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Thursday’s winds bring back memories of the big one in ’75

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Sylvia Crawford/Glen Ellen Columnist

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Western wind, when wilt thou blow

Last week’s wild, whipping wind reminded me of the big windstorm of 1975. I don’t know how last week’s compared to that one, which in my memory was a doozy, but this year’s was a significant sleep interrupter.

Back in ’75, in the middle of a clear and starry night sky, the wind suddenly picked up in and about the Sonoma Valley. It howled and railed, while the buildings and trees all around responded with eerie creeks and groans that didn’t sound natural. It was close to Thanksgiving and my entire family was visiting, Mama, Papa, sister, brother and assorted relatives of less consequence. All were amazed by the raging winds and wailing sounds around.

Leafy dogwood

As the wind began to pick up, the first thing we did was call the dogs in from the storm. Out on the front terrace they were quickly covered with debris from falling leaves and branches. When they came into the house and shook violently in the front hall, leaves flew everywhere. And the wind continued to howl. Down O’Donnell Lane, at the old Ugby house, a huge old oak tree blew down, crashing right near the house, waking occupant Marsha with a frightful start.

Across the highway, a towering eucalyptus at the entrance to Oak Hill Farm blew over, luckily toward the farm and not onto the road.

At our house, an old 120-foot tall Doug fir, three-feet thick and standing inches from the house, swayed and bounced in the wind, first bending far down one way, and then another. With every bend in our direction, it leaned hard against the house, shoving the roof edge and threatening to lift it right off the wall. The deep moaning creaks and groans were unworldly, the kind of thing that makes the hair on the back of one’s neck stand up straight.

Before that big storm of ’75 ended, a multitude of dead and decaying branches littered the roads and yards throughout Sonoma Valley, with trees uprooted everywhere. It took weeks to clean the debris.

What I still remember most about that awesome storm, was how clear and bright the sky remained. N’er a cloud throughout the long night.

Oregon logger climbs Glen Ellen fir

It wasn’t more than a month before we called Bob Anderson tree service and arranged to have that big Douglas fir removed. Bob suggested a novel approach, and we agreed to go along with it. Having worked for some years as an Oregon logger in his youth, Bob was eager to try climbing the tree to first “top it” and then take the remainder out in short sections one by one.

The day of the tree’s downing, Bob arrived with only one other worker. His sweetie, Sue, did not accompany him; she says she’s more comfortable hearing about the result rather than watching the ordeal. The entire morning, Bob and his assistant surveyed the tree, the ground below, the tight proximity to our house and the general situation. Once they were ready to work, Bob pulled on safety equipment and began his climb up the trunk as a crowd of neighbors gathered to watch.

Wild ride on a bucking tree

About 25 feet from the top, he prepared the first cut by wrapping a rope in a complicated arrangement of loops and hitches above and below his position, and then he started up his saw. When the saw had cut to within inches of all the way through, the top began leaning and cracking loudly. Instantly Bob ducked low, and then held on tight while the top neatly folded against the remaining trunk, hinged at the cut and hanging in the ropes. The ton or so of shifting weight set the tree to thrashing wildly back and forth. Bob kept his hunker down until the thrashing settled. When he finally raised his head, the crowd clapped and shouted.

After lowering the top to the ground, to be cut up by his assistant, he removed short sections hour after hour until only about 30 feet of trunk remained. After denuding the remaining tree of all its branches, Bob descended and made his final plans to fell the last section diagonally across our yard, making sure it would touch neither the house nor any other tree in the yard.

When the winds blow, the cradle will rock

To absorb the energy of its collision with the ground, Bob and his assistant laid a thick bed of trimmed boughs where the trunk would fall when he sawed it through at the bottom. When it fell at last, it landed just right with a resounding boom and a couple of bounces. Success all around.

Toad abode

Now all that remains of that huge Douglas fir is a broad stump at the corner of our house. Our boys’ frog castle (actually a “toad abode,” technically speaking) resides on top of it and will always remain.

Some years later, we sold the remaining slabs of Doug fir to a scavenger who called us having seen the woodpile in the far yard. I wish now that we’d saved at least one slab of that old tree. Now, we only own a few pages of pictures taken with our old and somewhat untrusty brownie camera.

A couple of other reminders of that big storm still remain. Many folks claim that the gnarled root system of the fallen eucalyptus that marks the entrance to Oak Hill Ranch is actually an oak root ball. Though one might wish it were, it is definitely not. Does that take any of the romance out of the tale? I think not. It was, indeed, a dark and windy night once upon a time …

As for last week’s storm of 2013, that was minor. Yes, it did create one sleepless night as sweetie and I took turns watching the oaks that still surround our house. But now, by morning, little has changed. Yes, there’s more work awaiting our trusty friend, Mark Lavin, who arrives from time to time to clear the leaves from our lawn. But damage? Nope. And thankful for that, we are.

Philippines devastation

Our many friends and neighbors in the Philippines have not fared nearly so well. Our hearts ache for them and we are opening our pocket books to help with the repair. I have contacted Jim Hill of our local Glen Ellen Community Church.

As I recall (from delicious suppers there), that congregation includes more than a few folks from the Philippines, many of whom work at the Sonoma Developmental Center. Surely, Jim and his parishioners will be collecting funds to help those family and friends left devastated in their homeland. I’ll let you know how you can help, too. Meanwhile, it is the week to prepare our thanks and grateful praise for the world we live in. Glen Ellen is surely delightful paradise, no doubt. We here in the Valley of the Moon, in Glen Ellen, in particular, are blessed. With weather, with bounty, with wealth and happiness. I hope this Thanksgiving season finds you with all you desire, or at least, all you need.

Farewell Carol, Godspeed to you, Rick and Dunbar

Today we bid a fond farewell to neighbor and friend Carol Lawrence, who died recently at her home in Glen Ellen. Carol, as I’ve mentioned before in this column was the original owner of the dog named Dunbar, who lived out most of his happy days on the school grounds.

That was, until one fateful, frosty morning when he crossed paths with then Dunbar principal, Rosemary Haver. As she took a spill over his rump, the dog whimpered and ran off, never to return to the school, both by desire and decree. But, until that time, Dunbar was as ubiquitous on campus as the cork oak that graces the front lot, simply a school fixture. Dunbar was a well-schooled dog who was as welcomed in the classroom as he was on the playground. Alas, Dunbar is now gone, as is his owner. We bless them both, and are left with many fond memories.

Carefully coiffed

Carol Lawrence was a warm and friendly sort who could easily take the prize for being among the best-dressed ladies at the pool. That would be Agua Caliente, (also known as Sonoma Aquatic Club) of course. Always neatly coiffed and polished, Carol ever resembled the Esther Williams model swimmer. Her hair never got wet, her make-up never smudged and her smile was always wide and beneficent. We will miss her.

While looking like a model for swim fashion, Carol’s words entertained her swimming buddies.

Pinball wizard

Carol always had a good word to say about her dear son Peter Lawrence. Yes, those familiar with Peter will recognize the old tan Volvo parked often at the little Glen Ellen Grocery on many an evening. Peter loves to battle the pinball machines that were long a fixture at the little store.

Carol loved her son and made sure that other folks knew that. She often spoke of him fondly and wistfully. Peter was in a terrible car accident when he was a young man and he never fully recovered. Yet, he was a great joy in Carol’s middle age and brought much comfort to his Papa, Rick, also.

Both Rick and Carol contracted cancer somewhere along the way and each of them suffered a long and debilitating round fighting the disease. Rick died first and, initially, Carol didn’t believe that she could go on. But with Peter’s help, and later the help from her daughters, Carol persevered and even thrived. We didn’t see her back at the pool, but we often got news of her.

As Carol’s obituary said, she loved her Lord Jesus Christ. That was expressed by her generous affection toward all people. The ladies of the pool will long remember and miss Carol and we wish her Godspeed to be with her God and her beloved Rick. A most happy and glorious Thanksgiving to all of my readers and friends.

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Want to see your own name in the news? Share your stories with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me at Creekbottom@earthlink.net. Glen Ellen chatter rarely requires timeliness; however, if your news does, please be sure to contact me at least two weeks prior to your desired publication date.