Twenty years ago this last week, January 4 through January 10, 1998, the city of Montreal was hit by a massive ice storm, a true tempest, and all stopped for several days. A non-profit T shirt in the aftermath would eventually come out: I survived the Montreal Ice Storm. After all, it was like living three ice storms back to back and like experiencing three winters in five days.
Three million Montrealers were plunged into darkness. On a day dubbed Black Friday, it included the downtown core. The lights, along with heat, went out for most. Hospitals fought to keep power. 16,000 Canadian armed forces were called in, the largest number since the Korean War. This was no ordinary storm but a Great Ice Storm and it would take at least another five to ten days to restore communication lines and power, if not a month for many in some areas. It became a time for shelters, creative resourcing, good Samaritans and wonderful friends.
Time slowed to the surreal. Space became otherworldly, but there was a unique holding glue of togetherness anyway and no one felt unsafe or alone. By night, the stars or moon at times dazzled a white sea below. By day, a phenomenal world of ice stories in the felled trees captivated city streets and paraded the deserted parks. Everywhere you looked these ice stories commanded the human imagination with a scorching rare beauty of a magical stillness that spoke.
Human kindness also spoke. It soared greatly and sincerely, and to voluminous height. Its frequency was so strong that it became the city’s most singular radio station beyond the damaged power lines. Everywhere, a human warmth radiated the heart and comforted beyond the cold and the concerns. Kindness ruled. Caring reigned.
I survived the ice storm. I also was one of the lucky homes with electricity and heat and good running water as well as a phone line and a working TV in a sea of hundreds that were not, and so one who could invite total strangers in and reach out to people in need, even share some chicken soup.
People played card games and board games with each other. They sang songs and huddled to share stories to while away the hours. They became inventive with an old generator or unused wood burning stove. People went out of their way to check on each other. People found many creative ways to stay warm.
Social media and the iPhone did not exist then. Curiously, it was the power of staying incredibly connected by a selfless caring and the daily joy of a creative and often peaceful daydreaming that won out.
MONTREAL ICE STORM
In an unexpected ice-storm for self-actualizing mind-travels
with atmospheric tree-lined phenomena,
I found dream-flame unraveling, the day’s polar brushstroke,
the suspense of a night planet, the stainless polar dark of new sea.
I became ice stars, shimmery, falling to earth,
an emerging body of lakes with tilting smooth silk to drink,
a collection of the ancient, a porthole mystery,
a pale and sunken map of the moon.
I sought the endless bookmarks among the many boats anchored.
I sought under the shy ice-light floating, upturned oars, bashful bog.
I excavated preserved ships in bottles with a library of stories,
skeins of opaque burnt paper amid the drowned glassed-in secret shelves.
I met white fields of the too hungrily opened,
the overlooked masses, forgotten, the bruised and the torn.
I felt the surgeon’s glove locking the brown.
I felt the bit and the quivered, the wild, the raped.
I touched the dragonfly’s wing molting over the buttercup sap of healed tiny tendons.
I talked to the children’s fingers violin-playing to the trees’ gauzy wind-blown.
I retrieved ropy veins mixed with saved silver
under a still strand of Rapunzel’s hair.
I relieved the loose carved bites of lost apple
in a mountain castle of blinding white walls.
I faced the inner stone carriages, its shining glass dolls.
I sang to silver trays of unwanted cutlery.
I kissed the airy cold dreaming, the fire’s ice shrieking,
the slow flame sleeping in the forests of bone.
I climbed the white caps. I played mirrors and cloud games.
I saw the stains, the white loss, I transformed its juice of dried tears.
I watched this white wedding, its wedding dress skimming,
I found the snows kissing its dance until our white song became one.
All Magical Photos courtesy of Abby G
This poem was previously published in Behrend Lake Effect magazine.