QUECHEE, Vt. — The nightmare was always the same: Alexandra La Noue-Adler was surrounded by rising water, and she would be stranded, trying to reach someone, her husband, her daughters.
And she could never reach them.
A little more than two years ago, when Tropical Storm Irene barreled into Vermont’s Upper Valley, that recurring nightmare became suddenly, dangerously real. She stood on the back porch of the riverside Parker House Inn she runs here on Main Street with her husband, Adam, and watched helplessly as the Ottauquechee River rose furiously and burst its banks.
“It rose so quickly,” she says, shaking her head. “If you ask anybody who was here, that’s what they’ll tell you. How fast the water came up.”
They’ll also tell you that the Ottauquechee was talking that day — snarling, roaring, hissing — as propane tanks the size of bathtubs and tree trunks bobbed downstream.
“We’ve got to leave! Now!” she yelled to her husband.
But Adam Adler is English and regarded the chaos with a very English, keep-calm-and-carry-on detachment. Their two daughters were already on the other side of the river, in the family home, next to Quechee’s iconic covered bridge.
“I was the last one over the bridge,” she recalled. “Adam stayed.”
Adam Adler is a Londoner, and he was fiercely determined to keep the lights on, the bar open.
“I thought if people could see the light, they wouldn’t feel so hopeless,” he said.
He went down to the inn’s basement and found it flooded. He swam around, trying to salvage whatever he could. But the muddy water claimed several hundred bottles of wine, and all of the linens.
On the other side of the river, Alexandra looked out her window and watched a portion of the bridge she had just crossed collapse and plunge to the bottom of the waterfall. She could see a gaggle of propane tanks, swirling in a combustible whirlpool.
The tanks clanged against the riverbank, shifting the very foundation of their home. The house was teetering, in danger of falling into the river. In no time, the Adlers had lost their business and their home. But then something amazing happened.
“People we didn’t know showed up at the inn with shovels,” Alexandra said. “Some kids from Dartmouth appeared from nowhere.”
Within a week, they had managed to reopen the bar. It became a modern-day Cheers, where everybody did know your name. With the covered bridges at Quechee and Taftsville gone, there was a greater sense of isolation among the locals, but also an ineffable bond.
As the Adlers tried to get the rest of the inn and restaurant up and running, Alexandra started getting letters from former guests and patrons. “There was a letter from someone who had stayed with us. I didn’t recognize the name, but there was 50 dollars inside and it said, ‘Hope this helps.’ ”
As she told the story, Alexandra La Noue-Adler, a tough Brooklyn girl, began to do what she did that day she first opened the letter. She began to weep.
“What we do, it’s a business,” she said, wiping her eyes. “But we care about the people who stay with us and eat at our restaurant. We care about our staff. And to be where we were after the storm, and to be where we are now, it really means something. It’s more than just making a living.”
On Sunday morning, a light snow fell in Quechee, filling in the bare spots on the ski hill. Adam Adler wanted nothing more than to watch his beloved Chelsea take on Manchester United on TV. But he had to drive to West Lebanon to get something.
Running a country inn in New England is a nonstop job.
The Adlers just had their best year since they took over the inn in 2004. And that recurring nightmare, the one about the rising water?
Since the storm, Alexandra La Noue-Adler has never had that nightmare again.