miscellaneous musings

The day the trees fell

The weather service predicted an inch of snow. When we got something over 22 inches, I wasn’t surprised. After all, I’ve listened to those folks guess at the weather for years. I know how well they do.

I love snow and this was particularly nice. Fluffy and light, it mounded in graceful undulations over the trees, hedges, and buildings. The power was out, then back, then out—nothing unusual around here. We played in the snow, threw snowballs for the dog, piled up dry wood by the front door. Then things turned nasty.

It started to rain and the fluffy snow soaked up the water like a sponge. Then the temperature dropped, and the now heavy snow crusted with ice. Melted snow encased branches and hardened into stalactites that hung like rows of daggers from even the smallest branches. The trees tipped and sagged under the weight. It wasn’t long before I began hearing the cracks, loud as gunshots and just as sudden, that signaled the destruction of my little forest. Not just my forest, of course, all of them for miles and miles around.

This was the second ice storm I have seen here. We still talk about the ’96 storm as if it were yesterday but now, 15 years later, it was happening again. In ’96 I slept with my head under a pile of pillows so I wouldn’t have to hear the trees break, although I could still feel the ground shake when a particularly big one bit the dust. This time was no different. And both times, when the sun rose the next morning and I peered out the window, I was heartbroken at the scene.

This time was actually worse. Hedges we spent years tending were flattened. Trees we had watered and trimmed and cared for broke like matchsticks. A particularly elegant Leyland cypress that I see out my kitchen window snapped in two about twenty feet up—the rest of it landed in the driveway.

Behind the house and up the hill the forest floor is a crisscross of wood—huge trunks and tiny twigs piled in impenetrable snags. My five-minute walk to the upper hives took just under an hour and a half as I tried to find a way through the masses of limbs lying on the steep slope over two feet of snow. We estimate we lost 200-300 trees, most of them broken fairly high up, so the trunks still have to be taken down—months of work ahead.

The sad thing for the bees is that the hardwoods fared the worst. We lost mostly alder, maple, bitter cherry, cascara, Indian plum, and saskatoon—all the trees the bees visit for pollen and nectar. The softwoods did better. Douglas-fir, Frasier fir, western red cedar, deodar cedar, incense cedar, hemlock, black pine, ponderosa pine, Colorado spruce, and most of the Leyland cypresses did fine, but they have little to offer the bees. So very sad.

Oddly enough, none of our buildings or beehives was hit. The irony, of course, is that the building are insured, the trees are not. And I can fix a building, whereas I can’t fix a tree that is broken in two.

So there you have it—the story of my week. I’m trying to look at the positive side. We have sunlight where we never had it before. We have room to plant more trees. We have firewood for years and years to come. As for the bees, they will just have to fly further and work harder. Such is life.


My path to the hives.


My favorite Leyland cypress


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  • So sorry for the loss of your trees! We had a huge red elm tree in our back yard that spanned the yards on either side of ours & made our 2nd & 3rd floors like being in a tree house. It had Dutch Elm Disease & we treated it until the city condemned it. Losing it was HARD. I miss that tree every day. I can’t imagine losing many trees.

    It’s fun to plant new trees & I wish I had more space to do so. I like to give a fruit tree as a baby shower or house warming gift. I want to leave a legacy of trees.

    I’m sorry for the loss of your trees…

    • Susan,

      That elm tree sounds like heaven! When I was a kid we had a sugar maple that had a big limb shaped like a bench and I sat up there reading for hours on end. Our neighbors had a huge magnolia tree and one year, just when it was in full bloom, they cut it down so they could widen their driveway (which was wide to start with.) It made me physically sick. This was a long, long time ago but I still think about it. I can’t understand what possesses people to destroy something that takes so long to grow and is so breathtakingly beautiful.

  • Oh, Rusty, I am so sorry. It is very scary to hear those trees popping and falling right near the house. I’m so glad you were all safe. And so sad for your trees. How heartbreaking.

    • Thanks, Gretchen. I was thinking of you during the storm, as well as Jess in Thurston County and some of my readers in Mason and Grays Harbor counties. I so love trees that these storms are just heart-wrenching. Glad you are safe, too.

  • I am also sorry for the loss of your trees, Rusty. We lost a large Japanese maple near the house and that was sad enough. I can’t imagine losing hundreds of trees.

    My main hope during the various phases of the storm was that the beehives, surrounded by native trees, would remain unscathed–a concern I could not have imagined a few years ago. During the storm I thought about you and your beehives in such a wooded area and wondered if that is partly why you strap your hive boxes together. Do you think that could help if a tree fell on one?

    Sad as I am about losing my one tree, I welcome the additional sunlight. Seems like my whole life here in the PNW is influenced by the amount of sunlight I get, and I imagine bees might feel the same.

    I hope some delicious blackberry bushes spring up in the new sun to feed your bees. As for all the hard clean-up work you have ahead, well, good luck.

    • mbee,

      The main reason I strap the hives together is that all those trees are home to all kinds of critters, especially since we are adjacent to the Capital Forest. We have seen coyotes, gray wolves, and foxes along with the smaller creatures like racoons, opossums, and porcupines. Although I haven’t seen cougars or black bears, my neighbors have seen them routinely. Besides the black bears, I’m not sure who may go after the hives, but who knows?

      I do think strapping may help with the trees. As I’ve mentioned before, I once overturned a wheelbarrow with a double deep hive in it. The hive rolled all the way down the hill, hit two trees on the way, but was still strapped together and intact when it reached the bottom of the hill. The bees were fine–really ticked off, but fine.

      Strapping has become such a habit for me I don’t even think about it. It’s probably overkill but it makes me happy.

      I do look forward to some sun, and hard work takes my mind off the loss.

      Sorry about your maple. Trees are so hard to lose.