Sure, we’d had some warning, but we always get wind warnings during the winter and they often aren’t that big a deal. I was awake enough to pull my 22-foot Carver out of the marina and get it into the boatyard for its annual checkup. But I figured a day or so of rain would pass and I’d be down working on it.
My screen flickered and died. No big deal, I’d wait till later after the storm settled down and finish it up. I took a quick shower and snuggled into bed with my wife and Pawko, my big shorthair, and watched a few of our favorite Sunday night shows. By 10 o’clock the forest surrounding our hillside home was whistling; the sound got so loud we couldn’t hear the TV, and then the screen went black, and all the power went off.
After moaning a little about never knowing how the wedding on “Brothers and Sisters” would turn out, we tried to get to sleep. The wind stepped up, pretty soon the windows were chattering. Then—Crack, BOOM! The whole house shook as a 100-foot hemlock pounded into the forest floor just a few feet away. In 30 years of living here in the woods, we’d only heard three trees fall. Within a few seconds, we had equaled that total.
“Let’s get out of here,” I screamed to my wife. We grabbed the blankets and headed to the living room. It was a least a few feet farther from the trees. Our lanterns, just purchased that afternoon from Costco, were at the bedside and lit our path. The dogs were by the fireplace before we got out of the room. Their survival instinct was better than ours! For hours the winds screamed and the house shook as tree after tree from our lots and the 50 adjoining acres of urban forest gave in to the howling winds—now over 80 knots. The winds broke the trees in half or pulled them up by the roots.
Then it got personal. SLAM! The air inside the house compressed as a huge spruce limb, thrown nearly 200 feet from the top of its mother tree, crashed through our family room ceiling. Grabbing the lanterns, we staggered down the stairs, dogs underfoot. Sticking through the ceiling and into a wall was a huge spruce limb. Insulation was everywhere and water was pouring in. We set up a series of buckets and spent much of the night fighting the water. Finally we passed out in exhaustion, cuddling the dogs next to the fireplace.
As dawn broke, the winds were still howling, but the whole landscape that met the light was something new. Our forest was gone. Only a couple of dozen trees were left standing and most of those were just jagged snags. My fishing and hunting room, a 20-by-30-foot building just north of the house, was covered by the branches of a 120-foot hemlock that crashed in from the city park. With tears in my eyes I pried open the door. My beloved Loomis rod collection, my Brakenberry longbows, our family shotguns, must have all been shattered by the collision with the great tree—all my Grandfather’s paintings, all of my fishing art, soaked by the driving rains.
Then, a miracle—somehow, the huge branches, the great arms of the forest, had spared my sanctuary, embracing it, rather than smashing it with its fists of green. With a huge smile on my face, I walked up to the street to fight the winds and see what had transpired with the rest of my property. My joy was short-lived. Just a hundred feet away, another set of trees had smashed into the houses of two neighbors, burying trunks deep into the structures.
My neighbor Allen was on his roof with a friend, fighting the hurricane-force winds to cover the gaping hole in his living room roof. The giant blue tarp was threatening to pull him off the structure. But his family’s safety was paramount, and he heroically nailed the cover into place. The three-foot thick tree trunk would be an unwanted boarder in his living room for several days.
Looking down into the woods, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The forest was gone. I could see the Columbia River, a mile below, whitecaps smashing against the anchored ships that were waiting out the storm!
All around town people were fighting the same battles. Winds of well over a hundred miles an hour had torn shingles from every roof, siding was all over the streets, and trees had downed power lines on every block. Windows were smashed and cars and boats were battered. Several RVs were hiding under tree trunks and twisted in impossible angles.
But people went to work as soon as it dropped below 60 mph. One thing about living in a logging area, everyone has a chain saw! As we waited five days for power to come back, the streets were alive with the sounds of nails being pounded into roofs, saws cutting up branches and trunks, and generators rumbling. Luckiest were those with trailers and RVs. They could do some cooking and take showers. Blocks cooked meals together, shared hot water, and helped each other clean up.
By the time we got back on the Internet on Friday and I got this column completed, we were well on our way to reconstruction. We’ll be able to recover from most everything. Instead of a woodland setting, we now have a river view. The only loss that was catastrophic was my bait freezer with 25 pounds of cured salmon eggs and a dozen packs of smelt. Those could be hard to replace! My two-dozen pheasants from the season just ended will be missed as will a side of elk and a dozen smoked and frozen salmon. Maybe if I took my tags down to fish and game, they’d give me a refill! Be safe and good fishing.
Bob Ellsberg’s column, Fishin’, appears monthly in RV Life and rvlife.com. This column appeared in the January 2008 issue of RV Life.