Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Weight of Wood

Frequent readers of this blog might have noticed that yesterday's (Friday's) post didn't actually go up until Sunday (tomorrow, actually today), as like with this entry, I was unable to post until Sunday due to yet another power failure due to yet another fallen tree.

I'm fortunate to be living in what is effectively a small urban forest - a pocket of green within the City of Atlanta. The road I reside along splits to surround a steep-banked stream where construction would be generally impossible, and the resultant little park had a large number of tall sycamores, pines and poplars. My property and that of most of my neighbors are also heavily forested, so the neighborhood is a little oasis of green, a nature sanctuary in the middle of the city. Even though the creek is fairly well contaminated and lifeless due to urban runoff, we're still visited by occasional hawks during the day, and at night we have owls as well as sightings of foxes and even the rare coyote.

But all of these trees also create problems. Not only are we fairly inundated by falling leaves in the autumn, but by buds, blossoms, and catkins in the spring, leaves and twigs following summer thundershowers, and larger branches during winter ice storms. Droppings have their season just like anything, and all year round there are pine cones and acorns.

A small price to pay for the canopy we enjoy and for all the shade that keeps my block at least five degrees cooler than the rest of the city during the long, hot Georgia summers. But the steeper payments are due to the fact that what goes up, must come down. Falling trees are our big concern.

A big tree went down last August only two houses down from mine, blocking off the road and narrowly missing a parked car and a house. Just around the corner from that, a tree came down following Hurricane Dennis back in '05, also blocking the road and causing structural damage to an unfortunately located house.

Both of these trees came down not during the rain and storms but on the days following. It seems that the soil gets soaked and soft and incapable of retaining the tree, and then gravity takes over and does its thing.

Today, Saturday (actually yesterday), another tree came down across the park from my home. The heavy rain that flooded my job site in Jena blew over to Georgia, and we had fairly intense rain here Friday and Saturday. Shortly after the rain stopped, I heard a crash and then the sound of a transformer popping, and then I lost power. Looking outside, I saw that the power lines in front of my house were bouncing up and down like a schoolgirl's jump rope. Then I noticed the tree that had fallen across the way, once again blocking off the road but this time smashing in the trunk of a neighbor's car.

Fortunately, no one was hurt. Several neighbors and I walked over to get a closer look - the tree took down a power pole as it fell, pinning the wires to the ground, and the downed wires pulled two other power poles down, so that there were live electric wires draped all over the front yards of the neighborhood.

We looked at the damage, but there wasn't really much we could say or do about it. A fire truck came along and blocked off the area, and soon the power company was over to work on the lines and poles. I personally left my darkened, powerless house and went out shopping (when the going gets tough . . .). Amazingly, power was restored after only about three hours, but kept lurching back off and on as the work outside progressed. Any time I got on line, the power went out again before I could post anything, so as a result, both Friday's post, which was admittedly a little behind schedule anyway, and this post couldn't go up until tomorrow, Sunday (which is actually today). It's probably not as confusing as it is difficult to describe.

However, I do still have a certain amount of concern, or even anxiety, over trees falling on my home. I have several very tall trees behind me, and given the slope of my land, the bases of these trees are higher than the roof of my house. If any one of them were to fall, the impact would be from the full momentum of the fall, as the house wouldn't be able to absorb the shock as it was falling. It would hit hard.

A man was killed a couple years ago here in Atlanta while sleeping in his bed when a tree came down on his house. A couple were killed in the Virginia-Highlands neighborhood when a tree fell on the car they were in. As I lay in my bed contemplating the weight of wood over my head, these stories and the memories of trees coming down in my neighborhood do not give me comfort.

Irony: the City of Atlanta, in its great wisdom, has passed an ordinance to prohibit residential landowners from cutting down trees on their property without an expensive and difficult-to-obtain permit. Although the law was passed to protect and attempt to maintain the city's once extensive canopy, lobbyists for developers successfully exempted their clients from the rule, even though most tree loss is due to new development, not residential landscaping. So now the canopy is still never-the-less disappearing, but residents are being killed by old trees falling on their houses and cars.

But not in my neighborhood, at least not yet. So far, the falling trees are only inconveniencing traffic, causing power outages, and resulting in insurance claims. But at least it allows us residents to come out of our houses and socialize a little as we inspect the damage.

No comments: