A Winter’s Tale


Before most of the country went into deep freeze, before Texas dominated the headlines with broken pipes and a broken power grid, Oregon was already under a coat of ice. But before even that, in the wee hours of a windy January night, our tale begins.

The winter breeze whooshed through the trees and power lines, generating that shrill undulating whistle that always puts my wife on edge. Especially when it makes the 75 foot tall hemlock in the backyard wave back and forth, giving Ent like greetings to all the other trees in the neighborhood. We always hold our breath a bit, when windstorms come along. As if that little bit of our breath, which would barely perturb a butterfly, could add to the chaos.

So, when that sudden crash and house shaking thump arrived unexpectedly, just before the stroke of midnight, the first thought was “what the heck was that?”, followed by, “uh oh.”

Off to the kitchen window we went, to check the space where that forest monolith lives. And sure enough, there was an ominous empty space sucking up the sky where a massive tree used to hang out in all its limbinescent glory. Oh, shit.

Time to break out the flashlight. What, or who did that giant woody beast land on? We live in an old, densely housed neighborhood…

But before I get into that, I should talk about the other winter storm – the one that’s behind the pictures that likely click baited you into this post.

Weather tends to run west to east, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, that means we often get whacked several days before the rest of the country. And so it was, a few days before Valentines and the rest of the country’s deep freeze when the weather opted to gift us with snow, then ice, then more snow, then more ice.

And we got off easy.

We didn’t lose power. But I have friends who live only a few miles south that when we got snow, they simply got more ice. They were out of power for a week.

Other parts of Oregon got hit harder still. At one point 300,000 were without power, and even two weeks later a good 25,000 were wondering when the lights would go on. I’m not sure the country heard about all this, what with being drowned out by all the gnashing of teeth in Texas.

Could have been a lot worse…

Even the hummers were wondering what was going on.

It made for crunchy, treacherous walking, what with ice on top of snow.

Ain’t winter fun?

Oh yeah, back to that other “fun.” When we left off, we were checking out, in a world of 50×100 lots, what a 75 foot tree landed on. It should come as no surprise that despite the hour, a couple other neighbors were wondering too.

One might argue, considering an 80-year-old healthy looking tree decided to call it a life, along with all the subsequent mess, hassle and expense, that I haven’t been living right; that karma has caught up to my lifetime of sins. But I’d argue I got damn lucky.

Despite the prevailing winds coming from the south that night, the tree opted to fall almost due east, right down the property line between my house and the next door neighbors. And even then, rather than having branches take out windows on both sides, the hemlock landed atop a pair of cherry trees, also of substantial size and maturity. They were big enough to break the fall and keep the top of the hemlock off the neighbor’s house. The branches caused only minor damage to the two houses, and the tree trunk took out a section of fence. A 10 degree change of direction, either side, would have been doom and gloom for either my house or the neighbors, and possibly one of the neighbor’s kids.

I prefer to think I’ve been living right.

It took a 140 ton crane and a full arbor crew about a day to safely cut back the hemlock and lower it to the ground. We managed a rare clear winter day for that primary job, and to squeeze in a followup job to take down the badly damaged cherry trees and cut everything up just before all the snow and ice hit. And despite the enormous amount of wood generated by three mature trees, I’ve found takers for nearly all of it amongst my neighbors.

Even the insurance company was cooperative.

It turned out the hemlock had root rot. It snapped off clean at the base.

A partial section of hemlock rounds
Roughly 80 rings

Perhaps karma, or whatever you wish to call it, is suggesting that maybe I should write stories again. Lately it’s taken natural disasters; if you recall, my last post was about the hazardous air from all the forest fires last fall. I’m tired of natural disasters. It’s almost like COVID is just background noise.

Of course, it’s background noise like you’d get from an unruly neighbor kid with an out of tune garage band and overpowered amplifiers. It’s definitely crimped my style and kept me from generating new content, or at least being motivated to do so. Hopefully, that will change, at least somewhat, in the months ahead, and I can get back to writing lighter fare.

So, how was your winter?


50 thoughts on “A Winter’s Tale

    1. I’m always amazed the Anna’s Hummingbirds stick around in the winter. We do rotate out the feeders if they freeze up, but I don’t know why those little guys don’t freeze up.

      Now that Spring is springing there should be more grist for inspiration – I hope.


  1. Oh, man – that was a scary tree fall! I’ve been one of those Texans gnashing my teeth at our freeze and subsequent power failures (and now, full landscape replacement), so I apologetically admit I did not know about Oregon’s weather. I don’t like to imagine trees of that size falling because we have three whoppers lined up behind a mountain house in Pennsylvania, and I cringe every time the wind blows hard. Hope I am as lucky as you if/when anything happens. Also hope your yard does not feel too sad and empty these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you didn’t suffer too much from your power failures – and I admit I thought of you and Linda over at ShoreAcres when writing “gnashing of teeth in Texas.” I can’t imagine it was fun. But maybe redesigning the landscape is? (Apart from the expense, of course.) Our yard was a pretty busy place to start with so it’s not too empty now. There may be a couple bonsai shaped bushes once we finally get that stump out. We didn’t lose much to the cold; although we had snow and ice we didn’t get a really hard, near zero degree freeze.

      How’s the book coming along?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My husband suffered mightily – home alone for 4 days with the dog with no power, not water, no internet, and no cell service! Replanting is kind of fun but yeah – expensive! The book is coming along – almost ready for a professional look, I think! Thanks for asking!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, when checking out the tree fall that fateful night I really felt like I dodged a bullet. Especially as a neighbor kid has a bedroom near that corner of their house…

      Is Cyn still back in MN?


  2. J.D.

    That is a lucky break. Haha. I had a similar thing happen last fall on my property with a poplar. A small miracle that I do not take for granted.

    It’s so good to see you back here, Dave. The winter in Northern Michigan was relatively easy. Nature decided to give us a much needed break and pound on other parts of the country.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I bet that tree wasn’t too poplar with you after that. 😉

      It’s kinda nice stepping back into the water and touching base with old friends. It’ll likely still be infrequent for the time being, we’ve been keeping pretty humble. Up until the February storms winter had been pretty routine here. No snow, dry in late fall but lots of rain to make up for it later. Spring is running a couple weeks late, especially compared to the last couple years.


  3. pinklightsabre

    Yes! Do write stories again Dave, I’ve wondered where you’ve been and how it’s going. Gosh you’re lucky, my friend who also lives in Portland had a neighbors tree come down on his place but his insurance wasn’t much help. I didn’t know that it’s the house where the tree hit whose insurance needs to step in. That doesn’t make sense to me, but many things don’t. Happy new year! And start to spring. Eager to see some snips of those hummers and so on as the warmer temps come our way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, my neighbor’s insurance wasn’t very helpful either (the tree trashed a section of their gutters.) They claimed it should be on me due to liability – as if I was the one cutting down the tree. With all the storm damage I expect the insurance company’s excuses have been extra imaginitive lately.

      We’ve been fine here, dodging the COVID but not getting out much. Good thing we tend introverted. Stories will be infrequent for now, until life picks up the pace.

      I’ve been brewing lagers this winter. Normally I only do one but I picked up a gadet or two to keep the fermenter cool; that’s extended the season. Finished off a Bock, drinking a Dunkel now, and have a Helles in the fermenter. (Yes, I do like German beer. Bring back any memories?)


  4. First of all, your photos of ice were gorgeous (and I can say that because we didn’t get an ice storm here in St. Louis.) I’m glad the tree missed your house! Our Winter wasn’t too bad….ultra cold for a couple of weeks in February, and of course Covid meant that we were stuck in our house much more than we wanted to be, but all in all, we were lucky. Welcome back to the blog world!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ice can be treacherous, but it can be beautiful too. I couldn’t let that event get by unphotographed. We’ve been pretty much stuck in the house too, and probably will be for a while longer. So, I probably will not have much to blog about. Still, it’s nice checking in with old blogging buddies.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Less stressful than yours apparently.

    We have two tall trees in the backyard, a fir and an ash, and those northern plains winds are fierce. 70-mph gusts are customary around here. I get nervous every time they kick in, yet both trees continue to resist the urge to succumb to gravity (knock on wood). Fortunately, if they ever do fall, with the strongest winds blowing from the NW we’re likely to be spared.

    Nice to see an update from you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The main problem with the hemlock was there was almost no direction it could fall without landing on someone’s house or property. We got lucky – so to speak.

      I don’t expect to be blogging much this year, but now and then I gotta see if I remember how…


  6. The big thump sound in the middle of the night during storm of any kind is not a good sign. I completely understand how you and your family went through this and in addition during the winter time. I hope things are under your control now and hopefully settled where they should be.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dave! Glad to see ya! I wondered when the hibernation was wrapping up, all it took was a dose of Minnesota-style weather and a huge crash! I like the icy branches shot and the B&W of the tree sections – – must be getting near dinnertime, they remind me of slices of cheese and salami on an antipasto tray. Well, that sounds more alimentary than complimentary, but I mean to say, nice shots! Glad something that big came down without flattening anybody or causing any serious harm, seems like pretty good karma was kicking in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Robert. It may be that I’m just playing groundhog; stick my nose out and see what the (blogging) world is up to before deciding whether to continue. I’ve only got one or two ideas in the queue at the moment, but who knows, maybe I’ll get motivated to Spring off my butt and take some shots…

      The ice shots were cool, but I’m glad winter is behind us.

      Nice to hear from you as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow, such luck and good karma with the direction of the fall considering there are 360 choices! You are definitely living right! Jokes aside, so happy no people or properties were majorly impacted. I have a similar worry about a tree to the east of us, up the street. We’re directly downhill and it’s a massive pine. Like you, I hold my breath during wind storms. 🙂 Your photos of the ice are magical, beautiful! You’ve captured the light coming through and delicate thickness perfectly. Heck of a winter story! Thanks for catching us up. Great to have you back!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, if it had to fall, it picked the best possible spot. What are the odds? Another advantage; now that the big guy (and the biggest of the cherry trees) are gone, we don’t worry so much now when the wind comes whistling through.

      The next set of photos are likely going to be coming from a completely unexpected direction…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Denise. We have Anna’s Hummingbirds year round, probably because of folks like me putting feeders out. I’m always amazed those tiny bits of fluff survive when it gets near freezing. We do need to have a backup feeder for those times when the primary freezes up. It’s rarely that cold for long though, we’re better known for cold rain than snow and ice.


  9. Those ice photos are wonderful, even if the ice wasn’t quite so nice. The hummingbird image is especially compelling, but I’ll say that my favorite is the one with ice-covered plants inside that oval ‘frame.’ It was kind of that tree to refrain from taking out the framing of anyone’s house, that’s for sure. I well remember the sound of the winter winds swirling around my childhood home, and the sound of the maple tree branches scraping along the second story windows. Nothing untoward ever happened, but it was scary to hear.

    I didn’t get any ice and snow photos of my own during the February festivities here, primarily because (1) I wasn’t willing to risk breaking my neck on the ice, and (2) I wasn’t enamoured of the thought of spending time in frigid conditions, and then returning to a frigid house. In truth, I was one of the luckiest ones. I lost power twice, but only for two hours each time. After Hurricane Ike, when people were without power for a month in some places, my apartment complex had power back within 24 hours. Clearly, we’re hooked up with some grid that’s considered essential. Since I’m across the lake from the Johnson Space Center, I suspect that — but I don’t know.

    What I do know is that all-electric living is great, until it isn’t. I need to make some provisions for surviving true cold in case this happens again. I’m thinking an arctic-rated sleeping bag would be a start. A small, quiet generator might be a good investment, too. I’ll take a hurricane any day, that’s for sure. With hurricanes, you can get out of town, and they don’t take out the whole state. When the freeze covered all of Texas, there was no way to travel, and nowhere to go. Whoops!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I rarely use frames, and I can’t remember what inspired me to go down that path. I do know when I stumbled on that particular frame it was such a perfect match it became a no-brainer.

      I’m not sure what we’d do if we were out of power for an extended period. We do have an old style fireplace, but it’s horribly inefficient, we mainly use it for atmosphere. I don’t think our sleeping bags would handle freezing weather, so it would be blankets on top. Hopefully, we’ll never have to test that theory.

      Probably smart to avoid the ice. Having a layer of snow under ours may have made it a little easier, once I broke through the ice layer. My wife thought I was a little nuts, but as long as I hung onto the rail going down the steps (really an ice ramp) and stepped carefully it wasn’t too bad.

      And of course, my wife probably thinks I’m a little nuts anyway. 😉


    1. Thanks for noticing, Dave. I had hoped to build up suspense and then leave folks hanging for a bit, much like the hemlock was hanging in the cherry trees for a week or so before we could get a crane scheduled. (Thankfully, the weather was quiet that week.) As the ice pictures are more interesting than the tree pictures, I figured I should combine stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Great photos as always Dave.
    There is a huge old tree behind our new house that has lost a branch the size of a normal tree this year. But it is in a protected reserve, and we are not even allowed to trim trees there. I can only hope that when it does fall, it has the courtesy like your tree to fall in the right direction.
    Welcome back. I always enjoy your posts and love your photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s startling how big branches suddenly become when they fall from large trees. Up there they look like just another branch, but once on the ground the scale becomes apparent. Hopefully, your mother tree just continues being old and majestic, with just the right amount of reserve.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dede. It’s nice to meet another Oregon blogger, I don’t encounter many. Up here in North Portland we didn’t get hit as hard as you did ice wise, but we got more snow. The trees were impacted, but nearly as bad as further south. Our mess was more from that earlier wind storm and the big guy coming down.

      Is there a branch version of “Stump Town?”


  11. Good story telling of a good story with a somewhat happy ending. We have the same worry with two tall pines a few feet from the house. There is also a double trunked hemlock with a low crotch we worry about over there. It’s been cabled. Every strong wind that comes through here gives me a restless night as I expect the trees to join me in bed. We’ve thinned them a few times to let the wind pass through so that probably has helped avoid catastrophe. A few years ago we had another pine taken down along with a nine trunked maple that was insect infested. In both cases we worried that one or both trees would end up crashing across the road just as a loaded school bus passed by or onto a neighbor’s house. Quite glad that isn’t what happened with your hemlock and the damage was not nearly what it might have been.
    For the first time in years we did not have a significant ice storm. Just a couple of minor freezing rain days and short lived at that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Several similarities there. This hemlock also had a double trunk higher up, due to losing its top in a historic wind storm about 50 years back. We also had it cabled up there, along with periodic branch thinning. The cherry trees it landed in were double trunked at the bottom. Maybe that was a good thing as they acted as a big catcher’s mitt. After the fall we strapped them together until we could have them cut. Good luck with your trees.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I remember hearing about that storm – you were lucky on both accounts, not losing power and not getting dinged with that hemlock. We had many downed trees around here this winter from a number of windstorms, but none hit the house. Plenty fell across trails though and there’s been some rearrangement of beaches at Deception Pass. Great photos, Dave – particularly the little hummer on that ice-covered branch, wow!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Lovely pics. We had a snowy winter which made up for not being able to go Whistler or Banff. We were thinking of going there since the year before we had so little snow. Glad your area held up in the storm. A lot of Vic’s coworkers live in CT and NJ. Where we live our power lines are underground so his coworkers lost power in the storms and he was working alone. Are you guys getting baked in the heat wave? It’s 90 and really humid here. At least it’s not 100 like a earlier in the month. We’ll be moving in the near future so hopefully living on the 3rd floor instead of the roof will mean a cooler apt.


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