Quiz #79. Power

What do trees in a hurricane-turned-tropical-storm have to teach us about the pandemic? Steve's Stay-at-Home Coronavirus Quiz for August 6, 2020

It’s not easy to garden in a backyard that’s the province of two--and sometimes four--dogs.  Especially dogs who are hunters, diggers and kind-of-crazy creatures of habit.

With four dogs, the lawn in the backyard is usually marked with a diagonal line from the well-worn path that all the dogs somehow decided is their quickest--and then only--path from the back door to the back garden.  

Fred in the backyard, at the “end” of the dog path from the back deck to the back garden. Before the pandemic, when Betsy would go to work as a fourth grade teacher at the school in our town, each morning she’d dropped off her two dogs, Fred and Brownie,, for doggie-day care.  Since March when Betsy’s school shut down, Fred and Brownie have stayed with Betsy in Hoboken so lately it’s only been our two dogs, Stella and Happy, in the backyard.
The holly bush in the back garden provides shade and tactical support for our dogs. Here, Stella and Brownie, Betsy’s dog.

We have shrubs, hostas and shade-friendly plants in that back garden with ivy, honeysuckle and various wild vines growing up the chain-link fence that backs up to a 15-foot-high river-bank, home to wildlife that are a constant quest for the canines.  Most days, the river’s no more than a creek, 2-feet deep and 15-feet across, but the ducks and occasional heron on the water beyond the fence are another attraction for the dogs to get to that back fence--and to get there quick once they’re let out in the yard. Like any good math student, they know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

To give our gardens some protection from the dogs, after Sara and I moved into our house in 2008, I built raised flower beds.  They’re 3 feet high and line the base of our back deck and the fence that separates the back yard from the driveway. 

The garden boxes as first built and planted in May, 2009.

Sara’s planted roses in these beds and though the dogs do sometimes jump into the beds to dig for the rabbits and rodents who sometimes live beneath the roses, those roses do pretty well despite the dogs. 

The rose garden in full bloom earlier this season.

There’s another rose bush on the opposite side of the yard that is its own warrior.  On that side of the yard, there is no raised garden and the dogs patrol the base of the fence on that side to “protect” us from the neighbors and their small dogs, stomping out many things we try to grow.  The few roses in that garden must fight the paw patrol, searching for sun and survival.  This one yellow rose bush somehow made it and flowered this summer.

In this work-from-home summer, the garden has been an inspiration.  Pandemic?  Perennials don’t care.  The Day-lilies, Daisies and Black-eyed Susans have all come along, in their time, immune from the coronavirus. They have their own struggles to be sure--and yet they’ve shown up.  On time and in bloom--despite the dogs, virus and other obstacles like wind and rain.

Just in time for August, the Black-eyed Susans have bloomed in our side yard.

This week, the Northeast was ravaged by wind and rain as the remains of Hurricane Isaias roared up the East Coast on Tuesday, August 4th.  I recorded a time-lapse video out our back kitchen door, but in the captured motion of time-lapse, you have to understand that the trees seen from the back yard which line the river are big and massive.  Their movements may seem like nothing on the time-lapse, but they were swaying wildy as the wind ripped through.

Trees sway in 0:30 time-lapse video from August 4, 2020.

Throughout our town and others, many trees didn’t make it.  Two houses down, a large tree toppled across our street, pulling down a power line and knocking out power to the neighborhood.  We lost power for 26 hours.  

The tree that fell across our street was in the front yard of our neighbors with the new baby born in this pandemic that I wrote about in Quiz #24. A Baby Aquarium.
Another large tree split at its trunk on the grounds of the synagogue 5 houses down and on the other side of our street.  In the last few weeks, the congregation had gathered outside under the shade of that tree for weekly prayers on Friday and Saturday.

During Hurricane Irene in August, 2011, storms stalled over our area and the river behind our house swelled to 100-year flood levels.  The river flooded homes on the opposite bank of the river which is lower.  For us, on the higher side, the water still came into our backyard, up the sides of the raised gardens and almost into the casement windows of our basement.  Still, with all the heavy rain, our garage and basement were completely flooded, wiping out keep-sakes and essentials like our heater and hot-water heater.  The basement needed to be gutted and we had two sump pumps and a French drain installed.  Those pumps run on electricity so we bought a generator to make sure we could run them if the power ever went out.

Flooding after Hurricane Irene in August, 2011.

On Tuesday, I fired up that generator and ran its power cord through the kitchen window where it powered what were the 3 essentials of a stay-at-home, summer storm: coffee, the refrigerator and our devices--with a separate extension-cord snaked down to the basement to power the internet router.  As it turned out, powering the router was no help because our internet service was also knocked out.  Cell service was also spotty.  In a work-from-home world where connections come from connectivity, we were set adrift.  For much of Tuesday, I tried to work, seeing every third email, thinking I’d answered many, only to find them stuck in my Outbox.  I am grateful that a colleague covered for me Tuesday evening because I could not work from home.

By Wednesday afternoon, August 5th, the power trucks arrived and fixed the downed lines across our street.  Our power came back and a few hours later, the county came to remove the tree and open our street.  

Walking the dogs Wednesday evening, I got my first look at the base of that toppled tree, its central roots simply snapped in half, no match for the perpendicular pull on the rest of the above-ground tree.  The concrete of the sidewalk was also disturbed and no match for the power and fury of the wind and toppled tree.

Wednesday evening, the generators finally quiet, Sara and I sat on the back deck.  The trees along the back river still standing and silently staring at us.  I said to Sara, “I wonder if those trees are thinking, ‘What the hell was that?’”  Sara reminded me, “They’ve been here for hundreds of years.  They’ve seen it all before. This is nothing new.”

That’s power.


What did NOT happen?

A. My sister Ginny reported that a suspected tornado had hit her town when Isaisa roared through.  Their neighborhood lost power, but they have a propane-powered generator that kicked in when the power went out;

B. I used our generator to charge my Doxie scanner, scanning more than 400 photos in the 26 hours in which we lost power;

C. Will lit some candles in the kitchen during our only night without power and Sara and I came downstairs because I smelled fire;

D. Will used scented candles for light on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning, Sara told Will that we had unscented candles he could use if he wanted candles that didn’t smell.  I didn’t have my hearing aids in so I thought Sara was telling Will that she could not smell.  Needless to say, I was momentarily alarmed until Sara told me that I’d misheard her;

E. Betsy has begun working to get her classroom ready for in-person school, still planned for September. Wednesday afternoon, after working on her classroom, we had a socially distanced lunch on beach chairs in the shade of our front lawn.  While Betsy was here, Joe, the neighbor with the downed tree, came out of his house and walked down to tell us the power had come back on.  Joe recognized Betsy from Quiz #33. The Pledge.  In that quiz, I described how, with Joe’s permission via text, Betsy and I had used the flag on his front porch for the pre-recorded Pledge of Allegiance at her school.

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Answer #79. Power.

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