Something other than candles or flames from wood. Not that there's anything wrong with tree butchery, especially when ice falls for three days and more than 30,000 people in Springfield still don't have power.
The storm hit Friday and held the city through Sunday. On Tuesday there was sunshine, at least for a while. In between there was ice, layer upon layer of rain that hit the trees and stuck fast. Because it had been warm -- 50s and 60s into Friday, just before the storm struck -- there was fog at night, and if you stood outside for more than a minute you could see through the shroud as ice-burdened trees gave way. You could hear them creaking and losing limbs with a sound like the rip of a well-worn flannel shirt, followed by a snap and the crystal sound of shattered ice. If you stayed outside long enough you could make yourself believe there was some sort of lumbering monster out there in the fog, stomping through the dark.
This storm was a freak, a super slo-mo disaster that seemed to arrest all motion and sense. It moved at a glacial pace, dropping devastation onto the natural order, but it left most of the unnatural intact. The roads didn't freeze over; the only hazards to driving were the obscenely amputated tree limbs, and the occasional power line they brought down (most of the lines stayed in place, almost looking festive with their streamers of frozen rain).
Most natural disasters are frightening, and should be; they serve notice that compared to a whirling cloud that touches ground, we are little more than pissants. The ice storm of 2007 will be remembered as a disaster without terror.
No terror, but plenty of panic. Because we knew the storm was coming, we planned without thinking, buying perishables to put into refrigerators that stopped working, or forgetting batteries for the flashlights. There was scant chance to die in this storm; the biggest threat to life was getting bonked on the head by a falling tree limb. Mostly the storm was an annoyance, a drag: No lights? No Internet? No cable?
The upside to the storm was humanity. People who live next door to each other had the chance to become neighbors, and often did, offering food or a warm fireplace. Those who would gouge the needy with storm's-a-coming prices were outnumbered by honest brokers who just wanted to help their fellow humans in a crisis.
The media did its job, and for the most part did it well. Some reporters said it looked like a "war zone" outside, ignoring the lack of bomb craters and buildings pockmarked by bullets, but most played it straight. The best reporting happened when the message was undiluted. Radio stations devolved into community message boards, passing along information on shelters, generators, hot food. One local announcer, best known for being a divider, rose above to be a broadcaster, spending dozens of hours at his post. Juliana Goodwin of the News-Leader -- a delightful woman, and don't you forget it -- reported on the announcer's work, and how he will remember "the incredible love people have shown each other." Perhaps he will recall that love the next time he's spewing hate.