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Homestead Storm Notes

February 11, 2013

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“Nemo” found us in the woods. We prepared the livestock housing and our own, then listened to the winds howl around the house. I heard trees cracking, snapping, crashing. Around 10 pm our power went out. I lit kerosene lamps, and the scent reminded me of nights spent in the belly of a schooner in Provincetown Harbor. I stepped outside my door to a covered alcove to feel the storm’s power. The screaming wind smelled like a school of oily bait fish.

It was bright Friday night, but too dangerous to venture out under the trees to assess the damage. I woke up Saturday filled with excitement like a little kid, eager to find out what snapped where and landed on what. That pic up top is our primary electric wire, or “the billion volts of death.” A 14-inch diameter pitch pine broke at the base of the trunk to take it out.

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If you look hard enough you can see two locust trees, one left and one right, with their tops torn off. It takes a powerful wind to rip apart 10-inch diameter trees some 30-feet up the trunk. I would rate that gust in the 80-mph+ range, from experience, but I’m no meteorologist.

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A week before the storm I marked off this area as a nice micro-climate for a little hoop house. Warm, not-too-shady, close to the spigot, sheltered from wind by the house and its location in the valley. I was too busy to get started, and lucky for that, as this maple tree would have flattened my work.

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This maple tree almost hit the doe-filled goat house. Instead it landed near the woodpile (out of frame to the left), as though it tired of standing and tried to leap into our stack, carefully avoiding any fence-posts along the way.

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The little chicken house on the hill is connected to a different power source and never lost it. The broiler birds (for eating, not egg-laying) are utterly dependent on their heat lamp, so I was very relieved. They all lived through the storm.

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The dairy does enjoy the spoils. They feasted on the top of a white cedar in addition to these pitch pine tops we gathered from down the drive.

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A little more minor fence-bending, plus a tricky drop inside the paddock – a white cedar fell into a big maple (out of frame to the right) and dropping it without taking out the fence will be difficult. As this photo illustrates, there are many tons of lumber yet to come down. I haven’t figured out how to take a good tree survey of the property, though it sounds like fun. I know there are hundreds. I figure if we have 300 trees, and lose 10 trees per two storms a year, it will take 15 years to clear the property. Of course, it doesn’t work like that. I’ve lived here for 10 years and have seen around 100 trees fall. Some trees are stronger or more protected than others. A whole bunch – maybe 60 – trees are weak, unprotected, 60+-feet tall and stand along our power lines.

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See that up there, down the driveway? That’s the light at the end of the tunnel. This was the first of two power company visits, followed by two tree tech visits, followed by two more power company visits before we were restored some 48-hours after losing power. We do very well with brief disconnections from the grid. I make a pre-storm list of to-dos and to-gets and after the storm a list of how’d I dos and what did I forget. We’ve gotten pretty good at it. Heating with wood is not a survival tactic – we’ve been heating with only wood for four years. My bedroom is the most removed from the open-floor plan living space, so when it is cold I awaken to a 45F-degree room, and I like it like that. Our generator has a dedicated panel, and I learned a few new things about it this weekend. We had a tankless gas water heater installed last year, and when our excellent electrician (Larry Winslow in Brewster for you locals) added the water heater to the generator panel, he reconfigured the it so practically the whole house is on there. I thought our original installers were being too conservative, putting a couple lamps on this switch and a couple on that. Larry hooked us up. I also discovered that although the pilot light for the gas heater probably draws about the same as the pilot for the old oil-heated indirect hot water tank, the fact that it is tankless means we get unlimited hot water in 90-seconds – the same amount of time it takes when we have electricity. Wash dishes, hands, hair during a power outage – I rest my case.

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We lost our power to a snapped primary wire on December 27, ’12, but it was a big deal then, with firefighters walking around in the woods taping everything off. As you can see, we have to be ready for outages. Our neighbor has a Generac 10kW natural gas stand-by generator under his deck, which is good for his house because he lives in CT, but bad for me because I now have an itchy case of generator envy. I could hear his baby purr when I shut off my loud portable. Our system works so well I remain grateful. For those of you thinking about getting some back-up, here are the important bits: Lowe’s sells a similar generator for $650, and our Pro-Tran 6-switch panel with install was $1,200 in 2005.

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Here’s my sweet security blanket, or savings account. This is pre-storm from October, after I finished stacking 7 cords. It’s never really finished, because I scavenge wood from tree jobs year ’round, and we continue to lose trees from storms. There are always stacks of wood waiting to be cut, piles of log-length wood waiting to be split, and split wood wanting to be stacked. It looks messy, there’s no cleaning up this part of the yard for lawn parties, it’s close to the house to ease the bringing-in all winter and we love it. Good thing, too, because “Nemo” dropped a few more cords for us to add to the stack.

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