Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thank You, Thomas Edison!

I've been thinking that this past week has been all about power: it may sound trite, but a hurricane is a sobering reminder of how little power we have over nature. In the days leading up to Ike, we could tell ourselves that all our preparations and precautions would see us through safely. Given that my corner of Katy is 70 miles inland from Galveston and we've so often remained unaffected by storm systems that cause major problems in other areas of Houston, we felt fairly confident that it would prove much the same with Ike. We expected to lose our electricity, and to have a little debris to clean up. Life continued as normal for the most part: even as the winds began to pick up, just before noon on Friday, we were able to be out and about, making one last run to the grocery store or the gas station. Throughout the afternoon and evening, we watched the news coverage on TV and began to realize that we would be saying goodbye to Galveston as we knew it. I still wasn't too worried about what the storm would bring to us here. Looking at the projected path as it moved inland, Katy appeared to be on the outside edge and I wondered if we would see a repeat of Hurricane Rita, when not even one drop of rain fell on my corner.

The balance of power shifted just before midnight, when the wind began to blow in earnest. Around 11:30 pm, the double glass front doors blew open: I'd unlatched the right hand door a week or so previously to give us room to move some furniture out and forgot to relatch it. I held the left door to keep it from blowing and EM relatched the right door. We closed and locked them, then moved a large chaise against them as insurance; they continued to creak throughout the night. EM moved a dresser in front of our bedroom door, since it's been known to blow open in much less windy circumstances. After making sure there were flashlights at hand if needed , we went to bed and slept until about 3:30 am. When I woke, the blinking of the digital clock told me that there had been at least one power surge. Unable to sleep, I got up to look around and discovered that the latched double front gates had blown open and were swinging wildly in the wind. I might have ventured out to relatch them, had the chair not been in front of the doors and had I not been more than a little afraid of going out.

Around 4:00 am, I heard the boom of a transformer blowing and our power flickered off, then returned. At 4:30 am, the power went off for the duration, not with a bang or even a whimper. In a weird way, it was a relief to have it over and done with. Proof: I went back to bed and slept surprisingly soundly. It was after 8 am when we finally rose and began to survey the damage. Although it was raining, it was not the torrential rain we'd been warned to expect, only a moderate steady rainfall. The winds had died down by then, but they left behind evidence of their ferocity. The front gate and its hinges were blown off the wall, taking several chunks of brick with them.

Here's what I saw when I looked out the door.
Here's the view from just outside the front gates. I just now noticed that dark spot above the front door, a brass sign that I forgot to remove pre-Ike. I can't believe it wasn't blown down.

A close-up of the sign taken this morning. I'd been debating whether the garden should be known as Wits' End or Coneflower Corner. I think this settles it.

Many thanks to brickmason Greg Oertli for his prompt and careful attention to rebuilding the brick wall! The left panel of the gate is propped up to look as normal as possible.

By-mid morning, the rain had stopped and it was safe to venture outside again. The gate wasn't the only casualty of the storm. The wood trellis outside our breakfast room windows fell over, bringing with it most of the angel wing jasmines that were planted against it.

The trellis on Saturday afternoon

Happily, the root systems all remained in the ground. Since the trellis was built over 15 years ago of untreated wood, I'm not surprised it didn't hold up to the wind & the weight of a wet vine. At my request, EM demolished the trellis, working around the vines so we could save as much of them as possible. With any luck, my contractor will be able to get a new trellis and gate built next week. I hadn't realized how much privacy that trellis afforded us: with no coverings on those breakfast room windows, I'm feeling a wee bit exposed. The silver lining to this cloud: I'm finally able to reach the dead wood that was under the vines' top growth. I'm hoping the vines will be healthier and more vigorous than ever after I finish pruning them. Here's how they looked this morning.Although numerous fences in the area, including some on our alley, were demolished by the storm, our longest stretch of fence was untouched, a big disappointment to me. The fence is starting to show its age and will need replacement for aesthetic reasons soon. I was hoping it was just frail enough that a hurricane would do it in and our insurance would cover a new one. It didn't budge so much as a fraction of an inch (not even when I gave it a good hard kick). EM says if it's strong enough to withstand Ike, we don't need a new fence!

Like most of our neighbors, we spent Saturday afternoon outside, beginning the long and tedious task of post-hurricane cleanup. Unlike most of our neighbors, we continue to slog our way through post-hurricane cleanup here on my corner of Katy. (This is the only instance in which you'll ever hear me say I wish I had less garden and more lawn!) The large limbs and smaller branches have been cleared from where they landed, and three large piles await pickup by the contractors hired by city & county to haul the debris.

This pile of debris in our yard is just of many throughout the neighborhood.
Crews were out yesterday picking up bagged debris. There are still leaves, clumps of leaves, twigs, etc. all over the back beds and paths. Since I don't know how reasonable the yard police will be about a timetable for cleaning up, I've concentrated my efforts on the front gardens. I've taken the time to do some fall pruning as I work on clearing the beds. Wind damage isn't just about split limbs and broken stems: on some plants, the foliage was really affected by the sustained winds.

This variegated Philippine Violet suffered
severe windburn thanks to Ike.

The willow oak still awaits the attentions of my arborist. His helper came by today to assess the damage and agreed that it will indeed need ladders, chain saws and stronger, younger men than he to deal with it. It was difficult to get a picture that showed both the snapped off limb and the crown of the tree hanging upside down, caught in the tree (picture is of the latter).

As we've been out and about in the Katy area since last weekend, we've seen ample evidence of Ike's visit. Neighbors lost a pine tree that toppled into the street and had to be cut up in order for traffic to proceed. There are numerous smaller and/or younger trees that were uprooted by the storm. Many businesses lost their signs or marquees; lettering on buildings was ripped off. The plant center down the street had the top ripped off a greenhouse. We feel very fortunate overall. A fieldhouse was destroyed at Taylor High School just blocks away from us: as one friend said, it looked like a giant had stepped on it.

May I just say for the record that I love electricity? I absolutely adore it, truly I do. We were only without power for 18 hours and I was already starting to get cranky by the time it came back on. I'd turned the thermostat down to the low 60s earlier in the evening, hoping it would take the house that much longer to warm up to uncomfortable temperatures. It did seem to help. The cool front that blew through late Sunday/early Monday was a real blessing to those without power but even so, I can imagine how miserable the many people who are still without electricity must feel. My son was one of those have-nots until early this morning; he's been camping out in the air-conditioned comfort of friends' apartments. He did spend Monday night here with us, and spent most of the afternoon helping his dad with clean-up. His downtown office has been closed all week due to the power outage. There's not much that IT guys can do if the computers are down. Throughout the greater Houston area, there has probably been a marked increase in the number of books read, cards and board games played, and conversations held this week. I'd imagine there were a few more marital arguments than usual, too. In the interest of neighbors' marital harmony, we invited the couple across the street to spend time here as needed, since they were without electricity until Wednesday afternoon. He came over to watch TV and use the computer; she stayed home and enjoyed the time alone!

Rather than include all of them in this post, I've uploaded my before and after pictures to Picasa. Use this link to view them. You'll see several of the red bauhinia (hey, I'm struggling to cope with its dramatically altered appearance). I've been assured by others who have suffered through wind storms that trees will reshape themselves without help, and I think I see signs that it's already doing so.

Happily, the Turk's Caps fared much better and have been the subject of territory wars amongst the hummingbirds. I could hear them as I took this final shot but they evidently didn't wish to be photographed!


16 comments:

Annie in Austin said...

Ahoy Captain Cindy on Pirate ship 'Wit's End' - yer mainmast looks okay but the flotsam and jetsam is piling up.
Bauhinia the Redhanded is shaping up so no need to make her walk the Plank.

Nice of you to share your bounty with the neighboring buccaneers ;-]

Fruitless Carolyn Bellamy
[my name for talk like a pirate day, courtesy of this website]

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Shiver me timbers, that was some powerful wind! Good thing you battened down the hatches. I like the name "Wit's End," it is very fitting after that hurricane. I'm surprised an IT business wouldn't have its own generator. What a mess. Good luck with the continued cleanup - Porthole Amy Jones. (Thanks Fruitless Carolyn!)

Meadowview Thymes said...

Thanks for the wonderful post Cindy. My sister in Spring still is without power, but I wish you could know how they have made lemonade out of Ike the Lemon! Her entire street worked together to clean up. And, board games? All the kids gather at Kim's house, spread out a sheet and play games all day. One lady figured out how to make a birthday cake for her daughter on the grill. I have been amazed at how these neighbors worked together for a common cause. It has been heartwarming for me to know it still can happen!

Gail said...

You tell a great story Cindy! I can picture the experience quite well. Hopefully your arborist can restore your trees and nature will repair the wind damage. Do you suppose there will be any increases in population, two folks can only play so many board games.

Gail
Augusta the Pale, to you mate

Robin Wedewer said...

What an ordeal. I'm very impressed at the positive attitude you've maintained through all this. I know you're tired and sore from all the work. Make sure you take care of you too.

Robin Wedewer
National Gardening Examiner

or, at least for today
Dirty Jini Wyatt, pirate

Nancy said...

Yahaarrrrrr Matey in Katy!

(Okay, I'm blown out as far as Piratese now)

We've got to do a Houston Garden Bloggers "Our Gardens Survived Ike" hoedown.

Just as soon as the garden is back together....

Carol said...

I love power, too, along with my Internet access and wireless network.

I love the name Wit's End for your garden. One day you'll look back on H. Ike and realize it nearly took you to your wit's end, but you were stronger.

Like Robin said, take care of yourself and pace yourself on all that clean up!

Carol, May Dreams Gardens
(whose pirate name is Reeking Aubrey Bellamy)

Anna said...

That is a lot of damage from my take on things. I'm amazed that you came through it without a lot of damage to your house. You have had the very best attitude through it all. I hope your plants bounce back.

So glad you got your power back quickly. I would be a real grump head. I can't stand to be hot.

Pam/Digging said...

Your comment about the hummingbirds makes me wonder where the little creatures weathered the storm. They must know what to do.

That was surely a ferocious wind to have knocked bricks off your wall with a wooden gate. What a relief they didn't fly off into your front door.

The silver lining does seem to be the stories of neighbors pulling together to get through tough times.

Cindy, MCOK said...

Annie, flotsam and jetsam indeed! My pirate name was Pirate Faith the Engorged. I like yours better!

MMD, I figure I can switch the apostrophe around as needed: Wit's End or Wits' End!

MT, I hope by now your sister has power. I've been reading stories in the paper of how neighbors are looking out for each other: sounds like your sister's in a good place!

Gail, I hope if there is a population increase that they don't name the boys Ike!

Robin, when I find myself feeling cranky and depressed out in the garden, I know it's time to come in for a while.

Nancy, IF we ever get our gardens put back together, a Houston bloggers' meetup would be fun!

Carol, I'd probably have been a lot grumpier had we not been blessed with a cool front last week. It made clean-up chores much more pleasant!

Anna, I'm grateful that the tree limbs fell AWAY from the house and that the pine tree didn't decide to topple. Most of us out here in Katy seem to have been pretty fortunate, especially compared to folks in other areas. One friend's sister will be renovating her entire downstairs from the floor up.

Pam, after seeing those winds, I'm glad I moved all the yard art inside. I never even considered the possibility of loose bricks flying about. I'm grateful they didn't!

Thanks, y'all, for the sympathy & encouragement!

herself said...

Glad to see the damage was minor.

I'm impressed your bricks and gate came down. Must've caught a strong gust just the right way.

I'm trying to think of it as a chance to redo some things in a different way.

And I never did like that pine that came down anyhow. :D

dee/reddirtramblings said...

I'm so glad you're safe, Cindy, and that you again have power. Great storytelling. I've never been in a hurricane and I can only imagine. Shiver me timbers, indeed!~~Dee

Robin said...

Love your blog, Cindy! I'm glad your hummingbird plants made it through the storm. Hummingbirds and butterflies are our main priority. In northeast San Antonio, we only got a couple hours' worth of rain from Ike, and we're back to watering wilted plants almost daily. But we were spared the power outages and wind damage.

Best of luck with your garden restoration!

Nancy said...

Kathy, how about October 3rd, a meet with you, me, and Linda (Herself) at a garden center, and some coffee afterwards?

my email addy: mrsfrance AT gmail DOT com

fairegarden said...

Hi Cindy, so glad you received only that minor damage. Your pruning will improve the jasmine I'm sure. I like the Wit's End name too. Living without electricity does show us how lucky we are to live where we do.
Frances
new url
http://fairegarden.wordpress.com/

Cindy, MCOK said...

Linda, sorry about your pine tree. I'm surprised mine didn't suffer more damage but grateful it didn't fall over onto the house! I think things are going to look very different around here thanks to Ike, but not because of him!

Dee, I hope the next such storm is in the far distant future. Here's to a little rain for both of us soon, though!

Robin, thanks for stopping by! I'm glad San Antone got some of the rain from the storm. I know it's not nearly enough to make up for the months of drought. Here's to rain for y'all, too!

Frances, I know you're glad that you weren't still living here in Houston to experience this. I hope you're right about the pruning improving the jasmine. If it doesn't, well, that's an opportunity to grow a new vine or two!