12.13.2014

timber (or, the wind in the pines)

CL screenshot: timber tree on roof

Thankfully, I sat out the big windstorm on Thursday, which offered some of Portland's biggest gusts since the Columbus Day Storm of October 1962. I've been sick for a week and missed three days of work, despite a flu shot in September, so I happened to be home safe for this particular extratropical cyclone. Even indoors, the winds did howl. The light that afternoon was eerie, more golden than usual for December. We set high-temperature records that day, the wind blowing south-to-north up the coast—so no wonder it hadn't seemed that cold when I'd opened my window to air out my sickroom. My housemate was rushing to transfer some scrap wood and furniture from his trailer out of the storm into the garage; he kept coming back into the house saying, "It's crazy out there." He said he'd swept the driveway clear of pine needles earlier but now you couldn't even tell, so many more had dropped. We gathered candles, matches, an oil lamp, and flashlights and turned up the heat, certain the power would be going out, but it flickered just once.

Other parts of the metro area weren't so lucky. While we were watching a movie for distraction, people across the city were waiting for the lights to come back on from over 100,000 outages or else wrestling with downed trees, pieces fallen off buildings, canceled or delayed flights, disrupted MAX lines. A few people were trapped in elevators. Tragically, a middle-school boy died and his mother was seriously injured after a dead cedar fell onto their car in transit. Farther south where the storm hit first, a homeless man also died and his dog was injured from a falling tree while camping with his equally homeless son in the mountains down near Ashland. Nature doesn't play nice, something easy to forget in the age of international space stations and Mars rovers. But it will become increasingly harder to forget as global warming effects heighten in coming years.


CL screenshot: fallen hardwood in yard

The day after the storm, Jeff came into my room, saying, "Guess what's the most common item in the Craigslist free piles today?" I looked out the window at the neighbor's old garage for a few seconds, thinking, "Roof shingles?" before focusing on the huge pine tree behind the garage in the yard next door and saying, "Wood!"


CL screenshot: tree in driveway


CL screenshot: trees down


CL screenshot: tree lost to the wind


CL screenshot: fallen tree in street


CL screenshot: free firewood from a fallen tree


CL screenshot: free wood from two trees


CL screenshot: Western red cedar

He later found out a downed tree at his aunt and uncle's house in Milwaukie had taken out their back deck and quipped to his mother on the phone that surely, with her brother being a retired insurance claims adjuster, the uncle and aunt must be well covered. Such storms should be reminders to us all to prepare or refresh our 72-hour emergency kits.


CL screenshot: downed pine branches with pine cones

Few tend to think of trees as living things but more like giant toothpicks-with-leaves stuck into the ground, carbon banked for later use—as furniture, toilet paper, firewood—instead of beneficial living organisms that clean our water, restore and cool our air, regulate our rainfall, fix our topsoil, and keep whole mountainsides from sliding away. So while I love the sentimental look and feel of a sparkly, brightly lit Christmas tree scenting a home at holiday time, the unnecessary massacre of so many pine trees each holiday season, even if farmed expressly for this purpose, is not worth its price, especially when as much carbon should be re-sequestered from the air back into the ground as fast as humans with their hack-and-slash lumberjack brains can figure out how.

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