Monday, February 2, 2009

Return of the Light

Merry Candlemas! (Or Brigid. Or Imbolc. Or Ground Hog's Day. Take your pick.)

It's a cross-quarter day in the pagan calendar, mid-way between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. While Candlemas has been Catholicized to signify the purification of the Virgin Mary 40 days after birthin' her famous baby, the Wiccan roots of this holiday are celebrating the Return of the Light (Brigid is the Celtic goddess of smithcraft, poetry, healing… and fire). While anyone outside today in the MIdwest would not mistake the weather for spring (Punxsatawney Phil apparently did see his shadow today presaging six more weeks of winter—which, conveniently, is exactly how long it is until equinox and the official change out to spring), the days are appreciably lengthening now and at Sandhill we're getting the collecting buckets ready for the maple sap which will soon be flowing.

Though the light hasn't returned very strongly yet (it's a bit early for shorts), you can feel that winter is starting to loosen its grip, which is as good a reason as any for a party.

• • •
I spent the day driving home from south central Tennessee, after devoting the weekend to attending two days of FIC Oversight Committee meetings at Dunmire Hollow—home of long-time FIC Board member and dear friend, Harvey Baker. My route went through Paris TN and Paducah KY, via Murray on US 641. In that thin part of western Kentucky local residents are celebrating the Return of the Lights (plural).

A nasty ice storm hit the area six days ago (Jan 27), wiping out power to more than 800,000 folks. When I drove down Friday evening—three days after the storm had passed—there was virtually no electricty between Paducah and Paris, a stretch of nearly 70 miles. It was eerie.

I was running low on gas when I entered the blackout area, and it was somewhat nerve-wracking not knowing if I'd find the other side before I ran out of petrol (I did, though barely). Retracing last Friday's route today, I traversed the afflicted area in daylight, and had a good look at the damage. It reminded me of South Carolina after Hugo had slammed into it as a category 5 hurricane in 1989. For miles, the top of every third tree had been snapped off. Amazingly, the ice storm did even more damage than Hugo had. There were stretches where there were no trees undamaged. It looked like a giant game of pick up sticks. Clearing the roads must have taken a herculean effort.

On the radio today, I learned that two-thirds of the affected homes have had their power restored, and that they were hauling emergency generators in from as far away as Huntsville AL—over 200 miles away. Though the Kentucky governor called it the worst natural disatser in Kentucky's history, this afternoon the sun was shining in Murray, most businesses were open, and the streets were packed. The ice had melted and people seemed in a pretty good mood, having survived a difficult time with minimal loss of life and gotten a taste of that particular brand of temporary community that magically manifests in the presence of crisis.

I imagine for most folks in western Kentucky today was best Candlemas they'd ever had.

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