It is almost ironic that in my column last month (Dec. 13) I challenged each of us to look for new experiences in life, but I did not expect Vancouver, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and Islands near the Mainland to have a shared new experience at the same time!
The very destructive wind storm that lambasted these areas on Dec. 20 and thereafter left some initially excited, then bewildered, frightened and even mystified.
No doubt a book could be written of collected stories from these distinct areas of how individuals were affected by the storm and how they coped in the process. Obviously, places and individuals who suffered a longer period of time without power would have the most stories to share. While I do not have access to their stories, I do have some stories from residents in Cassidy. Chemainus, Duncan and Ladysmith to share with you.
But before storytelling, I would first like to offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of the young lady who was killed by a falling tree in Duncan. According to Cowichan Tribes Chief Bill Seymour, this young lady in her 20s was safe in her own house but left to check on some homeless nearby neighbours living in tents. When she was on her way to them a tree fell and killed her on impact. This young woman’s compassion and genuine concern for others in less fortunate circumstances is a beautiful example of how we might aspire to live in 2019 and onwards.
A Chemainus man was more fortunate as he witnessed electrical wires and trees falling in front of him as he drove along Henry Road. Even though he was telling me of his experience five days after the event his face and voice still held the terror that he had experienced at the time. He also shared how grateful he was not to have been harmed.
Coming out of the 49th Parallel grocery store I met a cheerful lady who was putting her grocery basket into its stall. She casually said she was still without power. Thinking she lived in Chemainus I said, “Oh, I thought everyone in Chemainus had their power restored.” She laughed and said “yes, they do, but I live in Cassidy.” When I asked her to tell me how the storm affected her in Cassidy she said, “Well, we are in our eighth day without power; we save rain water for flushing our toilet as we live on an acreage.” Yet, she was cheerful and wished me a Happy New Year.
Another Chemainus woman told me she was on the phone looking out the window when she saw a tree falling on her living room roof. She, too, expressed her gratitude that the damage was not more extensive and no one was hurt.
Most of us have seen the famous beautiful rhododendron bush in full bloom in Ladysmith. It is so famous that people come from all around the Island every year to look at it in full bloom. Sadly, the proud owner of this bush shared with me that the wind storm split it in half. While there was horror and sadness in her voice there was no anger. She said in her charming Scottish accent, “Ay, it is sad as I loved sitting by my window looking out at this bush but that is nature and we have to accept it.”
A mother in Old Town Chemainus told me for the first few nights without power she and her family were happy as it kept them home together in candlelight. She said, “we played games, made hot chocolate on a propane stove and were happy to have family time together.”
Similarly, I was excited about going to sleep in my friend’s trailer as it was battery powered with a propane stove. I thought this would be like camping! However, reality hit as I turned onto River Road and saw a large tree across the road. Firefighters were on scene and after 30 minutes cars slowly edged their way past on one side only.
When I reached Chemainus Gardens, I found the main entrance to the trailer section was completely blocked by another large fallen tree, but luckily, there was an alternate entrance. Throughout the night I could hear chainsaws in the distance and prayed for the firefighters and Hydro workers.
The year 2018 might have come in like a lamb but it sure went out like a lion! Our new shared experience brought out safe driving behaviours as the unmarked four-way stop intersections automatically took over on the highway. Quite impressive. Congrats drivers for keeping all of us safe in this power outage. Also, congrats for neighbours who helped neighbours. Happy storytelling in 2019.
(Kathleen Kelly is a Chemainus resident and author of the book ‘The Tornadoes We Create.’)