Irene passed with nary a whimper here and while I know that was hardly true elsewhere, I hope that everyone out there is relatively unscathed (or scathed to a very minor extent). What the storm did do is keep us from our last hurrah of the summer with friends at a Bed & Breakfast for the weekend. Fortunately, all the reservation-holders completely understood the cancellations and we braved the coming onslaught to at least go on our long-promised hike with one another a little north into Massachusetts. And so, armed with bug spray, smart phones, and a toddler backpack, two families with three small children dove into a beautiful wooded path as the skies began to darken.
It was both beautiful and eerie. The forest itself was thick and rich, moss bright against moist bark and toadstools popping along the path. I'd never seen so many bright orange salamanders in my life, so many of them were crossing the way that it distracted my children who wanted to pick up every one to feel the tiny feet against their palms. I'd also never heard the woods so quiet: not a bird or chipmunk or squirrel noise anywhere and heard only the low drone of insects, like a warning. The tiny tree frog toy clutched by our littlest hiker made the most appropriate sounds of clicking croaks as if we were in the rainforest jungle.
I was rapt in those moments, loving the magic of the woods while simultaneously trying to keep my son from squashing the mushrooms down like buttons underfoot, until we broke through the marked path onto the wide pipeline road. The steep incline was rocky and wet, runoff beginning to create rivulets and the sound of the brook at the bottom ominous in the quiet. It began to rain in earnest. The men were unsure of our path. The children began to complain. A gentle panic swelled as I looked at the sky, the clouds beginning to slide alarmingly fast, and there was a moment when I felt as insignificantly small and ridiculously shamed for the arrogance of hiking far from home with a downgraded storm on the way. We picked up speed and pulled the younger ones more quickly down the slope, through the forest, up the path, while they whined and complained or cried on our backs. We moved. And all I could think of was the ancient fear of pursuit in the woods, like wolves or brigands or soldiers but this was somehow more powerful: rain and wind. But the truth was it boiled down to almost the same thing: fear of the unknown consequence, the result of our decisions being out of our control, seeking safety in a moment when you know you're not safe.
At home in a warm kitchen with power and light, the storm swirled and threatened before the next day's downpour. We holed up for the day and lazed around playing games, reading books, making meals and snacks and treats. We watched movies and downloaded episodes and generally ignored the wind that tore down branches and swirled the clouds outside. We watched the storm pass on our laptops and smiled when the sun broke through. We used the grill for dinner.
But I still hold that delicate, frightening moment of my family's feet on the pine nettled path, bright orange salamanders scurrying out of our way, and the subtle quiet of the woods where my imagination ran and the storm nipped at our heels like teeth, pushing us on faster than we intended. It's a little parting gift from the storm, and I'll take it for what it is.