Sunday, March 20 & Monday, March 21
On Sunday, March 20, we woke to a dusting of snow that changed into wind and rain that raged all day. We’d recently had a couple of light dustings of snow and several rain storms that saturated the ground. Now we were being pummeled by another strong storm system with predictions of snow at lower elevations. We are located in a basin on the west slope at about 2900 ft surrounded by 4000-4500 foot ridge.
Sunday March 20, around 6am. First picture looking northeast behind house from art room 2nd story window. Second picture looking downhill from our street to out house.
When I left the house around 10:40 am, the rain was fluxing between rain and snow. I spent the day in downtown Mariposa sitting my shift at the Sierra Artists Gallery. Dave was at home where the lights had occasionally blinked during the day which generally predicts a probable power outage. When we bought the house in the late 90’s the power usually went out with a good rain. The system has been updated since giving us fewer power outages. Sunday evening there were several moments of dimmed lights so I jumped into the shower before the availability of hot water ceased. Afterwards I decided to sit in bed and knit a while, the lights flickered some more. I suggested to Dave that he just might want to take a quick shower since it seemed inevitable the power was going. It was beginning to snow heavily and was sticking to the rain soaked surfaces. Dave showered, got into bed with a book and 20 minutes later we were sitting in the dark.
I went around the house unplugging electronics, space heaters and surge protector strips. Earlier that morning I had unplugged the pond pump. I worry about surges when the electricity tries to come back on, better safe than sorry. We placed the battery operated lantern on the head board and continued reading and knitting. I had charged my iPod and cell phone in anticipation of losing power. Dave had charged his cell phone and battery for the laptop. Extra wood was stacked inside the house for the woodstove. All the dishes had been washed, laundry done, we had groceries, the chickens had extra food in the coop, we were prepared.
March 21, Monday
We heat our house with a wood stove which means I get up a couple of times during the night to add wood. The last time I got up during the wee hours of Sunday morning there were a few inches of snow. The next morning we woke to a dark day with a low cloud ceiling and 9.5 inches on the deck railings. The unobscured backyard had over a foot of snow. This was the most snow accumulation I’d seen here. At first sight it was a winter wonderland. From the back window I saw the power lines down across the top of our property, not a good sign. One line was looped over another, the third line was hanging half way between where is should have been and the ground. Our electric line that runs from the pole to our house’s second story peak is attached to a Ponderosa pine half way between the house and pole. The steel cable that supports the electric line had parted between the pole and Pine tree. Our electric line looked fine. Something major had happened to snap the pole’s electric lines and our steel support cable. We called PG&E to report the damage.
Photograph: Monday March 20, about 11am. Backyard fenced area looking down from the deck. Most of the snow has already fallen from the trees.
We decide to venture outside to take photographs of the beautiful scenery. We begin taking note of how burdened the trees are with the heavy ‘cement snow’ and broken trees. Dave wants to pass the electric lines to photograph a specific Manzanita bush growing by the river but I’m really nervous about him being anywhere near the downed power lines. I also worry about trees and branches falling due to the weight of the snow. We notice a huge oak down on our property off the deck side of the house. It didn’t hit anything important. I walk up our driveway to the street. All the cedar and pine trees in front of the house are hidden under snow as bent lumps on the ground. I avoid walking under an oak tree along the driveway. A large, lifted, 4×4 truck with chains is slowly passing the house, it pauses, sits idling then begins backing up within it’s tracks. The rear differential is leaving a track track on the snow. I think perhaps he’s backing up to make a comment about the storm but he continues carefully down the road backwards. I watch him backing downhill and notice he had to drive over a downed pine tree laying across the entire road. I look up the street, our only exit and see a large oak tree across the road. Next to me at the driveway entrance the 5 foot tall Manzanita bush is gone. I don’t know if it’s been laid flat by the snow or if it’s broken and fallen down the steep embankment. A willow near the Manzanita which had been pushing out buds a few days ago, has some of it’s branches snapped. An oak tree next to it has lost all it’s top branches. Lots of top branches have snapped like tooth picks. I don’t feel safe, it’s beginning to look less picture perfect and more like a destruction zone. For the first time a storm feels dangerous and very damaging, I feel trapped. We have an AWD car and chains but downed trees add a new dimension to this situation. I don’t feel comfortable standing by the power lines at the top of the driveway. The trees are leaning precariously, branches look like they will snap and land on the lines. I decide being inside the house is a better idea. As I walk down the driveway an oak loudly pops like an explosion, snow falls, another tree breaks from its over loaded branches. I realize this power outage is going to be a while and mentally begin making lists for preparation.
Back inside the warm house (60 degrees) I tend the woodstove and begin to clean the three parrots’ cages. Dave packs containers of snow for the fridge and freezer. I haven’t had my morning coffee. I pour coffee and creamer into a small pan and place it on the woodstove. It can heat while I take care of the parrots. We have a gas stove that I could use to heat my coffee but I opt to save propane. I add a pan of water to the wood stove for tea. I change the birds paper, water, give them fresh veggies, fruit and seeds. I apologize to them that there won’t be any toast today. They are very quiet, the barometer is the lowest I’ve ever seen. I wonder if they can feel the difference. The two chickens get all the kitchen scraps. I nervously take the scraps to the coop. I have to walk under our electric line that has a heavy snow loaded branch hanging, caressing the line. The chickens are fine despite not having their heat lamp. Their water isn’t iced, the coop feels warm. While I clean the coop the chickens opt to stay inside with me. They don’t like snow. I leave their door open, usually they roam the fenced yard during the day. I circle the yard removing snow from the bent roses, rockrose, crepe myrtle, tea olive, hummingbird feeders. I haven’t seen any hummingbirds since the last storm but I want them to have food available if they’ve stayed. I had returned the feeders to the yard during the warm spell several weeks before. I hadn’t planned to put them out so early but the one resident male kept buzzing me until the feeders were hung. I clear a trail from the dogs exit door on the deck, down the stairs to the fenced yard and I clear patches for them to do their business. We have 2 small dogs, a 5 pounder and a 10 pounder. One must take into consideration their short little legs and the height of the snow. I return to the warmth of the house, chop up a salad and make a ham and cheese (Bisquick) quiche. The oven is a nice source of heat and comforting smells.
While I was tending the animals Dave ventured out with his snow shoes to survey the damage. He returns with a photograph of the downed tree blocking our exit from the neighborhood. The oak had several trunks rising from the ground that splayed outwards from the center. He also has a picture of the downed oak in the forest off the deck, its large root ball up in the air, uphill from the crown. No doubt the saturated soil was a factor. It’s right next to one of 3 run off channels on our property. I’m surprised we don’t have more trees down.
Noon: House up to 64 degrees. House=living area with doors closed off to other rooms. The quiche was delicious, as was the coffee when I finally got around to drinking a cup. We’ve decided we need to conserve water since the septic drains into a holding tank and is pumped uphill away from run off channels by an electric pump. The holding tank is large for this type of emergency but we don’t want to push our luck. We revert to the 70’s water drought measures, ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down’. I use the upstairs bathroom, Dave uses the downstairs bathroom. That’s status quo since my art room is upstairs and his photography studio is next to the bathroom downstairs. The snow is falling out of the trees creating twinkling showers. The sun shines weakly. The trees are slowly righting themselves as the snow load falls off. I discover the fish tank on the kitchen counter has fallen to 66 degrees. A Cherry Barb is swimming with it’s tail hanging, he doesn’t look good. I use a turkey baster to add oxygen to the water, then I put the Pyrex coffee pot full of hot water against the fish tank with a towel between the hot glass and the tank’s Plexiglas side, then cover the entire tank with a heavy towel.
3pm 64 inside/39 outside Life without technology. No computer, internet, VCR, DVD, radio, refrigerator, microwave, lights, tankless water heater, fish tank light/filter/heater, dishwasher, washing machine/dryer. We do have Dave’s laptop that can be hooked to the phone line but we’ll conserve the use since the battery doesn’t last long and we may need it for many days. I’m saving my iPod for when I might get desperate for entertainment. Silence. Nothing buzzing, humming, playing, just silence. The world is blanketed in snow. I knit and nap. Around 4:30 I eat an early dinner of more quiche. It’s snowing, 36 degrees, 65 in the house. I go close up the chicken coop. There are no chicken feet imprints in the snow. We hear the ominous sound of a helicopter. I’ve never liked the sound of helicopters. It slowly creeps towards us following the power lines. They hover over our backyard for a while assessing the damages, blowing the huge Ponderosa pine as if in a mighty storm.
6:30pm Art Room 58 degrees. Outside 34, inside 64. Oil lamps lit for reading and knitting.
Below: Looking up hill behind the house from between the house and garage. There’s a lump of rosemary and lavender bushes on the hill above the wire cage around the apple tree.
I really liked the ladder sculpture below!
Below: Standing at the head of the driveway looking down the street towards the cul de sac. The truck backing down the road towards the fallen tree he’d driven over.
Standing in front of the driveway looking up the road in the direction to leave our street. The tracks lead to the downed oak tree. A small car must have taken the chance to to drive under the limbs….must have put a scratch or two in the paint. You should be able to see the neighbors house, not a curtain of dark branches.
Below: Home sweet home with terribly sagging oak trees on the left of the driveway.