Saturday, January 30, 2016

Dad & Jonas

A week ago today I was forced to leave my very cold house at Lake Cumberland after winter storm Jonas dumped a half inch of ice then about 18 inches of snow, leaving plenty of weight on trees to break off limbs and cause havoc on utilities.  In my case, it was full-fledged white pine that toppled over onto the power line.  

It was an adventure I am not eager to repeat.  By the time it was over and power was back on, I had lost three and half days of work on my book, but also realized I had not communicated my plight to my grown daughters.  What follows started as an email, but grew into a full fledged narrative.  I thought you might enjoy the read.  

Yo, Jenni & Kelly -- 

I wanted to let you know about a lifetime experience I had this last weekend.  Who knows, it could happen again, but odds are this was the One.  Sorry I didn’t text along the way, but I was preoccupied with other things, as you will see. 

I am sure you heard plenty about winter storm Jonas that buried the East coast in a couple feet of snow.  Kentucky got the first devastating punch Jonas was to leave.  I was paying attention to weather reports, trying to determine how much snow the storm would dump, but data kept changing for the Lake Cumberland area from 1 to 3 inches of snow to 15 or more.  Plus a little ice to start things off.  I figured we were in for a good old good one, but I like good snow storms and my writing desk is right here by the window.  I wasn’t going to miss a thing. 

When I got up around 7:30 or so, snow was heavy.  Looked pretty gray out over the lake.  Shinbone cliff was not visible all day.  Like during all 9 hours of daylight.  Add to that the early start of freezing rain.  When I got into the kitchen, I noticed the microwave clock was flashing and Direct TV was on.  The computer told me I had done a bad thing by turning off remote drives without shutting them down first.  Sorry.  We had had a recent power outage but all was well and the power back on.  I sent out a few emails and was getting into my day, when at 9:45, the computer screen went black and the house silent.  I uttered a four letter word very loud.  

About five minutes later power returned for 2 minutes but failed.  Same thing for 5 minutes about 45 minutes later.  That was it.  Dad was without power living in all-electric home with no fireplace on a snow covered hill in southern Kentucky that his car could not climb even if it had to.  And the day was getting colder.  I wasn’t going anywhere. 

I was concerned right away because I knew power makes this house tick.  I was immediately concerned about my phone and computer.  Phone was at full charge, but when I lost it, charge would be gone.  And I knew the computer wouldn’t go for more than a couple hours on its own, so I just turned it off to conserve power.  It wasn’t going anywhere without wifi anyway. 

How long would my iPhone charge have to last?  Didn’t know but understood I should be careful.  I contacted Cindy Lou immediately by text to report my predicament.  Shannon, our good friend who owns this house, had just texted me earlier at my computer to see if I had power.  I did.  Our good neighbor down here, Donald, who is deep in a battle with cancer, had lost power earlier that morning in the storm, and since he and Shannon share all kinds of conversation, Shannon, who lives in Lebanon, Ohio was aware of his power loss.  Having power for Donald seemed essential.  I was trying to figure how to get him over to my place just about the time my power went out. 

By noon I was trying to be patient but wondered how Donald and his place were doing.  Shannon texted that power had returned for Donald and she had assumed the Lakeview house was back up as well.  Not so, I replied.  She said she’d report the outage to the local power company.  And if I needed to get out of there, she invited me to pick up the key to her cabin down the road at Donald’s, crank up the heat, and make myself at home.  

When the power came on briefly that last time, I checked the thermostat to learn the house had lost only a few degrees in the 45 minutes the power was out.  I wondered how long the heat would last.  I knew the storm wasn’t going to get terribly cold, like in the low 30s.  I figured the house could withstand those conditions for a couple days.  Pipes should be okay.  

By afternoon I couldn’t stop thinking about the refrigerator.  Hmmm.  I didn’t want to open the doors to check anything for fear of losing the cold.  True, I could always put cold stuff in the snow, but that didn’t seem practical.  Plus I didn’t want to tempt any neighborhood four-leggeds.  

At sunset, the house got very dark.  I brought one candle and one flashlight.  I figured there wasn’t anything I could accomplish anyway, so might as well climb into bed.  Besides, if the house was going to get really cold, being covered up was the best place to be.  My nose would get pretty cold, but other than that, I was toasty.  But concerned.  

By Saturday morning, no power yet.  Snow pretty much slowed down, but still light flurries.  Shinbone visible.  Refrigerator now a bigger concern.  I decided to take the ice out before it melted, bag it in ziplocks, and keep all on the refrigerator side.  

As the day went on, the house got colder.  Maybe into the low 40s?  Didn’t have a thermometer to check, but I put on my heavy robe which is the warmest this I have down here.  Still got colder.  Spent more time in bed.  

I finally knew it wouldn’t be wise to spend another night here in a very cold house when a warm place was available down the road.  I would pick up the key from Donald, visit a bit, then head next door to Shannon’s place.  Sounded like a plan.  So about 1 pm, I packed up my computer and phone and a little food, very aware of how hard this walk was going to be.  The only phone charger I had with me was my night stand music player.  That would have to come along with my Mac. Didn’t have a day bag, so I loaded up my cloth briefcase, strapped on my hiking shoes, grabbed my baseball cap, and headed up the hill in 18 inches of snow.  

Indeed, I stopped about every 25 feet or so to catch my breath and remembered very clearly that good old neighbor Wilbur Helstern had a heart attack on the night he shoveled heavy snow off his driveway.  I wasn’t worried, but I knew if I had a problem there was no one around to help, including Cindy Lou, Shannon, or Donald.  Not many live back here in winter, and I wasn’t in any condition to walk even farther to knock on a door.  

At the top of the first hill a pretty good sized tree limb was down covering part of the road.  I couldn’t worry about that.  But as I stomped not much farther, I was met with this:  

I knew then power wasn’t coming on any time soon.  There was lots of snow in the area and I figured my rural roost wasn’t going to be on anybody’s priority list to send out a service truck.  And, yes, I had to crawl through the tree.  I was confident the tree was not electrified and wouldn’t zap me as I passed.  

Not too much farther up the next hill, I came to the grove of pines where I’ve always been amazed at the number of turkey vultures that roost in late afternoons.  Must be a hundred or so.  Really cool.  As I got closer, I could tell there were buzzards there, but they were on the ground instead of the treetop.  Seemed odd.  Then I realized they were iced up.  They were probably sitting in said treetops when the freezing rain began over night.  By morning, they were frozen over.  I was able to approach a couple for pics, but I knew they wanted nothing to do with me and I didn’t want to stress them any more than they already were.  

When I got up to the ridge road, I was relieved to see it had been plowed.  Walking on a flat surface, not plunging down into a foot and a half of snow with every step, was a relief.  I made it to Donald’s in no time.  Donald, by the way, had never seen or heard of a turkey buzzard getting iced and flightless.  I was pleased to add to some proud mountain story tellin’.  

I didn’t take an iPhone pic of Donald’s cabin on that first trip in, but this was Shannon & Sabrina’s place next door: 

Donald’s place was nice and toasty and he and his weekend caretaking granddaughter & her mom who had driven up all the way from Alabama just for the occasion, didn’t mind a stitch that Donald and I enjoyed watching a University of Kentucky basketball game on cable.  They were nice enough to feed me a hot dinner, too.  Good folks indeed.  I decided to forego Shannon’s offer following Donald’s invitation to stay with him.  He had an extra bed and it seemed the neighborly thing to do.  I accepted.  

Shauna and Stacy fixed us all a nice breakfast, too, of scrambled eggs and biscuits & gravy.  I might add during the UK game, the girls went out, scooped up some fresh snow, and mixed up a batch of snow ice cream.  A little snow, a little vanilla, a little milk.  Did we ever fix that when you were kids?  If we did, I don’t remember.  But do tell!

About breakfast time next morning we heard by text that Shannon was packing up her chain saw and car towing straps, and with all 9 of their dogs, was heading down from southern Ohio.  As always, she would do whatever she could to help whomever she could.  And about the 9 dogs?  Common practice for her and Sabrina.  It’s what happens when moms go to the lake.  

For me, I felt the most immediate need was to check what storm clean-up progress, or lack of, had been made overnight and needed to confirm water wasn’t wreaking havoc in the Lakeview house.  It was a sunny return walk the day after the storm and I wished I had packed along some sunglasses.  

When I got to the ridge road and Lakeview Drive, I realized there was nothing new to report.  The road was not plowed and there were no tire tracks. In fact, the only tracks in the snow were mine.  Still, I needed to check on the water and plunged back into the snow.  I tried to follow my own trail in reverse, and maybe that helped a bit.  I didn’t seem as winded as the day before.  No other humans out, but plenty of critter tracks in the snow. 

The house was now uncomfortably cold and I was glad I had opted to spend the night with Donald.  Refrigerator was still holding ice, so I figured I didn’t have to throw any food out yet.  Cold water still flowed along with hot water from in the well-insulated tank.  I put on my new heavy robe for the warmth and sat at the lake facing window in the master bedroom and thought how gorgeous the winter wonderland actually was.  

I mean, you know?  Cold or not, who else in the world was going to see this?  Truly, truly Naturally beautiful.

I could NOT get my feet warm, though.  Still cold from the walk, I wrapped ‘em up in a blanket, but no effect.  Still not knowing when the power would come back on, and knowing I had a return walk, I had another task that required attention.  I needed to collect & haul out some resources from my Nature’s People library to use for my Aullwood talk next Sunday.  Again aware of weight issues, I selected only a half dozen books and packed them in my duffle bag.  Wasn’t too heavy, so I added the thawed shrimp & cocktail sauce that foyer forget about eating when they were down last week, and thought I might be able to add something to my second dinner at the Browns.  

Tough trudge up the first hill.  Again, mine were the only tracks.  But at the top of that hill, where I had found the first downed limb the day before, the road had been plowed. I again wondered why the driver would stop at the top of the hill, as I had witnessed after other snowfalls on other occasions.  He had come down the hill all the way most of the time prior.  Why stop today?  In any case, hallelujah!  Progress was evident!  

That good feeling didn’t last too long when just over that crest I came upon that same pine tree pictured earlier: 

The plow driver had cut the pine off the road, but removal from power lines would obviously be a power company issue.  Seemed fair to me, but after having researched outages on the South Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation grid, I found there were hundreds of customers out in a half dozen scattered communities. Again, I did not know how the local municipality handled largely summer communities like this.  Surely other areas would have priority over the few of us living in our little neighborhood above the lake.  

But at the crest of the next hill, I was very pleased to find and chat with some RECC line guys.  I told ‘em I was so glad to see ‘em!  I asked how many hours they had been working since the storm hit.  The guy in the bucket said they would probably get 100 hours this week.  I told ‘em to enjoy the overtime and thanks so much for what you do.  

Turns out the guy in the bucket was a joker.  I asked about how long he thought it might take to restore power down the road.  He smiled and said, ‘Oh, maybe three or four weeks.’  I looked as pained as I could and said I sure hoped not.  Then he got serious and said after they fixed the spot where they were working, power should be good.  I told him of the pine on the line down the road and he said they’d get down there next then.  I thanked them once more and trekked on.  

I might add that when I came up on the service vehicles, a couple of the guys were working on getting one bucket truck out from being stuck in the 18 inches of snow. You just have to respect the heroic work the line crew puts in following something like this.  Really amazing.  And let me tell you, our life experience loses a whole lot of quality we have become accustomed to with the loss of electricity in our personal space.  There was a real vulnerability in my experience.  

I knew it wasn’t the end of the world, but I kind of felt like the kid from William Faulkner’s ’The Bear.’  The protagonist kid, on his search to find a real live bear on his own in a Southern coming-of-age manhood thing, ends up first losing his walking stick, then his compass, then his canteen, then his everything -- before he comes upon his bear face to face.  My bear was 18 inches of snow.  

Shannon reported in that not all major roads were clear.  Some more heavily traveled Kentucky state highways, in fact, were not as clear as our state highway ridge road.  In some places she texted she could only drive 25 miles per in 4-wheel drive because of the slush and feared black ice.  When she finally got to us, she showed pics of amazing ice formations oozing out of limestone formations along one of her roads traveled.  

By that time later Sunday afternoon, Donald, his day caregiver brother Joe, and I were still talking about Denver beating the Patriots.  The Costco pot pie I suggested Shannon pick up in Lexington went into the oven, and just about halftime of that next playoff game, snacks were broken out and plates filled with yummy chicken pot pie.  Donald had a nice sized piece.  

By quarter ’til 8, we encouraged brother Joe to head on home.  Shannon and I could surely hold the fort down until night family caregiver younger brother Rick arrived a little later.  We thought it better anyway for Joe to vacate the snowy parking area in front of the house to give Rick a space he wouldn’t get stuck in.  

Just after Rick arrived, Donald said he was tired so he hit the sack.  In the only living area in the Brown cabin, Shannon, Rick, and I turned the television down and talked in hushed tones and hoped we weren’t disturbing Donald. 

Turns out Rick is retired from the State Department and was posted in China like Cindy Lou’s Auntie Jeannie.  Found his wife in Chile on another tour.  Turns out Donald didn’t hear anything and had no idea who won that second football game.

Monday morning I didn’t care about breakfast and wanted to get started early back to Lakeview.  I hoped power had been restored Sunday night and that all was well.  Still, I didn’t know the extent of storm damage on the lines and if the crew had everything they needed.  This time when I got to the ridge road and Lakeview, I noticed a new downed limb in the middle of the road.  It had to have fallen overnight.  

When I found a second new limbfall I had to pull off the road, I began to doubt if the power was, indeed, restored.  I couldn’t tell by looking at the few residences I walked past if power was on.  Then I heard a heat pump compressor from the trailer of a couple I had talked to yesterday.  They lost power early in the storm, got it back for some of Saturday, then saw fireworks come out of a transformer when an different iced-up limb fell onto it and the trailer was out again.  But now, Monday morning, all was well with them.  

And sure enough, the big icy pine on the line had been removed by the power rangers. Emily Dickinson says ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ and I noted all the turkey vultures had made it back into the air.  I felt more hopeful. When I saw a mercury lamp lit at a neighbor’s trailer, I knew power had gotten that far.  I finally thought I could relax a little, with the odds power was now back on just over the next hill.  The plow had returned late Sunday, then, and finished the job.  Thanks to the Monticello road crew for their efficient work, too. 

On that final approach to the Lakeview house I was trying to be careful not to break my neck on black ice that had formed after yesterday’s short thaw.  I had had my only fall on any walk all through the storm and after just minutes before.  Blacktop looked good amid some fallen pine branches in the road when my left foot skidded off when I didn’t expect it to.  I crashed down on my right knee, getting some pine stain -- not grass stain -- on my new white painters paints, dang it.  But I guess I just officially initiated said painter’s pants into winter life at Lake Cumberland.  

Finally I made it down that last hill.  As I rounded the house to the front door, I could see a light through the front door and I knew all was well inside.  And, indeed, it was.  

Through all of this I have a feeling that Jonas has wed me to this place in winter.  In any case, I wanted you to know about my adventure.  

Feeling better, thanks.    :-)


Today’s elder idea:   ‘One can never be too sure of things.’

Spoken by ‘the man’ who is about to freeze in the Alaskan wilderness in Jack London’s short story ‘To Build a Fire,’ one of the short stories that impressed the heck out me in high school.  As I told Shannon, it’s one of the pieces of literature that made me think I could teach English.   

images:  All mine, all the weekend of 22-25 January 2016.