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A Plainfield couple reflects on rebuilding one year after floodwaters destroyed their home

A smiling white couple, a woman and a man, both in T-shirts, stands behind a field of grass smiling in the sun.
Erica Heilman
Vermont Public
Karen Meisner and Pär Winzell stand behind the burial site for their books ruined in the flood.

Karen Meisner and Pär Winzell live in Plainfield in a big brick home from the 1830s. On the night of July 10, 2023, the Winooski River ripped through their downstairs, carrying off belongings and scattering uprooted trees across their property.

A blue icon reads, "One Year Later." In the background a woman and child stand, facing a way from the camera, looking at a flooded road. They have a canoe next to them.
Laura Nakasaka
Vermont Public
In the "One Year Later" series, Vermont Public covers the anniversary of widespread flooding in the summer of 2023. Explore the series.

Volunteers from all over the community spent weeks helping them clean.

Reporter Erica Heilman checked back in with them a year after the flood. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Pär Winzell: The first month or even two, perhaps, were just so intense. It was emergency mode, day and night. And then it was inevitably, kind of a crash after that, followed closely by honestly, kind of a depression over the winter — just like realizing just how massive an impact this has had on our lives and where we live, our sense of permanence. You know, how do you feel about a house that is kind of — I’m not gonna say doomed — but we have to live with the possibility that this will keep happening.

An aerial shot shows a flooded home and fields.
Pär Winzell
Vermont Public
A drone photo shows the house and environs shortly after the flood.

Karen Meisner: I mean, I got super depressed. Everywhere you looked for a year, there was mud. And there was mud inside of everything, and around everything, and it bakes down to this hard clay, that no matter how many times you scrub it, it just doesn't come off. And then it sort of dries and becomes ambient dust that settles on everything. So everything just feels crappy.

More from Vermont Public: Plainfield woman recounts losing her 200-year-old house to the Winooski River

Pär Winzell: It's hard to describe how much you rely on the integrity of the place you live in, for just feeling like the world makes sense. And your life has a trajectory, and you kind of know what you're doing. It's just disorienting. You know, it's a little exciting, but it's taxing.

"It should be said that in rebuilding, we love this house more than ever. It wasn't fully ours before. It was someone else's house that we had bought and we were sort of inhabiting. But once you have to tear it down and rebuild it up, and you've put your hands on every part of it, you really feel like it's yours."
Karen Meisner

Karen Meisner: We were very fortunate. We had good insurance. The insurance hasn't covered everything that we need to do, but it's really, really made it possible for us to rebuild. And the community pulled together so, so well for us. I do wish that I knew people here. You know, once we're not like, disaster stars anymore, people don't show up when you don't have like, a lot of local friends, and I don't yet. We had moved here two years before the flood. So you know, that all sort of disappears. And then we're just alone with it and struggling.

More from Vermont Public: After the flood, this Plainfield, Vermont couple planned to leave. Then their neighbors showed up

Erica Heilman: You both are having to reckon with this together, but also individually. So how did that play out? Is that too personal a question? I'm just sort of interested in how you —

Pär Winzell: I think there's definitely tensions, right? Like, my friend became the tractor where Karen needed actual friends. Like, I get a lot of satisfaction from doing that work. To some degree, it highlights your differences in some ways, right? But that's also kind of exciting, because you know, after being married for a very long time, it's kind of like a new phase of life, and you get to see new sides of the other person, and —

Karen Meisner: We're in a good position in that we actually love the hell out of each other. And we've been together forever. And we know we're gonna be together forever. I mean, this is not the first tragedy that we've dealt with in our lives. But it is an ongoing, sort of — I mean, when your house is trashed, it's different from other sorts of trauma in that you're living, you're literally living inside it.

But I mean, it should be said that in rebuilding, we love this house more than ever. It wasn't fully ours before. It was someone else's house that we had bought and we were sort of inhabiting. But once you have to tear it down and rebuild it up, and you've put your hands on every part of it, you really feel like it's yours. So, we love this place at least as much as we ever did, and in most ways, a whole lot more.

Pär Winzell: I will say that everybody who has lived here for a while lives on a hill, and that is probably not a coincidence. So if you're moving here, you might want to take this into account.

Karen Meisner: We’re never gonna sell this house.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Erica Heilman produces a podcast called Rumble Strip. Her shows have aired on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, SOUNDPRINT, KCRW’s UnFictional, BBC Podcast Radio Hour, CBC Podcast Playlist and on public radio affiliates across the country. Rumble Strip airs monthly on Vermont Public. She lives in East Calais, Vermont.
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