Mixed Emotions in Post-Irene Upper Jay
by Lisa Bramen
A year ago yesterday I was driving back to Upper Jay from coastal Maine a day earlier than planned. My husband and I had been watching the weather forecast and didn’t want to get caught in the downpour from Tropical Storm Irene along the way. When we were nearly home, I looked over at the Ausable River as it bends in front of Paul’s Bakery and felt reassured by how low the water was.
The next time I went outside was 24 hours later. At around 4 p.m. on August 28, my husband braved the torrent to see how our hamlet (which had already flooded once that year, in the spring) was faring. We live on a rise of land and weren’t concerned for ourselves, but for our low-lying neighbors. The bottom of Trumbulls Road was under a few inches of water, but it wasn’t until a couple hours later that things got really bad.
At dusk, we both went out and looked in horror at the incredible scene: a garage had floated into the middle of the road. A house had been carried some 50 feet from its foundation to the middle of a field that used to be home to a pony named Pickles. Pickles was nowhere to be seen. We heard from a neighbor that he had watched the poor old creature fighting the current and had tried to rescue him, but the water was too treacherous.
A light kept flickering in an upper window of the Navajo Lodge, a vacation rental house. We worried someone was trapped inside, and called 911. All through the sleepless night we heard rescue airboats in the field, which was now a part of the river.
The next morning was sunny. Most of the water had receded, but our hamlet was utterly transformed. At least a half-dozen homes were destroyed. The last remains of the Land of Makebelieve amusement park were gone, along with hopes that it could be restored as a community park. Pieces of Paul’s Bakery and the adjacent antiques barn run by Julie Robards had floated across the field and landed next to the Land of Makebelieve lot.
A year later, some things have changed for the better, some for the worse, and some not at all. Many of the neighbors whose homes were torn apart aren’t returning. Tall grass grows around the wreckage. This summer the remnants of old flower and vegetable gardens mingled with the weeds, a poignant reminder of what had once been tidy, well-tended lots.
Pickles the pony is gone. The yellow diamond street sign with a horse on it is still there. Long before the storm, someone added a wing sticker that made the horse on the sign look like Pegasus. Now it makes me think of Pickles in pony heaven.
The antiques barn is closed for good, but Paul rebuilt his bakery and this year came back better than ever. (Sadly, it’s now closed until next summer, but I highly recommend stopping in for a pastry when it reopens.) The Wells Memorial Library, after an outpouring of help from near and far, has been renovated and re-stocked.
The biggest change (from my perspective alone) is that Upper Jay has a brand-new resident: my son, who was born in May. I discovered I was pregnant less than a week after Irene—such happy news amid such sadness. I wish he could have seen the way our tiny hamlet used to be. I hope it grows into something even better.
Read our special Irene report, “After the Storm,” from the December 2011 issue of Adirondack Life.