on
the dwindling inventory of intrepid innkeeper Jean Boardman’s thawing
refrigerator.  So, I bunked with Marlboro
faculty colleagues. The next morning I borrowed their bicycle to thread my way
down the decimated Ames Hill dirt road – to meet my family and get my son to his
first day of college.  I couldn’t quite
manage the bike’s clip-on cleats that locked my shoes into the pedals.  So I careened over a small precipice, banging
up my knee and shoulder. And I’d left my regular shoes in my car back in
Marlboro.  So, I clicked along the
sidewalks in washed-out Brattleboro,
looking and sounding like a tap-dancing penguin with a limp.  But I made it.

Vermont towns
pulled together after Hurricane Irene because we have the history,  the practice, and the people that create
unique conditions for distinctive community. 
I hope that in the hurricane’s aftermath we will sustain these renewed
connections – through our commitment to our town meetings, schools, farmer’s
markets, downtown stores, local media, arts events, and the times we gather to
advance, strengthen, and celebrate our towns.

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