Monday, November 30, 2015

The Wind's Epic

For those of you who watch national news, you may be surprised to learn that our region had an apparently not national-news-worthy and yet historic wind storm. I suspect we did not make your evening corporate news because wind storms don't get names and aren't things with any kind of understanding of what they are and how much they are to be feared. But it was indeed a thing that kept my kids out of school for the past 12 days (wind + Thanksgiving) and screwed up every schedule of every person.


You may imagine that we here in Spokane are wimps of the highest order: Wind? School closures? Pull it together people! But the truth is that hundreds if not thousands of giant trees fell in this wind. We don't have wind-friendly trees here. We don't have bendy palms built to withstand sustained gusts of 71 mph. Our deciduous trees fared fairly well, simply letting go of their last few kite-leaves. But our pines and spruces flew through our skies like maces of war. Spruces are thick with needles like sailcloth. And they have shallow, wimpy root systems. They remind me the Tonka trucks people drive around, all jacked up and tough lookin', but it's all show, all compensation. I felt bad about it later, but I actually laughed when I saw their spindly spaghetti like roots upended and exposed. I'd never imagined that such stout trees had so little in the ground. Meanwhile, the pines snapped like uncooked spaghetti noodles.  These huge, ancient trees propelled through power lines that went out with fireworks and rainbow explosions. All over town. Every street and every corner. 198,000 customers (and by that they don't mean individuals, they mean points of service) were without power, the foundation of our civilization. The threads woven above our heads, the crocheted electricity upon which we now depend for every bit of our basic survival needs, dissolved upon our heads.

Touring the damage this past week, it seemed that the trees tried hard to not hurt anyone. I saw 60 foot pines that seemed to thread themselves between houses. Garages were smashed over and over, but only a few houses. Only a few people died. The roads are clear now, but for days no one could go anywhere. The road to our church, through a graveyard, had no less than 6 pines plaited across just one block. Huck drove home that way on that Tuesday night because all other routes were blocked. Only two trees were down at the time, a Subaru trapped between them. Huck and others left their cars to help the man out. Four fell there after they left. Although the logs have been sawed off and removed, the road is still draped in a festive garland of power-lines and pine bows. Closer to home, Huck detoured several times around downed trees and power-lines trapping a woman in her car (emergency responders were able to make it to this one).

I picked up the kids at what was predicted to be the height of the storm, but turned out to be only the initial stages, around 3pm that day, Tuesday, November 17th. Three years to the day of my head injury. On my way to their schools, crossing the I-90 bridge over Latah Creek canyon, my car felt like it would flutter off like a leaf, and land like meteorite 100 feet below.  

It was garbage day and I'd bemoaned on Facebook that our prevailing winds would yet again upend the collected cans at the end of our road, on the corner of our property and bring us fabulously gross gifts that I would then have to gather like candy tossed during a parade, just like candy, yes. But the winds giveth and the winds taketh away. Whatever landed in our yard that day, aside from a metal sign, was quickly whisked away to someone else's.

The kids and I headed up South Hill to run a few errands I'd planned days before, but as we drove up Stevens Street a garbage can toppled and was pushed up the hill, on it's side, next to us. It got it's own lane, a bus following it, and kept pace with us. That was when I knew we were in for something special.

Sunflower stalks survived the windstorm wa-ay better than spruces
At Target, the electricity went out, briefly. When it returned, the registers all had to be rebooted and the line was extensive. We huddled with a group of employees as we listened to the loud crashing above us, like dumpsters skipping across the roof. Killing time, we picked up a few more pants for Coyote, who like most boys, burns through pants like matches. When things started moving again, we checked out and just as the cashier handed me the receipt, the lights went out again.

Most of the stores went down then. And with that, all of the milk and cheese and eggs and meat and tofu  and every single frozen thing from ice cream to fish to frozen entrees in Spokane was gone and had to be thrown out and it would be days before we got anything like it again. My chicory coffee would be cut with evaporated milk that week. It was so so sad. Facebook became a beacon of information. We turned to it for the list of a handful of stores that were open, running on generators or using flashlights and taking cash only. One needed a guide to open gas stations so as to not run out of gas in searching for it. The lines were long. This went on for a modernly improbable number of days.

We headed home down Hatch Road, a veritable gauntlet of listing pines. The crumbling thoroughfare, built on a sandy slope and a piece of roadwork with will never be anything but an arterial of potholes, winds along a western hillside and was receiving the brunt of weatherly blows. At that point, no trees had yet crushed it and the tumble weeds were using it as a highway of mass migration. I love driving over tumble weeds, especially in the dark. They explode in my headlights like supernovas. I aim for them. But then that's probably because my car is 10 years old. The BMW in front of me would not engage in any such revelry and insisted on passing them as if they were cars. This meant that we also were compelled to stop for tumble weeds and wait behind the BMW to pass them, like fucking cars. And so we waited, vulnerable, as the pines menaced us from above.

Apple rose prep
Our electricity only went out for a moment, just long enough to screw up all the household clocks. Out here, on Paradise Prairie, we suffer chronic scouring winds. What was going to give way to them, would have done so long ago. It's a winnowing of years that leaves only the toughest. Or alternatively, just loosened them up for the final "blow" as was the case with some old barns which came undone, their bones scattering across the prairie. But otherwise, our few trees withstood it all. Our house was one of three in our area to retain power. I felt part guilt, part gloat that our house, not quite as fancy as the others around here, was good enough to keep the lights on. We lost maybe 20 shingles. Some other, more expensive houses, lost a lot more.

The next morning all was quiet, calm, sunny, perfect. The wind did not return for a long time, as if we'd used up all our allotted invisible-miles-per-hour in just one evening. The 300,000 people without power needed to keep warm and the smoke from their wood stoves settled over the region and that is what we breathed.


In the city, there was looting. The police also complained of a tripling of accidents. Standard routes were blocked. People had to go around only to find that route blocked too. They started to speed around every closed option. People suddenly forgot how to navigate intersections without streetlights. They forgot how to drive. Everything was confused. Schedules out of whack. Neighbors banded together. They went tribal. There were bonfires in the streets guarded by machete wielding vigilantes, unwilling to let thieves take the block (eyewitnesses: Blue and Huck).

Our freezer and electric juice were opened up to all who needed it. And they did.

Coyote taste tested his lemon bars by cutting a circle out of the middle and filling the hole with lemon slices, oh so decorative!
We did not lose electricity, but we did lose internet. It was Mario Kart for hours. And I kicked everyone's asses at Farm-opoly, a gleeful compensation for my failures in real life. Friends got hotels and we swam in their pool. Hotel occupancy November 16 was around 50%. Hotel occupancy November 18 was 99%. And every night we would hear the news, still no school. The trees had crushed some schools. Many had no power. Most children could not walk to school without threading their way through downed lines like some messed up spy movie. Many roads were still closed. Meanwhile, on Lucky Farm, our greatest hardship was running out of phone data and having to buy more. I wonder if my homeowners insurance will cover $30 in extra Verizon charges? While school was out and the internet down, our kids rekindled hobbies. Coyote actually read a giant book and made lemon bars. Blue knitted a scarf and baked elaborate apple roses.

Today was the first day they returned to school. With some amount of senior-itis, I skipped church yesterday, shoving them all out the door without me, beyond desperate for some alone time and unable to wait even one more day.

We discovered this morning that lunch boxes with half-eaten lunches were left in back packs for nearly two weeks. We also discovered forgotten homework assignments. And now things will get back to boring and bleak normal. At least for the three weeks until Christmas break.

The scarf

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