Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind. —Bruce Lee (1940-1973)
Life in the woods is sometimes challenging, and at times, it can be downright scary. By scary, I don’t mean bears, bats and big cats, those I can handle. It’s the wind that scares me, although “terrifying” might better describe it. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always loved the wind, but let’s face it, wind and big trees, don’t mix. Wind isn’t always to blame. I’ve seen tree-sized branches fall without warning on a windless summer day. I’ve seen a giant cottonwood fold under its own weight without so much as a breath of wind. It does happen, even on a windless day, but when the wind blows, it just ups the ante.
I’ve experienced a several big windstorms since we bought our forest home twenty-three years ago. Both storms happened at night. Both times I was alone. And both times, the power was out. Imagine yourself alone in the woods in the dark. The only sound is the wind, a giant whoosh that sounds like an eighteen wheeler barreling along on wet pavement; a sound that can be heard from miles away. The next thing you hear is a tremendous snap! It is the splitting sound of wood coming apart—tearing, splintering into what sounds like a million pieces. A tree is falling, grabbing its neighbor’s branches along the way. It seems to play out in slow motion. Branches snap and crackle. You have no idea how big or where, or in what direction the tree is falling. But, you know it’s coming down. Then suddenly, the tree hits. There’s a tremendous thump. The ground shakes. It’s over. You and your home were spared, this time.
Those windstorms delivered a powerful punch. Winds at home topped 80 miles per hour and more than 100 miles per hour further up the mountain. Luckily, in both instances, no one was killed. But, two cabins over, a vintage cabin was cut in half by a Douglas-fir during that first big storm.
And so it was that on a Monday afternoon, in the second week of January 2020, the weather turned breezy, with gusts to 25 mph., not rising to the point of concern, or so I thought. I was in the kitchen when I heard the tree snap up on South Bank. I knew it was close. I’ve heard that when you hear a tree snap, you have just three-seconds to react. That’s exactly what I did. I ran away from the sound to the north side of the house, and hunkered down on the floor. Holding my breath, I braced for impact. As before, it seemed to play out in slow motion. I heard the tree falling and dozens of branches breaking some of them thumped the roof. Then came a crash then a thud. The tree had missed the house, barely. Shaking, I exhaled a sigh of relief. It was over.
I left my hiding place to survey the damage. It was a small Douglas-fir (at least by Douglas-fir standards) that had come to rest just off the back deck. It must have been the tree I heard crack earlier in the winter. It was close. Had it fallen a foot to the west, we would have lost the deck roof and support beams. But we weren’t without damage. Our cyclone fence took a direct hit and our metal table was crushed. It wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t devastating. It could have been a lot worse.
The tree snapped forty feet of its trunk leaving a thirty-foot snag on South Bank that will benefit wildlife. The trunk broke in three places leaving a tangle of fir branches around the deck. I stood among the branches. The spicy aroma of fir needles and broken wood had a calming effect that soothed my nerves. Chickadees and towhees didn’t mind the chaos. They joined me in the branches singing cheerfully that further lightened my mood.
We had the fence inspected that evening. As the couple moved some of the branches, they startled a handful of little brown bats that had come to rest in the branches after the tree had fallen. The bats fluttered at their faces with no ill intent, and quickly flew away to find a more peaceful retreat.
The tree was limbed and bucked-up the next morning. The wood we will split to enjoy around the fire ring. The fence was repaired two weeks later with three new panels, four new posts, and an additional gate. We’re still waiting for the roof to be cleaned, but overall, harmony was restored. The birds are flourishing, the squirrels are sassy, the raccoons are happy, and the deer are healthy. Life is good!
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