Gray matters – Breaking the ice
Belfast — At this time 15 years ago, I was probably hunkered down in a little house I rented in Lincolnville, still without power and struggling to keep my place warm enough to avoid getting sick. I was simultaneously engaged in what turned out to be futile efforts to save the contents of my fridge — which, as a 21-year-old, consisted largely of random condiments, milk and beer — and trying to save a couple of tanks full of freshwater fish from their unavoidable demise.
Ah, the Ice Storm of 1998. Who here doesn’t have similar memories of the powerful storm that, according to the Maine Emergency Management Agency website, knocked out power for more than half of the state’s population? Some went without power for two weeks or more.
For me, it was “Tanya, Unplugged” for the next 14 days, since the storm swept the region during the first week in January. I spent a lot of time listening to constant updates about the storm on a little battery-powered radio, and outside I regularly heard the sickening cracking and crashing of tree limbs falling from the weight of the ice. My dooryard, like all the others in the state, was a veritable skating rink. The branches on the small hedges that lined the driveway bent downward and froze to the ground, creating a series of uneven archways that could only be cleared by way of using my car as a battering ram of sorts.
There were many days my neighbors and I would see several Central Maine Power crews out working to repair the extensive damage to the lines and poles — work that had to be completed before power could be restored. It looked like pretty cold and difficult work, and I know more than one of us in the neighborhood snagged those guys a pizza or some coffee while out at the Center General Store. One time, a few of those nice fellows helped me get my car dislodged from the end of my driveway.
I was just starting my job at The Journal back then, and I primarily covered the town of Searsport. One of my more interesting memories of the ice storm is of covering a meeting of the Board of Selectmen. They held it outside, because it was warmer out in the parking lot than it was inside Union Hall. It was a brief meeting, as it mostly concerned clearing the roads and cleaning up the damage in town.
I wrote my story up on two sheets of college-ruled notebook paper and handed it in to my then-editor, Tom Groening, a task that would have been done by way of a computer were it not for the fact that the whole state was still on ice — and under a thick layer of it in most spots.
I remember bumming the generator off my folks so I could run a couple of lamps and a few space heaters for the downstairs portion of the house. I left my place when my parents got their power back over in Belfast (the fish had all died by then anyway, so I figured there was no use staying there any longer).
Anyone who lived through that time won’t soon forget it. And while it was a trying time, for sure, there were also many examples of people coming together to ease the hardship. Those who were lucky enough to have their power restored opened their homes to the families who still had handmade “no power” signs posted at the end of their driveways. Many people did this so the line workers would know they were still in the dark.
People in the community checked in on their elderly neighbors, and brought those in need to warming centers throughout the county.
It was the first time I really experienced what being part of a small Maine community is all about, and looking back on it now, the memories of all the good that came in the aftermath of the disaster far outweigh my less-enjoyable recollections from that time.
And because of it all, we can proudly say we survived the Ice Storm of '98.