Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

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Sword of Damocles Fails to Strike (Yet)

As is the usual pattern here, I went to bed before Lisa; she has all sorts of difficulty sleeping most of the time, with her tinnitus troubling her more and more. At about 2:45 AM, I woke to her yelling loudly at me, "I NEED YOU TO GET UP RIGHT NOW!" Struggling awake, I sat up and groggily tried to figure out what was wrong. The lights were on; I could hear the furnace running. So why was Lisa hanging halfway out the door of the trailer yelling for me to help, quickly? It finally penetrated my brain that the main power had failed -- we had lights and heat still because the trailer has its own batteries and propane supply -- as a huge wind-storm was blowing through, and that the reason Lisa was stuck in the doorway was that the wind was threatening to blow away the pipe-and-plastic structure that keeps the rain off the trailer and she was holding on it for dear life to keep it from taking flight.

I quickly tossed on my clothes and went to the door to help keep the shelter from blowing away. Apparently the strong winds had caused a couple of the supports to snap and the shelter was whipping back and forth in the wind. But that was not the worst problem. A large tree branch had fallen from the redwood tree, and part of it was sticking through the shelter's plastic roof. Beyond it in the dark we could see an even larger branch that had landed hard on the PVC-and-tarp structure Lisa had built to keep the rain off of the side of the old family house. Although previous storms had blown the thing down, we could pop it back up into place. Not this time. the falling log smashed the thing to bits.

With me holding on to the trailer awning to keep it from flying off, Lisa was able to first re-secure the supports that usually prevent such side-to-side movements, and then she went to get the hand saw to saw away the worst bits of branch that were threatening the house. Meanwhile, we could see bright flashes not too far away, but no thunder -- we think that was electrical lines sparking a short distance away. There was no other light around but for those on the trailer, as power was out all over Mehama. The wind had slackened a bit, but a very heavy rain was falling.

Lisa moved the Vanagon out of danger from under the tree, then turned it around and pointed it back toward the tree, so she could use the van's headlights to illuminate the work. She then went to work on sawing branches. She also climbed on top of the trailer and dislodged the branch that had stuck itself into the shelter's plastic cover. With the trailer shelter as secure as it was going to be in the circumstances, I worked on clearing away the branches she hacked away. The worst of the storm finished blowing through, and the rain stopped.

With the most immediate danger past, Lisa parked the Vanagon away from the tree and she and I got our flashlights to inspect the property. The big tree in the middle of the property that dropped branches in the pre-Christmas snowstorm had dropped even more, once again blocking the path that leads to her father's house. At his place, the battery-inverter system was providing power to one room of the house, where we shut down all non-essential equipment and headed home.

Lisa was soaked -- I was none too dry myself, but she had had the worst of it. She stripped off the wet clothes and dried off, and bandaged up a nasty cut on her knee she didn't even realize she'd taken when the force of the wind-blown shelter bashed her and her knee into the door frame. We took stock of the situation. The trailer's batteries meant that we had light, and we could have some heat, although running the furnace runs the batteries down. All of the AC outlets were dead, as they're tied directly to ground power. That meant my CPAP wouldn't run. (Note to self: get the DC-to-DC adapter for this unit; I could have run it off the trailer's power.) There really wasn't much else to do but to try and get some sleep, although it was terribly restless for both of us.

The next morning, Lisa's father called to tell us that he still had battery power and the internet connection worked. I pulled myself together intending to send e-mail to my co-workers telling them "I'm offline today." The trailer's batteries were not holding up well. I stepped outside into a bright, sunny morning. I also saw that the porch light was on at the old house (that's an AC groundside circuit), yet we still didn't have power in the trailer. I went back inside and asked Lisa what to do. After thinking about it for a while, she got out of bed, had me lift the bed, and threw a switch. Apparently the ground-fault circuit had tripped when the ground power came back on. Lights immediately brightened and the battery charger started to hum. I headed over to get some (but admittedly not much) work done. Lisa's father said that big power lines were down all over the place. I was surprised that our power was out for only around eight hours.

In the cold light of morning, the scale of the damage was easier to see.

Here's the shelter that protected the old house. You can see the core of the tree branch at bottom center. Bear in mind that this photo was taken in the mid-morning, after Lisa had cleared away the brushy bits.

These are just some of the small branches Lisa and I cleared away from the branches that fell on or near the trailer. This area where the branches are stacked is normally where we park our vehicles.

Looking up into the branches of the redwood tree, we found a very disturbing sight:

A branch bigger than any of those already on the ground has broken completely clear of the tree and it being supported only by the couple of smaller branches in which its root is entangled, as you should be able to see here. We can't figure out how to get this branch out of the tree without bringing it down on our heads. What was the end of the branch is on the ground now, as it's hanging vertically from these two branches. Even to get at it will take a lot of work clearing away other debris.

And here's the additional branches dropped on the cross-property path.

Besides the ones on the ground, there were a couple half-broken branches drooping precariously onto the path. A lot of branches have now broken off this tree.

The biggest treefall of them all is probably the least worrisome for now, although it's going to be a pain to do something about without heavier equipment.

A smaller tree -- but the entire tree, not just branches -- has fallen over on the old pump-house that contains the water pump for the property. This doesn't affect our drinking water, which is a municipal supply, but does affect water pumped from the on-property well for use during the summer for irrigation purposes. These are two shots from opposite angles, one showing the pump-house with the tree on it, the other showing the tree in more detail.

With a few hours of relatively clear weather this morning and afternoon, Lisa came over and asked me to help her clear away what we could in the time we had available. The Santiam River Valley was full of the sounds of chainsaws as other people cleared away fallen trees. Lisa hooked the large trailer to the John Deere mower (which also works as a tractor since she put a tow-ball attachment on it) and wielded the hand-saw while I hauled branches. We took one load of branches from near the trailer, and then undertook to clear the path.

One branch in particular was precariously perched across the path and looked to fall at any time. However, the only way to get it down was for Lisa to climb the tree and saw off the little bit that was still holding it in place. So she climbed up the offending branch, maybe seven meters or so off the ground, and hacked at the branch, which proved to be more stubborn than we though. Even when she severed it from the main tree, it got hung up in other branches. Fortunately, I was able to pull it clear.

Lisa sawed off another couple of dangerous-looking branches, then came back down out of the tree and sawed all of them into manageable sizes. I dragged branches out of the way and piled stuff in the cart. This bare description doesn't really do justice to the two or three hours we spent out there working on the trees. Lisa got very damp having to sit on one branch while sawing another. I was busy dragging loose branches on the ground away and raking piles of debris.

A few hours of tree-clearing left us both beat. Just as sleet started to fall, Lisa put the mower and utility trailer away and we went back to the trailer to have lunch. After lunch, Lisa gave me the photos she'd taken earlier and I came back over to her father's house to try and get a little bit more work done. This wasn't easy, especially when the power glitched again. Fortunately, by now I think I know how to reset his battery/inverter setup when the utility power comes back on.

I think we're tired. Thank goodness the winds are forecast to be much milder tonight. However, it snowed a little bit this afternoon and may snow again tonight and tomorrow.

On the brighter side, if messes like this and the one last week have to happen, it's better than they happen when I'm here. Lisa can be very handy, but she's far more reluctant to do things like climb around in trees cutting branches without me acting as a lookout and helper.
Tags: lisa, mehama, weather

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