Sometimes we forget to reflect on our good fortune as we focus on the daily challenges of life.
But this week we had a reminder, as on the one-year anniversary of the devastating snowstorm which left parts of our city without power for days, we received a glancing blow from Hurricane Sandy, as it took a quick turn west from the Atlantic and instead unleashed its fury on the Tri-State coastal region. As someone who has spent much of his working life traveling throughout western Massachusetts, I was relieved that, for once, Mother Nature decided to give us a much-needed pass. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes: we’ve had our share. Our thoughts reach out to our neighbors to the south, many of whom are dealing with increasingly difficult circumstances in the aftermath. As I was topping of my gasoline tank Monday morning – a lesson learned from our storm last year – the lady next to me at the pump asked what disasters were possibly left that we hadn’t experienced yet? Volcanoes I replied…she hadn’t quite anticipated that answer.
That Monday, as the storm moved from sea to land, I found myself in Great Barrington, debating whether or not to pick up Exit 2 on the Pike on my way back to Westfield, or to wend my way east along Route 23 back to Route 20. Concerned that the increasing winds could wreak havoc with any tractor trailers out on the Pike in that 29 mile uninterrupted stretch between Lee and Westfield, I headed home along Route 23. At first, all I had to contend with were leaves and twigs blowing along the highway. But it wasn’t long before I came across my first downed tree in Monterey. Still, its trunk wasn’t much thicker that a soup can, so I was able to drag it to the side of the road before anyone else came along. But no such luck as I reached the Otis/Blandford town line, where a State Trooper pointed me down Beech Hill Road, as Route 23 had been closed by a massive tree fall. Beech Hill Road heading towards Granville was familiar territory from my days working Western Hampden County for the DOR’s Bureau of Local Assessment, so I took off with confidence towards Cobble Mountain Reservoir. However, it wasn’t long before a slammed on the brakes, as this time a rather large tree had crashed across the detour route as well, blocking traffic on both sides of the road. An employee form the Springfield Water Department and the Blandford DPW were already attacking the tree with a chainsaw, and when someone on the other side jumped out with another chainsaw, I eagerly took a turn dragging the pieces to the side of the road.
We were working diligently – the public employees still had other calls – but we all paused when the wind suddenly rose to a furious pitch, and the trees which formed a canopy over Beech Hill Road suddenly started bending toward the asphalt. Whereas seconds ago, the wood had been full of four voices yelling over two chainsaws, we four now found ourselves quietly frozen, staring up at the encroaching trees, wondering if any of them were destined for us.
After some of the longest ten seconds in my life, the wind finally subsided, and we didn’t wait for it to return, slicing up the remainder of the tree and pushing to the side of the road. None of us stuck around for small talk, and I took off down the back roads of Granville, using every foot of the asphalt and packed dirt surfaces, as what had been leaves and twigs had now become branches and limbs strewn across the roads.
Fortunately, Westfield seemed somewhat sheltered from the northern winds roaring to our West, and I drove through the city without incident. I saw the Mayor’s truck in the parking lot at City Hall, and my good friend Tommy Curran let me in to what had become “Command Central”. Mayor Knapik and I discussed the storm and how it might impact schools and city services, but in more than an hour with our mayor, his phone never rang once, which told me our city was doing well as Hurricane Sandy peaked. I went home to ride out the storm, but other than my gas grill doing its best imitation of Orville and Wilbur Wright, the night passed without incidence.
So while I’m on the topic of good news, let me add a few notes. Many of us who live up here in Ward One use Union Street on a daily basis. I have been advocating for over a year to get the horrendous patch job from the pipe replacement a few years ago redone, as driving eastbound on Union Street had actually become painful at times! There were some issues with funding, but now that the money questions have been fully resolved, the new paving is under way.
Also, we’re starting to see some signs of activity on the closed “Drug Store” Hill Bridge. The winning contractor selected by the state was held up on another job, and was delayed in getting here until they completed their previous bridge rebuild in another community. The report I get from City Hall is that there is actually more going on under the bridge than on top of it at the moment, so it may not look like much yet, but work has finally commenced.
Finally, there has been a report of an unusual noise emanating from the bottom of Prospect Hill, one that can be heard from the old school to the High School. I know from where it’s coming, and I have been in touch with the operator of the building, who has been very cooperative in finding it and trying to derive a solution. It may take a little while longer to figure out how to neutralize it, but they’re hoping to have it resolved shortly. Now if they could use that same technology and figure out how to neutralize 5:00 a.m. trail whistles….
Don’t forget to vote Tuesday!
President, Westfield City Council
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not the staff, editor, or publisher of the Westfield News.