Monday, January 5, 2009

A Reverence of Convenience, Apparently

One of the best things about living on an island in Puget Sound is the trees that surround us.

Until they fall down and take the power out.

The power went off last night around 9pm, came on this morning just long enough to for us to reset the cable modem, fire up the computers, and reset the clocks. Then it went out again. The house was a brisk 60° and the cats were not happy.

Now, I absolutely love trees. I love to look at them, draw them, paint them. I don't even mind raking leaves all that much. I love the shade they cast in the summer, the shapes they form in the winter, the beautiful dappled light they filter, the homes they provide for birds and squirrels and the occasional raccoon. The thrill of hearing bald eagles cry from their perch high atop the Douglas Fir in the backyard gives me a thrill every single time.

In addition to Douglas Firs, we have Western Red Cedars and Red Alders in our yard. It's hard to love the Alders for many reasons—they seem to be dropping things onto the yard and garden during each season, be it catkins, leaves, branches, their little cones or the copious leaves that refuse to fall all at once, guaranteeing many sessions with the rake.

I don't particularly like pulling the hundreds of seedlings out of the garden beds, from the gutters, even from crevices on my car, but they do pull up easily. The fallen leaves get raked into piles and left to decompose or added to the compost pile. Robins and Varied Thrushes love rooting around in them, looking for unwitting earthworms. We pile the fallen branches up in brush piles, which provides shelter for all sorts of little birds, and perches for the Dark-Eyed Juncos and various Wrens.

Still, it seems that if you look sidewise at an Alder, something breaks off and crashes to the ground. Even a mild wind sends them tilting and crashing into their neighbors. And a little snow followed by wind, which we had last night, sends them toppling into the power lines, plunging whole swathes of the island into darkness and cold. Douglas Firs, notoriously shallow-rooted, also seem prone to falling over in wind, and frequently send large broken branches crashing to the ground.

At 2pm today, the inside temperature in the house was a toasty 52° and I was lying on the couch, one cat under the comforter I had draped over me, the other one lying on my chest, trying his best to smother me. There's nothing quite like having a cat's whiskers thrust unceremoniously up your nostril to rouse you from a nice nap. As I was lying there trying to re-position the cat so I could breath, I found myself railing in my thoughts against the power company, whose recorded message had informed me that our outage was caused by "a tree falling into power lines" and than an "investigator" had been sent to assess the damage. It was the same message all day long, and I wanted suddenly to get an axe or a chainsaw and go find this tree that was the source of all my suffering and deal with it.

As it grew darker and darker, I sighed and set about relighting candles, then prepped some food by lantern light so we could eat supper in our cold house. I got out the butane burner that we keep for just such times and got everything ready to go, then sat down with a flashlight and a book to read—and found myself brooding. I got about two pages read when the lights came back on.

Suddenly, all thoughts of tree murder fled from my mind, and I had to laugh at myself for my "reverence of convenience." I happily set about turning the heat up, reset the cable modem, went from dark room to dark room turning on a few lights, just because I could.

Now I'm left pondering my dependence on all the mod cons, as the British would say, and thinking about things I can do to make the next power outage (and there will be more) more manageable. Something well short of cutting down all the trees seems appropriate.

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