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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Storm Journal #4

5:42 PM EST 02/02/2011

I brought the truck around and unloaded more firewood. Looking around through the yard, it's messy. Twigs, a few limbs and branches, general forest junk laying in the yard. I thought about hiking out into the forest like I said I would, but after wrestling the frozen tarps off the truck and then unloading a half-ton or so of firewood I decided to leave that for later.

I cleaned off the stove top and broke out our Coleman liquid fuel camp stove, sitting it atop the other range. Since daylight was streaming in the windows I considered disassembling and repairing my 650 watt inverter that I crosswired last night and replacing the automotive-type fuses in it. (I've done it before.) Then I remembered I'd need a soldering iron. Well, that would have to wait...

The house was warming up due to the fire I'd rekindled in the basement wood burning furnace. I looked around the house and there was much I could do, but I didn't sleep well last night. Let me explain something to you--

As I said, I live in the middle of a forest. Outside my property lines there is MORE forest. It goes on for many miles, save for wherever it was flat enough for farmers to clear the land for planting. The first time my wife and I were here during a power outage was when I realized this is where they invented DARK. I mean inside-a-cave-type darkness. I mean cannot-see-your-hand-in front-of-your-face darkness. I'm also pretty sure this was also where they did the final testing and approval on SILENCE. In the summer you can hear all sorts of things out in the woods, coyotes howling, deer moving around, dogs barking at hobgoblins. But in the winter, when the house is closed up tightly, you can't hear anything.

Except trees and large branches cracking and crashing down. Those are loud and easy to hear.

So I had an uneasy sleep last night, continually telling myself that the big trees near the house would hold. (In fact, I had no evidence of this at all. It was all mere wishful thinking.)

So here I was, on the first day of an expected "extended power outage" and figuring I'd have to do back-flips and pull out all the tricks to make a stand. What did I do? I did what any red-blooded pioneer-type would do under similar emergency conditions. I took a nap.

I slept for about three hours, then got up and dressed for the outside. It was still daylight. I went out and fed my dogs, who were still apparently cuddled up in the barn, and began walking east from my house. That's where all the racket was coming from last night. Oddly, there wasn't the heavy snow they'd called for. I figured that would come later.

But it didn't.

A portion of this place used to be a tree farm. In many places the attentive hiker will note that while there's plenty of undergrowth at random, the large, mature trees are in rows. Sometime, thirty years ago or more, they became too large to remove and replant. So there is about a five to seven acre grove of tall, magnificent mature white pines east of the house. When my wife and I first walked through it, she called it "the Cathedral." The name stuck.

I was walking through the Cathedral, noting many large limbs down, but not finding any collapsed trees. This was kind of odd, because last night it sounded like a tank battle was taking place out there. Finally I came across a tree, a big one, that had collapsed under the weight of the ice. I wasn't surprised. That tree had a whole side of it that had been infested by bugs from the ground up to about five feet. The woodpeckers (and we have a LOT of woodpeckers) had been hamming at it for years. I'd noticed it several times and was surprised it didn't simply fall over in good weather, let alone an ice storm.

As I continued my walk, I found two dead trees that came down, amazingly not doing much damage to the others surrounding them. There were many large limbs broken off, storm debris everywhere, but not the devastation I had expected. We got off lucky.

About the time I was in the middle of the pine grove "Cathedral" I head a loud POP! somewhere over my head, almost immediately followed by a CRACK! several yards away.

These things could still come down, I thought. And here I am standing among acres of them...


I took the shortest route out of the pine grove to a truck lane that skirts the side of it. Looking in from the side, however, I was thankful not to see the massive damage that I had expected. Then I wondered, "What about the Long Branch?"

There are clearings in this portion of the forest that were left by the tree farm. They're connected by lanes where they could take equipment through to dig up trees and transport them. Along the edge of one such clearing there's a white pine that has a ridiculously long branch coming out about twenty feet or so and it's right at head level. I almost cut it down once, then looked at it again. I thought it was kind of cool for some reason, such a long branch so low to the ground, so I left it. And that name stuck too.

I walked around to that clearing, avoiding anything that could snap, fall, and drive me into the ground like a nail, and was delighted to see the Long Branch's own length had saved it. As if grew heavier and heavier during the ice storm, it simply lowered itself to the ground and laid there, the earth supporting the weight. Sure, it's frozen solidly to the ground, but when things thaw it will gradually lose the weight, break the icy lock, and raise back up again.

All in all, we got off incredibly lucky. Amazingly lucky.

And I was to run into yet more luck in a few minutes.

Coming back into my yard, I lifted the tarp from the driver's side of my truck and started the engine. I wanted to make sure it would start and there would be no need to monkey around with it should I need to attempt to break out. It fired up immediately and I shut the door, figuring to let it warm up a bit. I lowered the tarp back down, then turned towards the house.

That's when I noticed my porch light was on. My electric porch light!

I dashed into house and the kitchen and living room lights were on, the same ones that were on last night. The TV was on too, in its odd "recycle" mode that it goes through when we've temporarily lost the cable (laser) signal over the fiber optic system. The power could not have been on for more than two or three minutes before I saw that porch light. I grabbed the telephone. It was still dead. I tried the Internet. No luck there, either.

Apparently the local phone company was trying to turn everything back on at once. The TV went though its series of screens, then the local news came on, loud and clear. Five minutes after that the phone rang. It was my wife calling from North Dakota, where she'd been worried sick about me and trying to call periodically. I assume we now have Internet access to, and will send these two journal entries out in a moment.

I'm still running the computer off the deep cycle battery and inverter. I'll need to do a little rewiring tonight.

For three days we've been hearing nothing but doom, gloom, and Gotterdammerung on the weather and the news. Obviously, this area simply did not get hit with everything they thought we'd suffer. Pure luck. And like the man said, I'd rather be lucky than good any day. But there are thousands upon thousands of our countrymen and women--and their children--who were not so lucky and are all gathered in one room of their house, their flashlight batteries dying, trying to keep the room above freezing with nothing more than candles. If you are a spiritual person, pray for them. And if you are, or are not, if you have a little extra in the pantry or a few bucks to spare, get it to the Salvation Army or the Red Cross.
They're setting up shelters across the heartland and will need everything from disposable diapers to food to blankets.

I could have held out for a long, long time here, and would have stayed warm and fed. There are too many that were hit much harder than me who do not have the devices and skills necessary for that. Turn your attention now from me to them. They need all the help they can get.


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