Wind Storm Neighbors

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(HOST) One of the fierce storms that swept over our region this summer reminded commentator Chris Wren of one of the many reasons he likes living here.

(WREN) Rarely does the death of a favorite apple tree gives rise to celebration, not to mention eight gallons of cider. But it happened recently when a violent thunderstorm slammed into our farm at Five Corners.

Bent by the screaming wind, trees around us groaned and cracked, dragging down power lines, blocking roads and plunging us into total darkness. Driving rain rattled the windows. When the storm finally moved on, we had no power. No water. No phone.

I had to wait till dawn to survey the damage. Our old farmhouse was intact, unlike a couple of houses down on Lake Fairlee. But we lost several trees, including part of a stately maple and the old crabapple, which lay torn and twisted where I usually park my Jeep. Red and yellow apples splilled across our driveway and lawn. I took out my chainsaw, but it wouldn’t start and I couldn’t find my hand-saws.

As I stood there, feeling paralyzed, Jeff glided up on his bicycle. He’s one of my neighbors on Turkey Hill Road. "I’ll get Kevin," he said. When Jeff reappeared, he started stripping limbs from the crabapple with a saw-tooth knife. Our neighbor, Kevin, followed with a big orange chainsaw and his wife, Jill, and their two kids. My closest neighbor on Quinibeck Road, another Jill, looked at the mess and fetched her son, John, who brought an even bigger chainsaw. Kevin chopped up the apple, while John yanked his chainsaw into action and attacked the downed maple.

Jean, our neighbor on Turnpike Road, arrived with a rake to help my wife, Jaqueline, begin gathering up debris. Someone I’d never seen before helped me pull away branches as John limbed the maple. The stranger introduced himself as Derek, who had recently moved in down Robinson Hill Road. His wife, Jill – there’s three Jills in my tale – was raking too, while their children played with Kevin’s kids. Kevin and John teamed up to finish the maple. Nine adults and four children in motion.

Once the chainsaws fell silent, the children helped us gather up the fallen apples. We divided up the wood. I wanted to pay John, who earns spending money chopping firewood, but he shook his head. "We’re neighbors," he said.

They wouldn’t leave until all the branches had been dragged into the burn pile in our meadow. We loaded the wood into the pickup trucks, Kevin proposed driving the apples down to another neighbor who has a cider press.

Next day, Jeff came by with a jar of freshly pressed cider. The label, hand-printed by Kevin’s Jill, read "Wind Storm Cider." It tasted tart and elegant. Kevin guessed the apples had yielded about eight gallons.

Vermonters! Sure, they leave you alone when you want them to. Until you’ve got trouble, and then they rally around, rock-solid and ready to pitch in. Because, like John said, that’s what neighbors do.

Chris Wren is a former reporter and editor for the New York Times.

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