Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Oh, Not That Tree!

The dog barked, and the baby woke up from her nap. I'd been sitting by the fire, and heard nothing. But then John called to me, "Did our tree just come down?"

I ran to the garage, and could see from the side door an ominous cloud of new eucalyptus growth -- sideways across the driveway. Going out the side gate (which would be at the far left on this pic) I saw a wall of Downed Tree that went well into our neighbor's front yard.

Now, of course I said, "Shit" when I saw this, but the very next thing I said was "Thank God!" -- because Alex was away at work with her car, and Bernie and Lil had gone out to the ranch to feed the horse ... and so neither car was in the driveway.

I went next door to let the neighbors know I'd have to go through their yard to get out, and we all milled around, looking at the carnage in awe.  The neighbor used her phone to call Steve's Tree Service, and though he was tied up at another job, he promised to be at our house as soon as possible to get us a path to the street. That's what you see in the picture -- taken after he'd cleared the sidewalk and a narrow walkway on our drive.

And now it's gone.

The tree has shaded the front of our house from harsh summer sun for so long, been our respite on summer afternoons, kept us from having to look into the neighbor's yard across the street, been a haven for hundreds of birds who needed a residence at night.

What a wasteland.

Why did it fall? As it turns out, there was a vast amount of rot occurring in the tree at the juncture of its many branches. The heavy rains over the last few weeks prompted A LOT of new growth (such is the nature of the tree) and that, with the rain, proved too much weight to bear.

Just glad it fell when and where it did, instead of on the house or on people or on cars.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Storm of the Decade?

News services have been running around with their hair on fire all week about the biggest rain storm in a decade to hit California.

"It's going to flood! It's going to cause power outages! It's going to make mudslides and pooling water and mushy ground that makes trees fall over in the HIGH WINDS!!!!"

In the winter of 1997-98, the El Nino rains found me on the south side of my house in knee-high rubber boots with a pickaxe, hacking a trench to try to get the water off my back patio. Our pool had been completed in October, and I'd been trying to grow a lawn...but every time I reseeded, the rains would pour down and drown the seedlings in two inches of standing water. The lawn failed, and we eventually gave up on it, but the trench on the south side worked just fine, and we had no water in the house.

Obviously that was more than ten years ago. Let's try seventeen. So this storm, if it panned out, would pretty much be the Storm of Two Decades -- but that doesn't sound so cool. And indeed, in seventeen years, we all forgot just how icky a big rain season can be. I myself was an idiot, and when I needed to dump a bunch of landscape river rock somewhere, I used the trench on the south side of the house. Quite wrongly I thought water would flow through a channel of river rock. Maybe it would for the first rain, but after years of Valley dust and crumbled falling leaves, no, it sure doesn't.

It's easy to forget heavy rains here in the Central Valley. Spring arrives in February, and Summer ends in November. At Thanksgiving you know you're going to be planting tomatoes in ten weeks, and you just hope there's going to be enough rainstorms to allow you to irrigate your lawn and garden between March and November when it doesn't rain.

And so yes, we have flooding, and power outages, and mushy tree-falls. (The mudslides and sinkholes belong to the Bay Area, not the Central Valley.) Yes, we FORGOT how to maintain the drainage needed for a big storm.

With three days to prepare for the storm, I re-dug part of my south side trench, taking eight buckets of soil (laboriously separated from damned landscape river rock) out to the ranch to fill a hole that Dink had dug in his paddock. I thought that would be good enough.

NOT. Two inches of rain in a little over two hours required some new trenching to allow the water to flow out to the street. Hmm, I've got my own little creek -- can I name it? And the drainage solution we used for the new beautiful brick patio was not up to the flooding, but Bernie was very clever and took one of the pumps from the fish ponds and used it like a sump pump to clear the water from the back of the house.

It's been an interesting afternoon, all righty. I paced from back patio to bedroom patio to kitchen window (where I can see my southside trench) to garage entry to front window to make sure the storm drain in front of our house was clear of leaves, repeat, repeat, repeat. We went out to feed Dink his supplemental senior horse food, and the ranch out there west of town is practically afloat.

Water, water, water, as long as it's flowing, we're good. Fortunately the wood stove is keeping us feeling warm and dry, and the power is on so Bernie can make pizza, which is just the thing to keep hopes up on a rainy, rainy day.

Thank you, God, for the rain.