Blessings of a blowdown
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
When a limb from a century-old tree hits a house, it feels like it’s been rammed by a Humvee.
I know this because during a gnarly windstorm in mid-October, the stately maple that has been gracing the second lot of my front yard since long before I moved to Bellingham’s York neighborhood in the winter of 2000 succumbed to the elements.
I was vacuuming the basement when the tree attacked the roof, but I still heard the reverberating boom. As I rushed upstairs, I took note of a jagged branch hanging from the side of the house and the furnace chimney lying in pieces on the ground.
I opened the front door just in time to see more limbs breaking free from the trunk. In the blink of an eye, the yard was full of leaves and long lengths of wood—as was part of my next-door neighbor’s yard, the sidewalk and the street. Phone lines were compromised, the garden gate was obliterated, and an ornamental cherry tree and lilac bush were buried beneath the debris.
The destruction was breathtaking, but in the hours and days following the Big Blowdown of 2017 I’d come to see that things could’ve been much, much worse. In fact, I’d eventually feel thankful.
Above all, I was thankful that no humans were injured, and that my 117-year-old Victorian wasn’t obliterated (although it’s going to need some roofing work, among other things). I was also grateful that no vehicles were damaged, our chickens were safe, and we didn’t lose power.
Among the numerous blessings I’m counting as Thanksgiving nears is that the accident brought me closer to the community—from the neighbors who called the authorities to report the damage, to those who stopped by to tell me stories about how the iconic tree impacted their lives, to the woodworker who requested a chunk of the maple to craft a bowl for us.
When Public Works came to clear the woody debris from the street and sidewalk, two of the “knuckles” they carted away weighed in at 9,000 pounds. They were likely so heavy because they were waterlogged; the tree that had survived the Depression had grown in such a way that the crotch of the maple held rainwater, rotting the trunk from the inside out.
If you have a seemingly healthy tree near your house, keep an eye on it. If a limb breaks, check it for brown or black colors in the center, indicating rot. Have a certified arborist give it a once-over, and make sure it’s pruned correctly. Check for mushrooms on the trunk or at the base of the tree, as they can also indicate decay.
The contractor who’ll be helping restore the parts of the domicile that were damaged told me that he’s seen a house ripped in half by a fir tree falling on it. I’m thankful every day that I escaped this fate, and I want you to avoid it, too.
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The terrain proved…