Monday, August 29, 2011

IRENE...reflections on a hurricane.

It began day before yesterday Friday, Aug. 26th. We began to realize from online weather maps of a visit from an unwanted weather event named Irene. From TV and online media there was some indication it might reach a category 3-4 before finally going out to sea. Friday evening at Lib’s suggestion I went to our local Kroger store, bought some bottled water (two gallons), some other small items, and some cash money. With increased interest we watched her move up alongside the North Carolina coast and checked on the weather forecasts there from official weather stations. We worried that Mike and some of his family were in for a bad night. They live in Greenville, NC. I also emailed my brother John who lives on the coast in Lancaster county, Va. only to discover when I opened my Google mail, that they had wisely left home and ensconced themselves in a Richmond motel across town.

Late Friday night or early Saturday morning we could hear a light rain on our roof and skylight. Saturday morning at daybreak it continued. TV and computer both indicated we would have significant rain and wind later in the afternoon. We ate a light lunch. Soon Cathy’s family called and volunteered to tie down our deck furniture. My estimate was that we would escape high winds, but Lib wisely invited them over to check out things. It’s great to have family living close who can help out this way. A little later it began to rain in earnest. They came over and secured the deck furniture. It was nice just to visit with them and get their take on the situation.

The electricity had flickered most of the afternoon, but the winds from our perspective weren’t any more severe than a summer afternoon thunderstorm. Around 3:15 the current went off and except for the radio and a cell phone we were isolated from what was happening in the larger world. Later the wind picked up and rumor had it that we had some gusts over 50 mph. Around 5:30 we had ice cream for supper. We checked out the contents of the freezer side of the fridge and were satisfied by their state of frozenness.

It began to be dark by 6:30. Lib and I made preparations for a long night. Before the light faded I took movies of the blowing trees. Some of the time, as I was filming, it would be very calm. Then when I shut the camera off there would be an impressive gust and the trees would dance wildly. It was sort of frustrating not to be able to capture significant action on demand! Lib did see a a small tree fall across the drain ditch near our neighbor’s house.

Around 10:30 the radio announced that 75% of Richmond’s houses had lost power. I called a friend several miles away at whose church we were supposed to play on Sunday. They had power and that was encouraging as was the fact that most of the familiar radio stations were broadcasting. We turned on some small electric candles and went to bed. The concern we had was whether sometime in the night, without warning, one of the nearby trees would finally lose its grip in the wet soil and drop on our roof!

Around 1:00 AM I was awakened by the Verizon phone "battery losing power" signal. It took me a few minutes to find where the beep was coming from. I went to the kitchen for a drink of water and monitored news on the small radio. There were still occasional gusts and then it began to be quiet.

Dawn peeked through around 6:30 and we started the day by 7:30. We ate our traditional cereal breakfast. Our neighbor who brings us their paper to read came over and we exchanged mutual
questions about how we had survived the night. I was sort of hoping we would have electricity soon, but the radio discouragd that. Seems that state wide there was over a million without power and some 300,000 in the Richmond metro area. That’s a lot of lines and transformers to replace!!

Cathy called and brought us over some hot coffee. That helped immensely to put a positive cast on the day. The morning was spent reading and planning for the day. Food in the freezer was still frozen as was ice from the ice maker. We ate bagels and cream cheese with jelly for lunch and planned to have pork chops for supper. They would normally be grilled anyhow. It had been exactly 24 hours since the electricity had been off.

That afternoon we read and listened to the radio to pass the time. Lib and I had several conversations about family and our recollections of past hurricanes. Around 5:30 we grilled the
chops and warmed up some store bought mashed potatoes. That was supper.

Afterwards I drove out in the neighborhood to see if there was any ice to be found. There was
frozen food we hoped to save until the current came on. In a 45 minutes of driving I saw numerous trees by the side of the road. The few stores that were open were out of ice. It was
interesting to see what Irene had done with just 40-65 mph gusts.

We talked by candle light until 9:30 and then went on to bed. Sort of reminded us that this was
how people used to live just a few decades before we were born. And that there were many who
lived much closer to the whims of the weather around even now. Thought about women who daily had to walk a mile or more to carry water from a stream, lake, or well back to their homes.
Where cooking was done with wood or cattle “chips” over an indoor fire area that filled the whole hut with stinging smoke. Where going to the bathroom meant carrying a little container
of water for hygiene early in the morning before daybreak to a wooded area for a bit of privacy.
Whatever time left in the day would be devoted to back breaking hoeing and cultivating crops
to feed the animals and the family. We thought about how delicate is the web that connects we moderns to life through electricity! Without it, it doesn’t take long for life to return to primitive modes!

Around 5:00 am the current returned thanks to round the clock efforts by Dominion power. As
I finish this at 1:30 pm there are many still without, including I suspect, our daughter and her family. Hopefully, when she returns from work it will be on.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Virginia Earthquake

Our first earthquake hit here in Richmond around 1:51 PM EDT! Lib and I had just finished lunch and were in our living room when I heard what I thought was a distant and low helicopter approaching us. Shortly after, the house began to rattle just a little and the sound became louder. In a few seconds the rattle became quite alarming and stronger. Since neither of us had experienced a prolonged quake we didn’t know exactly what it was. (Earth quakes don’t happen ever in Richmond, do they?!) About the time I had figured out what it was the rattling began to subside and it was more of an item of interest.

Since we have a computer I went on FaceBook and discovered that some of my friends had experienced it also and that their friends in far away places also felt it! Next I went to Twitter and reported briefly our experience and then looked for others. Sure enough there was all sorts of news that was being reported first hand. I went back to Google News but they didn’t report it for several minutes. It was a window rattler for sure!! I search with NOAH and discover that the epicenter was Mineral, Virginia and officially it was 5.9 on the Richter scale. We may have after shocks but they shouldn’t be as severe.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Three and half decades teaching strings in Roanoke

It’s a warm August afternoon and there has been a new surge of Face Book friends in the last few days. It all started with Lisa Garland Manley, a former student, discussing our class in the context of old Roanoke, Virginia days. I responded and quickly there was a covey of students, friends, and their friends who replied or commented. Some asked to be friends on Face Book and I was happy to include them. If this serves to add to the happy recalling of those halcyon days then so be it!

Shortly after I earned my Master’s degree from JMU around 1963, I came to Roanoke to be the new strings instructor at Patrick Henry High and its affiliate feeder schools. Preceding me were David Burgess, the band director, and Gene Ferguson, the choral instructor. The three of us managed a cordial and friendly relationship and worked in and shared the same music room. Our groups maintained high levels of competent musicianship. The Art and Drama were across campus and they, too, had a statewide reputation for excellence. We were able to do a creditable performance of the Christmas portion of Handel’s “Messiah” for several years. About half way into the first decade David Lipps and then Joan Steele were added to our string faculty and developed strong programs around their centers.

In the second decade it became more difficult to maintain the string program. Andrew Hull and the Roanoke Symphony gave me backing when I began to feel the pinch from new computer and
language requirements. Our good Festival ratings also provided credibility to enhance the continuation of the program. Other societal changes were calling into question how strong the
arts ought to be and where in the educational milieu they should be allowed to exist.

A new superintendent and “the Middle School” concept which he inaugurated made it increasingly difficult to schedule in school time for music instruction. Classes at the high schools were scheduled at “0" period before the normal day. In the winter that meant beginning class just as day was breaking. Instruction at the elementary level ceased. I truly believe that administration grudgingly wanted us in the curriculum as a strings program indicated some sort of excellence; all the big systems continued theirs and Roanoke needed to keep up. They just didn’t offer us much help. So we had to improvise on our own. At least I had a full time job.

The last decade was sort of a mixed bag. Instead of one high school I was at two which split loyalties. For some concerts and Festival contests I merged the two for a strong ensemble.
There were several rough years at inner city schools trying to establish string classes which
were not the instrument of choice. We accepted whoever applied, and some just couldn’t sit
still long enough, or pay attention in a way that was beneficial to them or the class. No one
seemed in charge so we did our own thing as best we could.

After my full time stint was over I taught the morning class at William Fleming for several
years. That was a happy experience with the students. We met at “Zero” period, put on
creditable concerts twice a year and represented our school at District Festival. Physical problems due to age and arthritis finally led me to full retirement.

This is an off the cuff recitation and is an approximation of things as I remembered them. If
you are a student or an administrator who lived through one of those decades you may have a
more accurate recollection. I would love to hear from you.