Chapter Twenty-Eight: 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.

In January 1998, as we wintered in Oregon, Mother Nature was making major changes to our New Hampshire land. Notes can't really express all our feelings of anticipation, trepidation, frustration, desolation, confusion, and resignation, but here's a sampling to give you an idea.

Wednesday 14 Jan 1998 [in Oregon] - "I'll start our Dummer Hill notes early this year, while details are still fresh in my mind. The Northeast has had the ice storm of the century, extending from Ontario and New York clear through New England, Maine, Quebec, and into the Maritime Provinces. The main event was almost a week ago, and much of the area is still without power. Over a million homes are said to be without power in Quebec.

"The physical damage to the northern forests is said to be extensive. On public radio this morning, they interviewed AMC [Appalachian Mountain Club] folks at Pinkham Notch, Forest Service employees, and a Berlin [NH] maple sugar producer. All agree that trees are so badly damaged over so wide an area that it may be years before there is 'fall color' again, and before the maple trees have recovered enough to produce significant syrup yields. The report is that trees in the White Mountains are still covered with ice, and bent to the ground in many cases. Maples and others are said to be so stripped of branches that they 'look like telephone poles'. Trails, ski runs, etc. are virtually gone under the fallen debris.

"There seems to be no way that Arriba escaped the full brunt of the storm. What will we find when we get there?"

Wednesday 21 Jan 1998 [in Oregon] - "Got the following e-mail message from Bruce [in NH]; hard to take in!" 'I haven't been up on the hill yet, but Dad went up Friday. He said that most of the hardwood on the top part of the hill from about Neal's field up was damaged or down. He couldn't walk up the road beyond Leroy's, he had to go way around to get to the camp. We had no damage to the buildings but he said it looked like around them had been shelled. Most trees were broken off. Looks like the softwood is okay for the most part. He didn't have time to get down to your camp, and he said it was difficult and a danger to travel in the woods. The trees are still covered in about 2 inches of ice. Dad said there must be 30 cords of wood in the road from Leroy's up to the camp, to say nothing about what's down in the woods. Around your camp may have been low enough to be spared.'"

Monday 6 April 1998 [in Oregon] - "Sarah [in NH] called us tonight. She had gone up Dummer Hill on her 4-wheeler, expecting to go in and check camp. She left the 4-wheeler at our pad, and started to walk in our road. There is so much wood down in the road that she only got a quarter of the way in, and decided she wouldn't have time to go all the way in and out before dark. It sounds like we will have a lot of work to do before we drive in!"

Tuesday 21 April 1998 [still in Oregon] - "Sally talked to Becky [in NH]. She and Walter tried to drive in to camp via the logging road about a week and a half ago. Mead is logging about a mile in, and the going was good to that point. Beyond the logging, the road is impassable due to branches and trees down across it.

"Received the following e-mail from Bruce [in NH]: 'We have a lot of work to do. Most of the trees are damaged in some way. The higher up you go the worse it gets...I'm going to try to find some time to go up this weekednd to repair some of the apple trees. One of the apple trees is tipped over onto the ground, and the rest have damage to most limbs. It will take us a week or so to cut a path up to the camp for us to be able to drive up.'"

Thursday 23 April 1998 [in Oregon] - "Sarah [in NH] called this evening, to tell us that she had made it into camp today... The walk in and out of camp took her about 45 minutes. [NOTE: it usually takes 5-10 minutes.] There are some whole trees down on the road, but mostly it is just piles and piles of branches. There are some trees down in the field, including a big poplar at the north end where we've been clearing. The birches seem to have sustained the most damage. The house and outhouse look fine. There is a big branch down on the woodshed, but the shed does not seem to have been damaged by it. All in all, it sounds like things are as good as they have any right to be!"

Tuesday 28 April 1998 [in Oregon] - "Ted called from New Hampshire to fill us in on his first trip into our camp. He said that there are many trees as well as branches down across our road, and he was unable to keep on the road walking in. According to him, there is not a single big tree left on the hill that still has its crown! On our land, he thinks we have probably lost all our white birches, either completely down, bent over, or broken out. Damage appears to be much less below the house than above. The softwoods are damaged, as well as the hardwoods. The house and shed are okay, as Sarah reported, with just one big branch from the birch down on top of the wood shed.

"I believe everything everybody has said, but it's still impossible to believe!"

Friday 15 May 1998 [en route] - "Long, warm drive from Sudbury, Ontario, to North Hero, VT. We started seeing signs of the ice storm 30-40 miles west of Ottawa. At first, it was just areas of bent-over trees along the roadway. By the time we got to Ottawa, there were many shattered trees, and whole woodlots devastated. We saw more of the same across northern NY, but very little damage around Lake Champlain."

Saturday 16 May 1998 - "We left North Hero about 0500, so reached West Milan [NH] by 0900. We saw absolutely no ice damage across VT, and very little coming up the Connecticut River to Groveton. Even east on Route 110, we were only seeing occasional damage, and were beginning to think (hope!) that the reports of devastation were somehow exaggerated.

"Alas, our hopes were quickly dashed on the trip up Dummer Hill. There were broken trees everywhere - in fact, there was hardly a large deciduous tree that wasn't broken. A large birch blocked access to our 'driveway', but it didn't matter because the road beyond had so many branches on it that it wasn't even walkable. It took us about a half-hour to pick our way into camp. There was one point when I really didn't know where we were, in relation to the road! Dixie [our cat] walked all the way, but panted hard in the heat and humidity, and regularly lay down in shady spots. We didn't do any better. We hadn't thought to carry any water - we were just walking in our driveway, right? - so finally I went a little ahead, got some water from the spring (a challenge in itself), and brought it back to Sally.

"We got the shutters off, got a full bucket of water, and not much else for awhile. I'll write our 'first impressions' later."

Tuesday 19 May 1998 - [NOTE: Most of our time the last two days were spent clearing our entry road, and I didn't do much writing.] "I continued to clear our road - other than a big jumble right in our 'driveway', it is now almost clear from the field back out to the height of land. Much of the rest I think will be more hauling than cutting, although there is quite a mess around Arthur's Rock, and of course there is the big birch that is keeping us completely off the road.

"I haven't written much about the conditions here, because I've been too tired to journal-ize. Now I'll give our 'first impressions.' As I've said previously, one large birch across our road completely bars vehicle travel to camp. This was at first academic, because our entire road was one jumble of downed branches and bent-over trees. Luckily, most of the debris right in the road proved to be quite moveable, with a minimum of cutting, so I've made quite a bit of progress the past couple days.

"The only other big branches on our road are right in our 'driveway', where several of the large beeches shed branches, and where a large birch is tipped over onto the lawn. Looking into the field from the driveway, you see (going clockwise): a big white birch blocking the way straight ahead; lots of maple debris, including parts of our favorite red maple; downed birches over the upper garden and blocking the route to the spring; the small apples behind the elderberry pulled out of the ground, and fallen over one another; most of the branches from the two big popples [poplars] on the ground (although, amazingly, the popples themselves are still standing - but looking more like telephone poles than trees); more forest-edge apples tipped over (but the little hawthorn is okay); more birches bent and broken over the field; broken and bent maples; the big pine under which the pine-drops bloom with its top broken out; the big hawthorn in beautiful bloom, apparently untouched (!!); a big popple fallen halfway across the field from the lower side; lots of bent and broken trees over the old road we've been so carefully clearing the past few years; the camp, intact (praise the Lord!); and the woodshed with a major limb from Sally's favorite birch balanced on top of it (but with no damage to the shed). The skyline, except down through 'the glades', is unrecognizable. In other words, it's really an undescribable scene. I took a bunch of pictures, but I'm sure they can't get across what really happened.

"The view of Dummer Hill from the fork where the logging road turns toward us shows the whole top of the hill looking like it was 'scalded' - a mosaic of new green around the white of shattered trees. The north side of Cummings Mountain looks the same."

Sunday 24 May 1998 - "Big job for today was clearing the last couple of bad spots on the road, and driving the truck into the field. Hurrah - last Saturday, I never could have believed we'd be driving in in just over a week. It must have taken something like fifteen hours, total, of actual road work."

Tuesday 26 May 1998 - "I asked a local forester a few questions about our woods. He didn't think they were 'destroyed' ecologically, and personally wouldn't be in a hurry to cut. He said as far as salvage was concerned, trees actually laying on the ground would not be salvageable for veneer after this season, but the standing ones would be okay for at least a year. He expected that most of the big trees with severe breakage would eventually die."

Wednesday 3 June 1998 - "Looking back at our hill from the fork on the logging road gives the best idea of how bad the damage really is. Above a certain elevation (a little above the elevation of Cedar Brook) there are virtually no trees that are not shattered. The extent of damage to our hill versus some other areas is also evident if you consider the comment we have heard a number of times that the leaves are now masking the damage in many areas. Our damage is so severe there are no leaves to mask it!"

Monday 8 June 1998 - "Mike Dandeneau and I walked up the hill to our west boundary, worked our way along to our north spring, then came back below the field. Above the field, I would say that probably more than 90% of the large and medium-sized trees are ice-damaged to the point of not recovering. There are more 'good' trees the higher on the hills you get, but there are still very few. Damage northeast and east of the field is much less, mainly affecting individual trees and clumps of trees."

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The full extent of the devastation caused by The Ice Storm is impossible to write about, but it's equally impossible to show in photographs. You really had to be there! Nevertheless, here are a few more "before" and "after" photos to give you some idea of what greeted us when we arrived back at our Camp in May 1998. First are two distant views of Dummer Hill, looking west. Our Camp is about one-third of the way up the highest hill. The first photo was taken at the peak of color in the fall of 1997; the second was taken from about the same spot, at about the same date in 1998. The third photo, a closer view of the top of Dummer Hill in summer 1998, shows that there are almost no leaves to turn color; in fact, most of the trees in the distance were too damaged to survive.

Before The Ice Storm, our Camp was surrounded by tall, dense forest that only permitted the sun to directly reach the house a couple hours a day, even in midsummer. After the storm, our walls of trees were gone, and the amount of sunlight each day is amazing. The "before" photo shows how it was. The "after" one shows some of the damage.


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