Jan 20, 2012

Snap, Crackle, and Pop!

Before the Silver Thaw

After two days of heavy snow a warm front moved in bringing even heavier rain. But we live in a narrow valley on the east side of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and the frigid air, comfortably settled in, takes days to moderate. As a result the rain is falling through a layer of subfreezing air (26F) and freezes on contact with the surface, any surface. On the one hand it can be quite beautiful (one name for the event is “silver thaw”), on the other, devastating to trees, shrubs, power lines, etc. And driving, for those who must, is simply dangerous. The ice coats each and every branch and twig and leaf or needle and continues to build (like dipping candles) as long as the temperature remains at or below freezing. Several years ago branches were encased in close to half an inch of ice. The weight is tremendous and there is only one inevitability: branches, even whole trees, are snapped off at the weakest point.

Early ice buildup

Around midnight last night I was awakened from what for me masquerades as sleep by a series of snaps, crackles, and pops. My foggy brain thought at first it might be the Chinese New Year, but that is still four days away, I think. I soon realized it was the sound of various tree limbs breaking loose under the unaccustomed weight and crashing to the ground. All night long at varying intervals the night was punctuated with loud bangs. We had just had over a dozen large Douglas firs that towered over the house cut down (now have firewood for a few years) and thanked whatever instinct persuaded us to do it. Even now I can hear the devastation continue. So far our few outbuildings, and the “tea house” and “studio” are unscathed. More rain predicted for this afternoon so things will probably get worse before they get better.

Pruning courtesy of nature

Douglas fir limb encased in ice

Birch tree missing its top

Postscript: As I was about to post this to the blog we lost our internet connection, then electricity. Now, two days later, we are up and running, as they say. As our water is via a well and I've never bothered to buy a generator, we had to do without that luxury too. Damage to the garden is extensive, extensive. And my old greenhouse appears to be a total loss. Now we are being lashed with sleet and the wind is reaching a fevered pitch which will probably bring down more tree limbs , etc. Makes one realize how feeble we are as a species when it comes to dealing with the physical world, despite our vociferous bellowing to the contrary.