Trees Take a Hit

Apple blossoms on Sept. 17, 2020.

2020 is the year trees and shrubs planted in the mid-1990s took a hit.

While mowing for the first time after the Aug. 10 derecho I noticed an Earliblaze apple tree was in bloom. The branches with blooms had otherwise died.

The Red Delicious apple tree lost a major branch during the storm. It seems unlikely to survive, although I might be able to get a crop next year. The scar where the branch was is big. Sealing it from insect predators seems a temporary solution. I had the same experience with a Golden Delicious tree a few years ago. It’s already gone.

One of the lilac bushes suddenly lost all of its leaves. While mowing I noticed new leaves had begun to form. I presume it is next year’s leaves. It’s time to cut that bush out.

Our neighborhood continues to recover from the derecho. Chain saws run almost every day. Burn piles amass, piles of firewood lay everywhere. Although I cleaned up the fallen branches and trees this week, there is more work to be done and sadly it involves a chain saw rather than pruning shears.

Planting a tree is a long-term commitment. When we have a year like 2020 one questions the merit of decades of work when the derecho, combined with disease, mitigates that work so quickly and unexpectedly. I don’t measure my remaining time on this blue-green, turning brown sphere in decades any more. There is enough time to eat apples from new trees I planted this year.

The haze through which the sun shines originated in record-setting fires on the West Coast. The arctic also has a record number of fires. The arctic and antarctic glaciers are melting and don’t get enough snowfall to offset the loss. It is an increasingly hot planet. We are all impacted as the pollution spreads through the atmosphere.

Phase two of my tree work is taking care of many dead branches that cropped up since spring. There is time to work on it. The firewood pile is getting taller though, and isn’t finished growing yet.

Firewood pile Sept. 17, 2020
Living in Society

Derecho Clean Up Persists

Turn around on the Lake Macbride State Park trail.

Tuesday morning I cut the fallen locust tree trunk into segments and stacked them along with other firewood produced after the derecho.

It will take several more shifts to cut and sort the remaining damaged tree branches. One of the oak trees needs removal once there is room for it to fall. After that I can get the garden ready for winter, beginning with garlic planting in a couple of weeks.

The call of politics dominates my awareness. I spend time each day improving our chances in the Nov. 3 election. I’ll be spending more time. The stakes in this election are too high to sit on the sidelines.

I’ve learned to take care of myself in times of stress. That’s something we all can and should be doing. As the sun rises it’s difficult to see what today will bring. We must be active agents, not only in our own lives but in our lives in society regardless what light shines on us.

Voting begins on Oct. 5, 19 days from now. One can feel the surge of Americans moving toward election day. Part of it we can’t influence. Part of it we can and that’s where I’ll spend my daily political time. I hope readers will join me by making sure close friends and relatives have a plan to vote.

Living in Society

Rain Continues

Derecho Woodpile

From drought to rain the last week has been unrelenting.

The garden continues to produce and grass is growing again creating another task once the landscape dries.

Doesn’t look like drying will happen today.

I am helping the local political party distribute campaign yard signs. There are few parts of the county north of the interstate highway I don’t recognize. I’ve gotten requests from voters on some new streets yet when I look for them the same roads and streets are in memory to find them. I remember a lot of door knocking from past political campaigns.

I stopped to refuel my 1997 Subaru Outback. At the convenience store no one was wearing a mask. Not a single person. I couldn’t see through the window whether the cashiers were, although I hope so. Keeping my distance at the fuel pump I sanitized my hands once back in the driver’s seat. Risk avoidance is a key part of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. I resisted the temptation to go inside and buy a Powerball ticket.

It’s just as well it’s wet outside. I have an indoors project with a deadline and it’s easier to avoid distraction when it’s raining. I’m about to make my second French press of coffee for the day. It may not be the last. I’m digging into the history of our community. There’s a lot of food for thought and memory. It should keep me busy all day.


Locust Tree

Locust tree trunk.

Punk day? We go on living.

Wednesday started well enough with cool temperatures and a 13-mile bicycle ride. Then I tried to clear the remainder of the locust tree laying across the garden.

The Poulan chain saw started but when I hit the accelerator it died. That was the trouble last time I had it out. I put it on the front steps, got out my Wagner electric chainsaw, and proceeded to make about a dozen cuts. The Wagner has been a great tool, although toward the end of this session it developed a problem I couldn’t resolve. I called the small engine repair shop across the lakes.

They said the electric chain saw repair would likely cost more than the tool was worth. They did work on Poulan chain saws and had space in the work queue to get mine in. With the derecho cleanup, businesses like theirs have been busy. I packed my 1997 Subaru and headed across the lakes. Overnight they adjusted the carburetor, sharpened the chain, and I was good to go. I proceeded to clear the garden of the locust tree.

I’ve been taking my time with the rest of the derecho clean up. I got the fallen branches and my destroyed greenhouse out of the neighbors’ yard the day the derecho hit but have been in no hurry to process the debris. The metal sink I kept in the garden was crushed when the locust tree fell on it. Good sections of fencing and posts were ruined. One of the three oak trees I planted in the garden is leaning due to the derecho wind and weight of the locust tree falling against it.

Some of the vegetables survived although all of the tomato and tomatillo cages were crushed and twisted. Much of my row of peppers was smashed. I’ll get outside to work on it again today and harvest what I can from the wreckage.

We need rain yet none is forecast. As summer ends the pace is picking up. As if it weren’t already at a stunning clip.

Living in Society

No Vacation To Speak Of

Dawn as we enter a drought.

I spent a couple of hours reading in a shaded folding chair in the garage. That will be the extent of our vacation this summer.

The weather was exceptionally nice on Saturday after the heat wave. I could hear chainsaws in the distance where neighbors were continuing derecho clean up. Mid afternoon a pickup truck pulling a trailer laden with logs drove by. There was fishing at the lake, including a raptor flying with its prey during my morning jog.

The reason I was jogging is my bicycle blew an inner tube on Thursday. I had a spare but it won’t take air. I also had spare tires but the bead is cracking on all of them. I plan to upgrade the quality of my tires but that will take a while because of an order backlog. That is, because I don’t want to travel to the COVID hot spot in the county seat, mail orders are backlogged until October.

I haven’t adjusted to retirement forced on me by the coronavirus pandemic. Maybe vacation no longer exists.


The Locust Tree Will Wait

Fallen Locust Tree

After seven straight days of using the chainsaw my forearms are sore. I am taking a couple of days off to rest them before tackling the Locust Tree that fell across the garden.

The sound of chainsaws in the neighborhood is ever present since the derecho hit on Aug. 10. Piles of brush are stacked everywhere as smoke from burn piles snakes into the atmosphere.

If we don’t get some rain soon the state and county will declare a burn ban as we enter drought conditions.

These days of August are normally about tomato processing and garden prep for next year. The derecho wiped out my seedlings for a fall planting. It also changed work schedules moving chainsaw work to the top of the to-do list. Add in the coronavirus pandemic restrictions and it’s a very different summer.

The county auditor received our requests for an absentee ballot according to the Secretary of State website. The ballots are mailed in October so now we wait.


Fall Work

Bee pollinating a sunflower.

Social fallout continues with a disruption of fall work.

Sunday I told the chief apple officer I would not be back to work at the orchard this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Our county has been doing a poor job of preventing spread of the virus. The orchard is near the University of Iowa where students return this week. I’m hearing concern from local epidemiologists about the behavior of returning students: they ignore basic guidelines for preventing spread of the virus.

University students find the orchard a cool place to hang out and it is. This year I don’t want the virus to spread to me so I won’t be working. Maybe next year.

This week is the virtual Democratic National Convention. It has been structured for public consumption from 8 until 10 p.m. local time, although I’m not that interested in hearing most of it. Political conventions are not what they used to be and as such pretty dull. I plan to listen to speeches by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

I made progress with cleanup from the derecho yesterday. I am getting to know my chainsaw well. The locust tree rests across a garden plot making it impossible to harvest some of the vegetables. There are a lot of other branches to process first. I’ll lose part of the crop.

I don’t relish writing about the coronavirus pandemic and the derecho recovery but they are here and part of every day. Yesterday afternoon Chef José Andrés World Central Kitchen arrived in Cedar Rapids and by evening had served more than 6,000 meals: a sign that today Iowa is a disaster.


Masks of the Coronavirus

Doing dishes by flashlight during a power outage.

The pandemic was not blown away by the derecho.

The derecho got me out of our bubble. There were more interactions with people as I made provisioning trips and discussed recovery with neighbors. Now that power is restored it’s time to launder masks of the coronavirus pandemic.

It hackles me that we have a daily U.S. death count from the coronavirus pandemic. That it is higher than any other country, by far, is also upsetting. We got too confident (or too stupid) after successful mitigation of the Ebola virus and did away with the defense infrastructure designed to mitigate a future pandemic. Those actions combined with lack of adequate reaction once the coronavirus was identified led to the pandemic that continues to press closer to our household. Monday’s derecho complicated everything. We should likely be making more masks.

The two of us are fine after the derecho. We know how to survive a short interruption in electricity, internet service, natural gas or water. That knowledge comes from years of living in the rural county where things happen. We have a lot of clean up to do to saw up the fallen tree and process many piles of branches. That work is not urgent. I’ll find a local home for the firewood and consume everything else on our property, burning the brush and returning the minerals to the garden soil.

My calendar reminded me dill pickle fermentation was to be finished today. I took the crock to the kitchen sink and sampled one. They were just right. Next I put them in jars and into the crowded ice box. It’s on to what’s next.

Environment Sustainability

Midwest Derecho

Sunflower survived the derecho, as did we.

Without an anemometer it was difficult to know wind speed during Monday’s derecho. In Cedar Rapids wind speeds approached 100 miles per hour.

The last major storm of straight-line winds in 2013 caused more damage to our property than the derecho. Both were bad.

I watched the storm come in until it got so virulent we headed to our safe place on the lower level. The kitchen clock stopped at 12:34 p.m., Monday, Aug. 10. Electricity was restored at 10:14 a.m., Friday, Aug. 14, the longest outage since we moved here.

The weather system is called a derecho. Amy McKeever’s Aug. 12 article in National Geographic explains:

Derechos may not be as well known as hurricanes or tornadoes, but these rare storms can be just as powerful and destructive. Primarily seen in late spring and summer in the central and eastern United States, derechos produce walls of strong wind that streak across the landscape, leaving hundreds of miles of damage in their wake. On August 10, 2020, a derecho swept across the Midwest from South Dakota to Ohio, traveling 770 miles in 14 hours and knocking out power for more than a million people.

The term derecho—which means “straight ahead” in Spanish—was coined in 1888 by Gustavus Hinrichs, a physics professor at the University of Iowa who sought to distinguish these straight-moving winds from the swirling gusts of a tornado. Though the term disappeared from use shortly afterward, meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) resurrected it a hundred years later. It entered the public lexicon in 2012, when one of the most destructive derechos in history swept across roughly 700 miles from Ohio to the mid-Atlantic coast, killing 22 people and causing serious damage in metropolitan areas, including Chicago and Washington, D.C.

NOAA officially defines a derecho as “a widespread, long-lived windstorm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.” For a swath of storms to be classified as a derecho, it must travel at least 240 miles and move at speeds of at least 58 miles an hour, though the winds are often more powerful. The August 2020 Midwest derecho had winds up to 112 miles an hour.

I have more to say about this storm and the damage it did. Suffice it for now the storm hit hard the trees I’ve grown from saplings. The Pin Oak took the brunt of the wind damage, the windward side losing several of its main branches. The Red Delicious apple tree lost a major limb, the Locust tree blew completely over demolishing the most productive part of the summer garden. Half of the pear crop shook loose from the tree dropping unusable green fruit. Among the wreckage on the ground I found a single Earliblaze apple. I hadn’t noticed we had any apples this year. I ate the apple on the spot. It was delicious (apple joke).

We survived the storm with no damage to our house. I watched the portable greenhouse shake loose four 50-pound buckets of sand, lift into the air, and tumble off into a neighbor’s yard, destroyed. Without electricity I couldn’t can the tomato harvest so I donated 25 pounds to the local food rescue operation.

We are now veterans of two major wind events and developed a process to cope with the aftermath.

Because of the long electricity outage, we became owners of a Craftsman generator which we used to keep the freezer and refrigerator running, as well as to charge devices, run computers, operate a floor fan, and heat water. We plan to keep it.

We had the septic tank pumped for additional capacity in case of an extended electrical outage. The septic service showed up just as electricity was restored.

We hired a U.S. military veteran from Alabama to help cut damaged branches from the Pin Oak. The yard is filled with fallen branches waiting for me to cut them up for firewood or for burning. A big portion of the fallen Locust tree remains on the garden. I’m not sure when I’ll get to that.

I didn’t realize it at the time but the clouds in this photo are the front edge of the derecho blowing in. It will be a while before we recover. We will recover.

Derecho Approaches Aug. 10, 2020.


Cleaning Up After A Derecho

Electricity expected in 3-6 days. Chain saw getting a workout. Had to buy a generator. Will be back soon.

In the meanwhile, this sunflower survived the derecho, like us.