Winter debris a small price to live with nature

jdodge@theolympian.comJanuary 8, 2013 

Greetings from Horsefeathers Farm, where the vestiges of last January’s snow and ice storm have faded into a woody montage of broken alder trees, small limb litter in the dense Douglas fir stand, and scattered wood debris piles left for the small mammals and ground birds to inhabit.

It took me two weeks short of a year to finish cutting up all the large limbs and trees that crumpled under the weight of the icy burden that embraced the landscape just before Martin Luther King Jr. Day last year.

The bulk of the work was completed in the winter and spring of 2012. But just last Sunday, I yarded a few six-inch diameter fir limbs from the south side of the property, the place where the wind is most common and forceful when it strikes the East Olympia farm. Now they are bucked up as firewood and under cover to dry, overshadowed by the tightly stacked and haphazardly piled wood that was also a product of last winter’s icy blast.

While the storm cleanup is near complete — I’m sure more widow-makers will be sent sailing from the trees when a robust enough wind arrives — my thoughts turn to past severe weather encounters, and those that await.

All through childhood and much of my adult life, I have lived in and owned homes tucked in the woods. Big trees have been my notable companions, usually stately second-growth Douglas firs. They shed their small limbs in gusty winds, release larger limbs when the wind begins to howl, and occasionally topple over when the big storms deserving of names take their toll.

Fortunately, the limbs that have struck the roofs over the years have sailed in like airplanes touching down on runways — not spears hurled with a vertical force that puncture roof shingles. And the fallen trees, dating back to the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, have all missed the houses. The only property damage has been from a big Douglas fir knocked down in the Hanukkah Eve Storm of December 2006, which carried the most damaging winds since the granddaddy windstorm of 1962. That fallen tree plowed through a 15-foot-long section of barn roof.

Were it not for a towering Douglas fir, the opportunity to buy my second home some 20 years ago would have eluded me. My purchase offer on a modest two-bedroom in South Bay sat second in line behind the prospective buyer, who pulled her offer just before the sale closed, for fear that the tree next to the bedroom would fall and crush her while she slept.

Sometimes during one of my several reluctant trips each year atop the roof to clean gutters and remove moss, fir needles and small limbs, I ask myself: Why do I live in the woods? I think the answer resides in different recesses of my psyche. As a child, I built tree forts and slept in them in the summertime. I built another one as a young father, then slept in it as well, joined by my son and the family of red-tailed hawks that lived in a tree nearby.

I love to watch and hear the wind whistle through the trees, sending the cupped conifer branches dancing in all directions. I’m constantly on the lookout for birds perched, feeding or nesting, everything from brown creepers swirling up the trunk of a Douglas fir in search of insects to band-tailed pigeons perched high in the branch of a conifer.

I appreciate the shade and shadows produced by the trees I’ve had around my homes. I marvel at the burst of trilliums in bloom in the early spring, the clusters of Oregon grape and salal on the forest floor and the challenge of beating back the relentless Himalayan blackberry bushes.

I’ve never understood why people buy wooded lots, cut down all the trees, then build their house on denuded ground that requires thousands of dollars of landscaping to “bring back nature.”

I know, I know: Living in the woods can be a lot of work. Every minor windstorm litters the roof, yard, driveway and pastures with small limbs that require cleanup.

Just how hard does it have to blow before the woody debris starts flying at Horsefeathers Farm? I hope to have a detailed answer soon. We’re in the market for a home weather station that includes a wind gauge (anemometer).

I’ll keep you posted.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

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