Fiona, a gentle name meaning “pale or fair.” Quite suitable for a tender maiden but totally unsuitable for a hurricane. Fiona didn’t care. She was every inch a hurricane.
Life without electricity cast us into some dark primeval past. Our comforting autumn routines were supplanted by the quest for drinking water, milk, gasoline, warmth and companionship. We of the Cove could betake ourselves to a community warming centre and enjoy a hot meal, recharge batteries, check email and fill water containers. It felt good to touch base with our neighbours but it certainly wasn’t party time.
Each household faced its own particular misfortunes: hundred-year-old shade trees rudely toppled; shingles whipped into oblivion; acres of corn flattened and shredded; barns collapsed or roofless; fences crushed under hedgerows; orchards now fruitless. Everything living was changed in some way—in fact, even the dead were awakened from their deep sleep by uprooted trees crashing into our lovely graveyards.
A week went by without power, then eleven days, and just as we had resigned ourselves to another week of judicious flushing (with rainwater) and going to bed at sundown (with flashlights), the power came back on! How sweetly the toilet tank gurgled as it filled up, how softly the fridge purred! And oh, how lovely was the sound of silence as generators were switched off!
It’s a relief to see school buses and garbage trucks rumbling along the roads as usual. And potato trucks. And electric crews. Fridges and freezers have been restocked. Plaid-shirted folks with chainsaws are helping chainsaw-less people such as ourselves clean up fallen trees. Thank you dear friends. Hopefully we will never have to live through another hurricane like this one.
Local historian and forester Bill Glen suggests that Hurricane Fiona may have been the most destructive storm on PEI since September 26, 1778, when Benjamin Chappell (diarist, millwright, maker of spinning wheels) wrote the following: “The great storm of wind began at 9 o’clock in the evening of Tuesday. Not much rain for it blew too hard. Fences and barns went to wreck & everything that was green blasted by the wind turned black as if burnt by the frost; the most valuable timber and trees were blown down; destroyed so much of the largest and best timber of the Island.” —An Examination of the Historic and Contemporary Records as they relate to wind/storm damage to the Forests of Prince Edward Island (2009) by William Glen.
Imagine the weeping and gnashing of teeth in an era of axes and handsaws…
Although it’s interesting to know that there were terrible storms in the past and Islanders lived through them, that doesn’t lessen our personal heartaches and challenges today. When she felt troubled, my mother used to say, “Just get busy.” So we snip and stack branches, start turning over the garden, plant the garlic. Make a batch of herbes salées. Go down to the Cove and walk on smooth sea-washed sandbars. Admire plump little periwinkles clustering cosily together on the rocks at water’s edge. Listen to crows inquiring of one another, “Where’d ya go during the storm?”
We look out at a different landscape of tree roots and stumps. But in tiny cracks and crevices, new growth is already starting and the cycle of life continues.