Kentville, NS

Home: Shawkat’s VRBO

Day 2

I messaged our VRBO hosts and explained in more detail about George and Penny staying with us: I mentioned what an incredible coincidence it was that we’d met them at all, and that if we’d have been able to foresee that such an impossible event was about to happen, we would have just booked for four people rather than two, and that demographically they aren’t exactly our way to sneak in a crowd for a raging kegger. Either I hit on their (hurricane-related) sympathies, or they saw reason, and they relented and allowed them to stay without any extra charges. I get that hosts need to protect themselves and their properties, but this was a case where I didn’t feel too bad asking for an exception to the rules. Helping our hosts move patio furniture down into the basement, and weighting down the garbage cans to keep them from blowing away, also converted the arms-length digital transaction more into a story of human cooperation and mutual benefit.

Our shelter from the storm for the next four nights.

George and Penny had spent the last day-and-half on a more-westward exploration of the Annapolis Valley, but returned back our way by late afternoon. After dinner, they immediately brought us back to the Baja tradition of music-making, with Rett getting a quick refresher for her 6-months-rusty ukulele fingers. The whole time we all still remained somewhat bewildered that this was actually happening, that we had reunited in this time and place.

Making music together.

Day 3

With the center of Hurricane Fiona expected to make landfall on eastern Nova Scotia near midnight, today was stock-up day! With the bad luck of the “close” grocery store being down and up a couple of giant hills and challenging to access by bicycle, our George-and-Penny encounter became even more incredibly lucky, because we now had access to a motor vehicle! So they drove us all over to the Atlantic Superstore.

It was a bit of a challenge determining how much food to buy; the forecasts said we should be relatively safe in the western part of Nova Scotia, but also, the power being out for a week wouldn’t be an unimaginable outcome. In normal life, I’d just stock up on enough non-perishables to cover that 80th-percentile chance, and in the likely chance it wasn’t that bad, no big deal, we’d just consume them over time. But as all four of us are nomads, “leftovers” would mean carrying them with us, or leaving them behind. It helped that no one else at the store seemed to be filling their carts a mile high, so with the bank-run (or COVID-toilet-paper) psychology apparently having a low infectivity rate, we went relatively-minimal as well. The bottled water section was definitely all cleared out, but that was the only real shortage I noticed. Are Canadians more sane than Americans in this regard, or is it Northern naivete, and this storm would prove that the “strip the shelves!!!” approach is the correct one, learned from hard experience?

On the way back we stopped at a thrift shop and a pawn shop (the latter of which essentially was a “thrift shop for boys”), mostly for entertainment while Penny got a haircut, but George and Rett both came away with some practical $3 clothing purchases.

Penny of Green Gables, as we shared photos with each other of our recent travels. We also watched ‘Contact’, and more-appropriately, ‘Twister’, together as part of our multi-night Fiona party.

Growing up in the Midwest, I’m certainly familiar with heading down to the basement when a funnel cloud has been spotted in a thunderstorm, but those storms operate on a timescale that is a fraction of Fiona’s. I’ve never had the experience of knowing for days that something very bad was coming.

So it was a real comfort to have other people on hand to go through this experience with, first because it increased our group’s practical resourcefulness, but maybe more-importantly because it turned it into a special event, a hurricane party that we could all ride through together.

By nightfall the rain and wind had kicked up significantly just as predicted, with the still-on-streetlight showing the drops flying sideways, and limbs of the still-full trees whipping about, but not yet breaking.

While lying in bed, scrolling on our phones around 11pm, a power line somewhere finally gave way, and the lights went out. The cellular network remained active, but I guess that’s still a good sign that it’s time for sleep!

Day 4

The power was still out when the sun turned the black to a gray morning. A lot of leaf-litter covered the back yard, and there was maybe one medium-sized branch hung up in the trees, but there was no real genuine damage to be seen. Winds were still blowing, but well down from their peak, and the rain was intermittent and light. Since I had pulled the grill against the house to shelter it from the northerly winds, it was relatively easy to stand in the doorway and boil water for coffee on its side burner.

We’d filled the bathtub and other drinking vessels, not knowing how this house might work when the power goes out, but the water still worked fine. And then, around 11am, the power popped back on, and stayed on. About 12 hours of outage, mostly while sleeping, meant that we were really pretty lucky in the whole scheme of things.

Areas to the north and east were hit much harder, including places we had recently visited, like Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island. So even though we didn’t feel too many effects of Fiona, having just been to those beautiful locations made it feel much more personal than the average hurricane that we hear about on the news, and even made me feel a bit guilty that we had been lucky enough to see them just before their old trees were torn from the earth and their beaches were eroded.

I give an enormous amount of credit to the scientists and engineers who have created and continually-improved weather models. I first noticed that Fiona was modeled to hit Nova Scotia when it was still way down near Puerto Rico. The actual point of landfall and its intensity, five days later, were stunningly accurate. The only “error” was that it arrived maybe 5 hours sooner than predicted, but that only highlights how dead-on everything else was.

Left: An August 19th (7am) prediction of what Fiona’s position and strength would look like on August 24th (3am).
Right: Fiona’s actual position and strength, at 10pm, August 23rd.

That accuracy is what allowed us, as vulnerable people who don’t own walls or a roof, the time to make it to a place where we knew we would be relatively safe. But just because we made it through relatively unscathed doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an incredibly destructive and powerful storm: in the end, Fiona set an all-time, all-Canada low-pressure record, making it officially the “strongest” storm to ever hit Canada. While we never had a goal of “ride out a record-setting storm”, a silver lining in Fiona’s dark clouds is that it didn’t end up being a case of forecasters crying wolf; the inevitable storms of the future will sadly continue to be taken seriously in the Maritimes.

Day 5

We’d initially booked four nights, and although the storm had cleared completely out by today, we booked one extra night (after herculean effort with VRBO and then AirBNB) because we would be U-Hauling it out of Kentville and the logistics worked better a day later.

Rett getting one final ukulele lesson from Penny.

But George and Penny were ready to move on, so we reversed the Baja experience and this time watched them go from our temporarily-shared home. We get so much help and support from people we meet, with nothing asked in return, and always feel a bit ashamed that our limited resources would make it difficult to give in return. Usually the best we can hope for is a “pay it forward” opportunity, but even those are few-and-far-between until we return to a more-heavily-resourced life. So the unbelievable luck that led us to cross paths with George and Penny was raised to incomprehensibility when we realized we had this opportunity to directly repay the hospitality they had shown us! Of course, simply being able to hang out with them again for these three nights was the true jewel, a jewel impossibly forged by one butterfly whose flapping wings generated Fiona, and a second butterfly who set our paths across each other on the Nova Scotian road. After they check out Cape Breton (if it’s passable), they’re heading for New England, same as we are, so this hopefully won’t be the last time our paths cross!

Goodbye George and Penny! May our paths cross again!

In the afternoon, Rett and I took a walk up the rest of the hill on the dead-end street. At the very top, we found a property with a few branches down, but otherwise, the sunny skies left little evidence that a major storm had come this way.

The worst damage we could find from Fiona in our area of Kentville.


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