Rewind: The Night the Trees Turned to Glass

Dec 12, 2018

Ten years ago this week, an ice storm descended upon New Hampshire. And as so often happens in the wake of such storms communities drew together to find a collective way through the troubles. In this story from the NHPR Archive, NHPR's Sean Hurley visited Francestown and found a microcosm of the experience that affected countless other communities around the state.

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New Hampshire is still reeling from last week’s ice storm.  Five days after the storm, there are communities all across the state waiting for the power to come back on.  Many towns have set up make-shift shelters and others, like Francestown, have taken the community’s welfare into their own hands. 

According to Gerrie Silly, some time between that fateful Thursday and Friday, Francestown, New Hampshire turned to glass. "Everything was just like glass. Everything. Houses, trees, the lawn. Every blade of grass had ice on it.  It was beautiful, but it did a lot of damage too."

It was a visionary, farfetched and glittering woods those first two nights. The moon was full and shimmered brightly on the startled forest. There was no wind and nothing moved. The trees had lost their tremble, wrapped in stiff clear sleeves of ice. But soon, here and there, in fits and starts, the woods began to shatter.  

Lucy Nichols, in her homestead in Greenfield, will remember the sound of the breaking trees forever. "My strongest memory was lying awake and hearing what sounded like gunshots, all night long. Ad it didn’t sound like modern gunfire, but sort of 1776 load-a-musket, let it go. Then a pause and then the next one, but it was all around and it was all night."

Days later, we’re all gathered in the Francestown Community Church, settled over hot meals in the flickering tea-lights scattered across the long tables. For the last four days, Mike Petrovick and Cher Barker have taken over the church’s kitchen, serving breakfasts and dinners here in the warm hall to anyone who comes through the door.  

"This is, this is really helping people in the community, says Petrovick. "This goes way beyond volunteering.  I mean we’ve had tremendous support from the community. The people that’ve come here have been really grateful to be able to get warm, get a warm meal." 

Barker adds, "It's probably been a good Christmas gift, everybody's taking a deep breath. And this isn't so bad not to be able to run around, not to be able to use the computer, not to be able to watch TV."

Dianne Curran has been here almost every day. "The church has really been a nexus of the whole town now, which has been lovely." A nexus where Mother Nature meets human nature.  

I had never quite understood that Dickens quote about the best of times and the worst of times until I heard Gerrie Sillie articulate it in her own way. "It’s the best thing I’ve ever had the experience of – these people are so good.  Everybody has pitched in.  Some of them have really worked really hard. It’s the worst thing I’ve seen since I’ve lived here for 50 years. I’ve never seen anything like this."

Rumors circulate that power might return to Main Street tonight and before it does, I take a brief stroll along the unlit road. The old houses are dark like they once were dark a hundred years ago. Here and there along the way I spy the yellow blurry fin of a candle flame and see the brush of someone striding by a window.  Houses at night either bloom or squint with lights, but this is almost medieval, all the black homes with smoke rising from their chimneys.

Back inside the warm hall, I have a slice of homemade pie and walk among the tables with the church’s Pastor, Suzanne Lamport. She’s lived in Francestown for the last five years. "Well, it’s been so heartening to have all this help. It’s food for the body and food for the soul. 

She's interrupted by the lights coming on in a dizzy surprise and I duck down as though some bright bird has flown overhead. There’s power surging through the lines and the room is white with fluorescence. But no one rushes off home. They’re still eating dinner, still moving along the serving line, still getting more food, cookies, pie. Returning to their tables to talk about the ice storm, to talk about the damage. To talk about what they did after the town turned to glass.