Saturday, December 10, 2011

It Happens

Monrovia, California

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Interesting meteorological phenomenon here last week, or as Popeye would say, “Large weather we’re having.” Santa Ana winds were predicted for Wednesday night, with gusts up to 75 mph. Big deal, I thought, remembering how many times the weather folks out here have predicted dire things along the lines of Actual Rain, Temperatures Below 40 Degrees, Less Than Perfect Sunshine, and the like.

However, due to some weird combination of factors—dueling weather fronts, one going clockwise and the other counterclockwise, or something like that—the winds on Wednesday night/Thursday morning played hell with the cities and towns along the San Gabriel Valley, stretching out from the northeast part of LA along old Route 66 through Pasadena, Arcadia, Monrovia, and Duarte, and including a few smaller places north and south of that line. Somehow the winds from out of the northwest combined with winds from the desert southeast of here. The result was massive tree damage and power outages. Made me nostalgic for those Michigan and New England snow and ice storm conditions. I'm not just talking broken branches here, but trees uprooted entirely. Power was out at our house from early Thursday morning until Sunday morning, and in some places it still wasn’t on as of the next Wednesday. On the way into my volunteer job at the Pasadena courthouse on Thursday, going through Arcadia in particular, I saw more trees simply pulled out of the ground and stretched out over the road (always having fallen from north to south) than I’ve ever seen before, period. Mostly they were shallow-rooted trees, like evergreens and eucalyptuses, but some others as well. Just knocked over by the winds, which somehow conspired to roar down the south side of the San Gabriel Mountain range at speeds of up to 100 mph.

But here was the odd part, the part I’m not used to. There was no precipitation or other bad weather accompanying the winds. In fact, the skies were, if anything, clearer and brighter the next day because the wind had blown the pollution away. Sunny warm breezy days in paradise, only with electrical outages and trees and branches blocking virtually every street. Interesting. Still, Californians take this sort of thing more or less in stride. I’ve mentioned before that in spite of being rather spoiled, weatherwise, they’re not big on complaining, at not least volubly. The reliable surliness of the Midwest and kvetching of the Northeast are all but absent here. All that extra vitamin D from the sun, I guess. And it’s not like people had to shovel snow or dry out the basement on top of having lost power, after all. Crews of municipal and free-lance landscapers and tree cutters just got busy. Tons of cash passed into the underground economy, as people hired members of the legion of immigrant yard workers to do extra things, like raking and cutting and trimming and repairing. And meanwhile the sun just kept on shining.

After several days things were reasonably cleared up and it was business as usual, except in places like the LA Botanical Gardens over in Lucky Baldwin territory, where at least half of all the exhibits were damaged in some way. Apparently the news people weren't able to connect even one death to the storm, which was a good thing, though rather surprising, since the media like to attribute virtually all deaths from all causes that take place during any spate of inclement weather to such event. A ninety-five-year-old man dies of a heart attack while it’s raining heavily and he goes down as a casualty of the storm.

The other thing I noticed over the next few days was how little, not how much, I noticed the missing trees. To be sure, in some parks there were dozens of hundred-year-old trees destroyed, their massive stumps and roots lined up to be carried away like rows of fat dead bodies. But what the hell, they all have to die some day in some way. I was left marveling a few days later, rolling down lush tree-lined Colorado Boulevard in west Arcadia, at just how few trees appeared to be missing. There are more than enough to go around.

Don’t get me wrong—I love trees as much as the next guy. From our perspective they’re mighty and noble and all those things we like to ascribe to them when indulging in what John Ruskin termed the “pathetic fallacy” (which isn’t as bad a thing as it sounds—look it up). People worship them, hug them, rely on them for shade and shelter and food. But in the end they’re just bigger versions of grass and weeds. It's all a matter of perspective. If we were bigger, we’d think of them that way, too. And they have life spans like everything else. The ones that fell were weaker or older than the ones that didn’t fall, or more unlucky perhaps, or too big for their britches, so to speak. It happens.

Meanwhile, it’s mid-December and the roses keep on blooming and the sun shines damned near every day.


Ted said...


Just wanted to let you know that I'm still here. I read every one and I enjoy them... thanks for the time that you put into this.


Peter Teeuwissen said...

Thanks, Ted.

Anonymous said...

Still here too! You say that you didn't notice the missing trees that much. It may be due to the fact that this particular landscape is not part of your DNA and that there still are a lot of trees left. In my area, there was a huge storm in 1999, a quarter of the trees fell during the storm, half had to be chopped down because they were too damaged so only a quarter of the original trees remain. 12 years later, people still feel a vacuum. On the horizon, where there was a forest, you can now count the trees! Thirty-five years ago a few miles away, the pine forest burned and even though some form of vegetation has grown back, there too, I still miss the previous landscape.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

I'm sure you're right about the landscape being relatively unfamiliar. At the front of the small park containing the Monrovia public library there were three tall evergreens, one of which had been strung with lights and was going to be lit the very next night, after the annual Christmas parade. Everything was cancelled because the downtown had no electricity for several days, and the tree was blown down, lights and all, pulled up by the roots. Obviously that had an affect on the locals and will for years to come. But on the boulevards the trees remain pretty thick.