Chapter Thirty-One: After The Ice Storm

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at symbios@condortales.com and I'll email you a copy.

Thursday 21 May 1998 - Low 53.4F. About 0.04” rain in brief showers last night, but Vermont and southern New Hampshire had significant thunderstorms. Fair morning, but clouds increasing early. High of 73.8F came about noon, ahead of a cold front; it was back below 56F by 1700. There were vigorous thunderstorms in southern NH and ME, again.

I made a quick trip into Berlin in the morning, to shop before the holidays; also bought us hard hats at Labonville’s - I don’t know how much we’ll use them, but with as many “widow makers” as there are in the woods now, they may make us feel more comfortable, particularly on windy days. We mainly relaxed in the afternoon.

Our beautiful forest wasn't the only thing devastated by The Ice Storm (Chapter 28); we were in pretty bad shape, ourselves. The change to our landscape was so great, it seemed like we had to find some way to deny what had happened. You know how well that works. Still, after we'd handled the real necessities like clearing the debris off our entrance road and opening a path through the fallen branches to reach our spring, it was difficult to decide what to do next. One thing we did decide on was buying hard hats. There wasn't much left standing on our hillside that could fall on us, but below Camp trees continued to weaken and fall, and broken branches caught high in the overstory continued to come crashing down. There was a little potential danger even walking through the damaged woods to our outhouse.

After Mike Dandeneau and I had walked our property on 8 June and determined that tree damage was almost total above the Field, but less so below the house, we discussed the situation and our options:

(1) Mike thinks there is a lot of pretty high quality stuff to salvage, some for veneer, and more for saw logs or pulp; (2) the timber will be valuable for one or two years at most, before insects, moisture, etc., reduce the quality too greatly; (3) he can’t give us a very definite idea of how much we would realize from a salvage cut - when pressed, he said there might be $20K on the 30-40 acres above the field, and the split would be 70% to him and 30% to us [50:50 on the higher quality stuff] - if so, after the town’s 10% tax and our own capital gains, we might only net a few thousand dollars. [I should add that he can’t give us an up-front figure because he is essentially a one-person operation, and only knows what he’ll get after he makes the individual sales.]; (4) it looks like the best way to haul would be to skid logs across Mead (which owned the property adjacent to us) to either “our” pad or the “new” [A&B’s] pad - we’d have to find out the feasibility and cost of using their site; (5) the cut itself would be made from a skid road midway up our hill, with side trails to bring the logs down to constructed landings where they would be bunched for hauling out. If the logs weren’t skidded out to the logging road, we would have the expense/permanence of improving the road into camp and establishing a landing. We told Mike we’d ponder it, and get back to him.

Even though our woods - particularly those above the field - were gone for our lifetimes, we were hesitant to start a salvage operation. With the logging going on all over the Hill (and more likely, as everybody else tried to save what wood they could), and with the disruptions from the gas pipeline installation, cutting on our land seemed like more than we could bear. Besides, I had a idea that there might be something a little more "ecological" that we could do (although I had no idea what that might be). In late June, I told Mike that we wouldn't do any major cutting that year, but that we would be interested in hiring him to take down some of the damaged trees around the house.

Wednesday 1 July 1998 - Rain started again about 0345. By 0800, 1.45” had accumulated [about 1.2” in yesterday’s thunderstorm]. Low 57.4F, high 63F. The morning after 0900 was cloudy but dry. Rain started again 1400, and in the next hour rained torrentially. After that, gray and drizzly.

We always call 1996 “The Wet Year”, but it has to give up its claim now, at least for the period for which we have comparative records. From 17 May through 30 June 1996, we had rain on 25 days, totaling 9.46”. This year in that period, it rained on 27 days, totaling 10.98”. We sometimes feel that the rain has lasted forever, but it’s still hard to believe we broke the 1996 record, considering that the first week or so we were here, our forest floor looked like it was in the middle of a drought. [The difference is probably that the 1996 “wet year” started much earlier. In the ten days before 17 May 1996, there were 2.5” of rain; this year, I don’t think there was much more than a trace, from what the local folks said - although Boston was getting inundated as we were traveling across the country. Go figure!]

We spent a couple hours in the morning draining puddles on our road, the hill on the Logging Road, and the “new” pad. Sally went out again for a couple hours in the afternoon. In between, Mike came in to discuss cutting some of our “problem trees” around the house. He will take down the ones we specify and cut them into firewood lengths. He charges $15/hr, and will probably start tomorrow.

Thursday 2 July 1998 - Yesterday’s rain 0.65”. Low 50.9F, high 75.7F. Blue skies, a few clouds, light breezes, very few bugs - great day after the long rainy spell.

Mike came in today, and spent all day cutting downed and damaged trees around the “front yard”. We didn’t have him take many that could have commercial value - we still need to make a decision on that - but he prepared about 2 cords of [mainly] birch for me to split as firewood. We paid him $100 for about 6 hours work, which seems awfully low for what he accomplishes. [He charges $15/hour for just chainsaw work, $40 if he brings his skidder.]

Through early July, we looked out at our altered landscape, and tried to think of something to do that was environmentally friendly. We knew we could just say that the Ice Storm had been a natural occurrence, and leave the land to recover by itself. Of course, it would have, in time, but not in our time. Right then, the slash was so deep, and the woods below Camp still so dangerous, that it was hard to walk anywhere on our property except down the middle of the field. As we thought about it, our biggest concern turned out to be protecting the character of our entrance road. If Mike had to haul logs on it, it would certainly be changed forever.

Sunday 19 July 1998 - Low 50.7F, high 79.7F. Lovely blue sky day, puffy clouds, fairly dry air, few bugs. I was awake early, so I bird-watched down the Logging Road to the Cedar Brook crossing, and back again. Not a lot of activity, but did see a male mourning warbler [probably a female, too, but identification not certain] right at our pad. I think this is the first I’ve seen since the early days of the Logging Road, when for a few years there were several pairs between the “moose crossing” and Cedar Brook.

As I was getting back up to our pad, Mike drove by on his way to Faulkenhams. I told him that we had decided we would like him to cut the forest above the field, on condition that he does not have to use our road for hauling. Mike said that he had already talked to Ted Tishey about hauling logs across Mead land, and using Mead’s [“our”] pad. Ted apparently indicated “no problem”, but it would need his bosses approval. Next, Mike will go see Don Mersky in Shelburne to see if Mead will grant a permit to use the old Brown Co. skid trails and pad.

Friday 14 August 1998 - The skies were entirely clear in the early morning, but there was thick fog in the valleys. High stratus clouds increased through the afternoon. Low 42.6F, high 74.7F.

1740-1900 I walked out the Logging Road to the powerline, and also down to “Bunchberry Bog” before coming back home. Mosquitoes and blackflies quite aggressive, but I did a little birding. Some obvious dickybird movement, but pretty still and humid evening. I met Mike on the road, and talked awhile. He will come to see us soon, and scope out the logging activity. He thinks cutting this winter will be least confusing, because Ted told him that Mead will probably be cutting their Dummer Hill acreage first thing next spring.

Saturday 29 August 1998 - Low 53.4F, high 69.9F. Overcast all day, light rain started about 1600.

Around 1700 Sally heard voices and noises in the woods, but we couldn’t find anybody. Twenty minutes or so later, Mike and his father Roger came walking back up our field. They had been following the old skid trail on Mead, and then had been scouting out possible skid routes on our land. Mike thought they would probably be able to use the skid trail and not our road. He plans to come in and talk to us, shortly.

Saturday 12 September 1998 - Clouded up overnight, a few distant claps of thunder and then light rain started 1000; pretty much over by 1100 - 0.04”. Never really cleared up, but only drizzle the rest of the day. Low 46.2F, high 62.1F.

We were indoors much of the day. I took a couple brief bird walks. Mike came in about 1630, and we walked around our property, discussing the upcoming cut. He will start sometime this fall, try to get the skid roads in before snow accumulation, then cut this winter.

Saturday 3 October 1998 - The miscellaneous showers yesterday yielded 0.05” ppt. Today, lots of fair weather clouds but lots of blue. Still a little breezy, but the strong winds are over. Low 37F, high 49.6F.

This was an eventful day from the start. We got going fairly late in the morning, and were really just getting out of bed at 0800. About then, a cow moose and her calf came running past the house from the direction of our driveway. They continued running all the way down the field and out of sight into “the glades”. About ten minutes later, a medium-sized bull moose followed the same route. He was a little more decorous about it than his predecessors, but he also ran half the way. We never saw anything that might have frightened them.

Mike arrived a while later, and we signed some papers related to the upcoming logging, and re-walked a little of the cutting area so he was sure he knew what we want done.

* * *

We left Camp on 13 October, and returned from Oregon 30 April 1999. The journal tells the story of the winter.

Friday 30 April 1999 - Kingston to Camp via Cornwall, Ontario; New York State; Champlain Islands; and Rte 2. Got in to Camp by about 1600, after brief visits with Becky and Walter, and Sarah Cordwell. Blue skies all day, fairly calm, temps. 40s to probably low 70s along the way; probably mid-60s at Camp.

This has been a very dry late winter-early spring in New England. In general, New Hampshire received only about an inch of precipitation in April. Mt. Washington averages 8.7” ppt. in April; they got 4.2” this year. Maine hasn’t had this dry of a spring in 127 years of weather recording. Some of the consequences are that there have already been a number of wildfires in the North Country; also because things dried out so early, the vegetation hasn’t had the moisture needed to really get going. Consequently, lawns and road edges are just starting to green up, now, and (at least from a distance) most trees still look bare.

We had kept in touch with Mike through the winter, so we had a general idea of how the roads into Camp would be. He had been unable to get up the last hill to our pad on the Logging Road last week - had actually got stuck trying to get through, and had taken awhile getting out again. Other than that, the Logging Road was supposed to be in pretty good shape, but he recommended we come up Dummer Hill Road because of that last muddy stretch. He said that Bob McLoughlin and his forester had made it to Faulkenham’s with a 2-wheel drive truck recently.

Sarah Cordwell confirmed that the Dummer Hill Road was passable, “but rough.” The latter is an understatement. A&B logged all winter from just below Neil’s Field [new pad by the giant boulder on the hill down from Neil’s], and let the road get so rutted that (although dry enough) it would be impassable to anything without major clearance - even so, the holes are so deep it could be a real axle-buster. Beyond Neil’s field it is fine, even between A&B’s “new” pad and “our” pad [thanks to the pipeline people graveling that stretch after we left last fall].

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Our “driveway” is dry, but Mike’s use of it all winter has widened it, and rutted it badly in some places. The worst of it is that a lot of our good solid base has been broken down, and a lot of the drainage we’ve worked so hard to develop has been ruined. I’m afraid it could get pretty yucky after a moderate rain.

[I said that was “the worst”, but what is really THE WORST is that it no longer looks like our little track through the woods. We are losing more and more of what for us has been the essence of Dummer Hill. We survive each of the changes, and go on - and still love it - but not much is “as it has been” in our lifetime on the Hill.]

As expected, our first view of Camp was shocking, but maybe not as much of a shock as I thought it would be. Partly it was because we had last year to get used to not having our wonderful forest, anymore, so this was just sort of the “next step.” Partly it was that we knew it would be bad, and it met our expectations. Party it was that Mike really did leave as many trees as possible, and didn’t leave piles and piles of slash everywhere, so - even though parts of our hillside are essentially “clear-cut” - there really is some forest-y feel about our dooryard, after all.

Once into camp, we did the minimum to get ready for the night, then walked out to the pad and back. Mike still has about ten truckloads of our wood there, waiting for the road to dry enough for hauling. As might be expected, our roses and highbush cranberries on the bank have been run over many times, and - although one rose plant is visible - are probably “toast.” [LATER: Actually, everything survived Mike’s work, although not the Mead/Kelly work to come.] I walked down the hill to the culvert to see where Mike got stuck. It is a very short stretch - where the big pothole developed last summer - but has such deep, mucky ruts that it is still very “stickable,” if not entirely impassable. The ruts are so deep and the drainage so screwed up that I don’t think there is a lot we can do with hoes and shovels, this year.

Mike wasn't quite done with the cutting, and he cut and hauled a number of loads of pulpwood into mid-June, when Mead reclaimed "our" pad to use for their own logging. After that, he spent some time cleaning up and stabilizing the skid trails he had built on our side hill. He built water bars to divert the flow off the trails, and seeded some of the steeper trails with perennial grasses. We hardly noticed his activities while we were at Camp, because there was so much tree salvage in progress on the lands around ours.

Nothing could come close to compensating for the loss of our mature hardwood forest. Still, if I put on my Pollyanna hat, there were a few results that at least helped with the hurt. 1. Bluebirds - seldom seen in the forests on the Hill before the Ice Storm and subsequent cutting - appeared in our field, nested, and raised young for about five years. 2. Black-backed woodpeckers, a species I'd seen only twice before on the Hill, appeared in numbers for a year or two, apparently attracted by an abundance of insects living in the dead and dying trees. 3. Mike's skid trails on our hillside made great trails to places I'd seldom visited before the Ice Storm, and in the years following I worked with the mower to keep them open and useable. 4. There were many new and interesting views to the north and east. 5. There was still enough mature forest below the field that we didn't miss out on all of our spectacular New England fall color.

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Still, we would have much rather had our forest.

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