When Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey on Oct. 29, it brought with it destruction that had not been seen in our state for decades, and in some cases in history. Many thousands of people were displaced from their homes, property damage is estimated to be about $30 billion, and, worst of all, many from my state were counted among the more than 100 who lost their lives in this "superstorm."
When he took a quick tour of the course, Carson noticed that many trees - and large ones - had fallen.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHRIS CARSON, ECHO LAKE CC
But I didn't know any of that when the storm struck Westfield, a town of 35,000 that lies 18 miles from Manhattan. With power, telephone and Internet lines down, all I knew was what I saw around me. This story tells a bit of what I dealt with, and the main lesson I learned from this storm: We all have our own perspective on events, and our own concerns.
With power lost already, I laid in bed and listened to the wind on Monday night, a consistent 60 to 70 miles per hour that noisily told me that I need to replace the windows in my home, which was built in 1928. When several stronger gusts made the house shake and me cringe, my thoughts turned to the large trees that surround my home: Would they fall onto the house?
I awoke to a scene of damage that was bad, but certainly not devastating. A tortuous trip to the club, dodging downed trees and wires all the way, wasn't as bad as feared, but once at Echo Lake Country Club I found four trees blocking the entrance drive. I looped through the course, grabbed a chain saw and the loader and cleared the road - then I took a trip around the course.
There was debris everywhere. A quick count showed at least 50 trees down, large trees lying on the swimming pool fence and patio furniture (stacked there for "safety" from the storm), a platform tennis court crushed, and two greens damaged. The largest tree on our course, a three-stem 90-foot-tall red oak that was affectionately called the "Club Oak," had split, despite a series of supportive interior cables, and was lying on the green.
There wasn't much to be done that first day other than calling our tree company and asking for help, dealing with energized primary wires on the ground, and making a game plan for the weeks ahead. A fairly recent convert to a smartphone, I've become a believer in the usefulness of these remarkable devices. I'll never badmouth them again!
On Wednesday, the work began. Similar to a spring cleanup, the crew started at the clubhouse and started blowing, chipping and hauling massive amounts of material to our parking lot. Our tree company showed up with a crew and attacked dangerous trees first, getting them onto the ground. It was then that I began learning my lesson on perspective: The platform tennis chairman was on-site looking for a quick fix to that area; the chef was looking to protect the cold and frozen foods; the controller needed power to deal with end-of-year accounting and new year billing (Nov. 1 is the first day of our fiscal year); and my staff was concerned about having enough gasoline to drive back and forth to work.
This tree leveled a fence and landed on an Echo Lake tennis court
The value of strong vendor relationships was reinforced during this storm. Our tree company is large, with about 14 crews, but that wasn't close to enough for the hundreds of calls the owner was dealing with. The fact that the firm had a long-standing relationship with our club meant that we were high on its list of people to assist first, and that meant that one or two crews were on our site for the first days of recovery. Similarly, our equipment and facilities manager was able to make calls to our fuel supplier for emergency deliveries and, eventually, to friends on staff at our local energy provider to help us with downed wires.
The rest of that tiring week is a blur, and included locating and purchasing generators, allocating gas and diesel judiciously to both our own machinery and that of our tree company, and trying to make order out of the chaos.
I went to sleep to the sound of many generators buzzing hours on end in my neighborhood, and was amused later in the week when those same people were complaining that no gasoline was available to run those generators. Why, I asked myself, are these people running these things 24/7? Gasoline availability became a statewide problem, and I had to make an hour-long trip to Pennsylvania just to fill my wife's car. Institution of odd-even gas rationing dealt with that problem, as did the gradual recovery of power throughout the state.
More than 3 million people lost power in New Jersey. For me, I was in the dark for one week at home and 11 days at work, and at the writing of this article, 30 days after Sandy, we were still without telephone and Internet at work.
As the days passed, I had no access to news other than my car radio for a few minutes a day. Thus, my perspective was limited only to what I was seeing and dealing with. Only later, more than a week after Sandy hit, did I take a look at the newspaper and TV pictures and reports of what happened in the tri-state area. It was then that I recognized how fortunate my club and I were. Echo Lake shut down for two weeks, amassed close to 1,000 yards of debris that is slowly being hauled off-site, threw away $40,000 in spoiled food, lost some important trees and had damage to two greens and two structures. When compared to the death and destruction that others have been dealing with, these are minor inconveniences.
Despite what he and his course endured, Carson says he feels fortunate, considering what others have gone through.
I've since heard stories of lost lives, of lost homes and property, and of significant damage to iconic areas in New Jersey shore communities. Things are getting back to normal for me and my club, and therefore my point of view is much different from the many people who are still dealing with much greater losses. For them, Sandy is still very real and personal. For me, it is becoming a fading moment in the history of my club.
New Jerseyans have a partially correct reputation for being short-tempered and ill-mannered. While it is certainly true that ours is a hard-driving state, it is also true that there is incredible compassion and support among our people. Only after the fact have I heard some of the remarkable stories of people helping the afflicted, of our nation's concern for the well-being of its East Coast citizens, and of the many acts of kindness and grace that were made on an individual level.
For me, I will remember a week without power and, to a certain extent, a peaceful return to quieter days, days without the blare of television or the distraction of news from elsewhere. I'll remember the tremendous volume of tree debris, dealing with a painfully slow insurance adjuster, and the hard work of my crew members proving once again their value to our club.
Most of all, I'll remember the goodwill from people throughout our nation who expressed concern and offered help to those in need. New Jersey will recover from this event, and we will remember that the kind thoughts and prayers and donations from many people throughout the country helped us heal.
Chris Carson has been the golf course superintendent at Echo Lake Country Club in Westfield, N.J., for 27 years.