Rob's Blog Archive

November 22, 2015

The Heart of the Storm










It takes between tens of seconds and a few minutes for a storm to blow a tree over, and it’s loud.  The sound of a tree falling is like thunder from a storm straight overhead, but with a higher pitch.  There’s much more crack than rumble.  During my seven mile walk, I heard over one hundred and saw one, start to end, fall onto Boy Scout Road. 

Less than a minute would pass between the crack of one tree falling and the crack of another.  Sometimes, these were only seconds apart.  I could barely hear my footsteps above the sound of the steady wind and the gusts through the forest drowned out everything except the falling trees. 

I had wanted to test how waterproof and breathable a new jacket was as well as how well a pair of softshell pants worked in heavy rain.  The pants were just water repellent, but I’ve always gotten away with much less water resistance for pants than parkas.  And so I went out.  Unfortunately, the hard rain didn’t last long.  Mostly, I walked through light rain and sleet. 

There wasn’t much rain, but I had timed my walk perfectly.  The intensity of the storm peaked while I was out.  Climbing over trees that had fallen on the road, I saw that all had fallen from the northwest to the southeast.  The gusts came from all directions but the ones that took trees down were coming from the northwest.  Boy Scout Road runs north-south.  With this, I stayed on the eastern side.  

Along with walking on the side opposite of the falling trees, anytime I heard a nearby crack, I looked to see where it came from.  It was like checking for rockfall.  I would have been ready to dodge anything that gave me more than a second.  My only real fear was a tree dropping a hot power-line on me.  In retrospect, while the power had been on when I left my house, I know it went out shortly after I left.  I did step over a power-line on the ground and it obviously had no voltage on it.  The power had probably gone out by the time I hit the end of my driveway and turned onto Boy Scout.

Between rationalization and observation, I felt mostly safe as I walked.  Still, I was relieved to get home.  There, for the first time since I’ve been at Silly Lake----my house is in a wind-protected depression---I found a tree across my driveway.  Also, the roof to Lolo’s house had blown off.  I’m sure there were no more than one or two corroded screws holding it in place, but as a heavy multi-layered roof that remained intact, it had blown over Quid’s house and was leaning on the fence. 

One of the many good things about heating with a wood stove is that, regardless of power, I can keep my house as cozy as I want.  After checking out my dogs and their houses, I stoked the stove.  I then watered and fed the dogs.  After this, I reattached Lolo’s roof, this time with six brand new screws.  It’s not perfect.  Mitzi had had that house before and had chewed through a lot of the front.  With this, there is less to attach the roof to.  Still, it’s much more secure than it was before the storm. 

Finally, I let the house dogs out for a quick pee.  I poured a shot of Hennesy, read a bit from my Kindle, and went to bed.

With all that I heard and saw, I figured it would take a long time before my power was back on.  With this, I started planning what I had to do.  Heat was done, and easy.  Food was going to be a minor problem---I had a fair amount but it didn’t have much variety.  The biggest issue is water.  Until power came on in Seeley Lake, I’d be stuck pulling water from one of the nearby streams.  I’d filter it for myself or use iodine tablets---I have both options---and I’d give it untreated to the dogs.  Still, it’s much harder to pull that much water from a stream than it is to get it from a faucet.

First thing, though, I’d have to clear the tree as it blocked my truck’s exit.  I have two chainsaws. The electric one works fine, but needs electricity.  If power had come on quickly, it would have been the one I used---the the tree blocking my driveway was close to my garage.  The gas one has always been a problem.  I had planned on replacing it last spring, but didn’t.  I knew I could call pretty much any friend, and they’d be able to cut the tree that fell on my driveway in seconds.  It would, however take a little time for them to get there.  I also have a perfectly good axe. 

While it was just a single tree that had fallen, it actually split into two parallel and adjacent trunks just before the optimum point to cut it.  This gave me two eight inch trunks to cut through.  I’ve used the axe to chop trees and clear paths before, so I knew that I could get through both in less time than it would take for a friend to get here.  And, I’d be spared the embarrassment of living in Montana and not having a working chainsaw.  In less than an hour, breaks included, I had a clear driveway and a completed workout.

The first bit of good news was that, driving to Seeley Lake, power was on even a couple of miles north of town.  With this, I could eat in Seeley, get more palatable food for the house, and pull water from a frost-free well next to the Chamber of Commerce.  It may not be running water at home, but it’s potable and very fast to get to.  It also meant that crews from the power company could deal with spur lines like I was on. 

The second bit of good news was that Seeley’s power had only been off between one and nine in the morning.  My big fear, that crews would be busy throughout Missoula County before they got around to dealing with Boy Scout Road, was not going to be realized. 

What became clear was that the storm’s winds peaked in my neighborhood.  I’m sure there’s a swath, probably east-west, for which this happened.  I had seen a couple of downed power poles, including the one at the corner of north Boy Scout and Highway 83, the spur my house is on.  A downed power pole is a lot more complicated than lines broken by downed trees.

Lack of power at my house is definitely making my life more complicated.  It’s not, however, too bad.   With power on in town, I can work out and even shower.  Getting gallons of water is easy.  I can even connect to the net.  I have several camp stoves.  Some use gasoline.  Some use Isobutane mixes.  The latter include a hanging stove I got for dogsled races---I was really proud of my idea to hang a stove off of one of the prongs of my bike rack.  Once again, the hanging stove ends up being a brilliant contraption.  I leave windows in my mudroom open, and the stove happily hangs off of one of the rafters.  I can’t do much more than boil water, but that’s now about as easy as it is when my electric stove works. 

Driving out today, Thursday, the new pole at the corner of Boy Scout road supporting the lines that feed my neighborhood was erect and a crew was working it.  They hoped to have it fixed before the end of the day.  We’ll see.  It’s past four and still no power.

On my driveway, heading into town for dinner and to pick up water, out of the corner of my eye I see the light from my porch turn on.  I go a couple of blocks down Boy Scout and see that others’ lights are on.  I turn around and head home---I do want to make sure everything is on and working.  It is.  Dinner is relaxed and my water buckets remain empty. 

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