This was originally posted to: Guemes Island Environmental Trust

The Christmas Storms of 1990

Something happened to Guemes between the Thanksgiving Day flood of 1990 and the Gulf War of 1991. In a season of disasters, a combination of pernicious cold and brutalizing wind changed the face of this island. For all of us, but especially for the children, the almost unimaginable power of Nature has become a personal experience.

We now know that when scientists speak of significant changes in weather patterns, using abstract terms like Global Warming, the reality behind their words can be stunningly physical. We also know that if the holiday storms were in some way caused by the greenhouse effect, they were but a tiny taste of what is on the menu for this continent.

Thankfully nobody was killed or seriously injured, at least no two-legged creatures. There can be no doubt that some forest-dwelling animals died, along with thousands of one-legged creatures (the trees). The deer and birds seemed confused for days afterward-those that survived the destruction and bitter cold. But Nature itself will continue, and the massive changes in the forests will offer new opportunities to both aunt flora and uncle fauna.

But for us, this is perhaps foremost a human story, and the Myth of Guemes has been enriched. Who will forget the man so terrified by trees falling on his tiny cabin that he went off into the dark forest to lie protected under trees already down? How about the folks who had a tree limb, completely trimmed of branches, sprout from the middle of their ceiling like some Post Modern work of art? Or the way the islanders rose to the occasion with candles and kerosene lamps, with soup pots bubbling on wood stoves, and everywhere chainsaws creating a music that turned Guemes into a throaty symphony?

The Volunteer Fire Department, Puget Power, Skagit County Public Works, the State Department of Natural Resources and General Telephone all had crews working - some of them around the - clock to make the island livable again, and we all feel gratitude.

Now that some of the deep loss, the grieving, has passed, we see warm sunlight illuminating parts of the forest that were always damp and dark; the fawns don't seem frightened anymore, and the thrushes find the ground soft enough for wiggly snacks; there's even a rumor going around that the robins are back.

-Jim Bertolino

Notes from the Heart of the Island

Here at the end of Homestead Lane we watch helplessly the dance of death in the treetops. The whirlwind roars, the saturated ground after weeks of flood, freeze and snow reluctantly gives up the massive root balls of cedars and firs as the wind twists and pulls.

This is land which was once heavily logged-we have come across a skid road and an open well that serviced the crews and the animals that pulled the sleds filled with harvested lumber. In the woods there are ghosts of the first growth trees they removed, tall trunks like archaeological remnants. The loggers left behind second growth cedars (not marketable) and firs (not yet mature).

This whirlwind has brought them down in neat rows across the old logging roads. There are terrible wounds in the protective belt of trees that surround us and our neighbors. Paul and Mary have suffered irreparable damage to their trees, and in Gary's case, four cedars fell on his house. Our one close call came from a seventy foot Great Fir that grazed the pump house. The trees around the studio, which were badly mauled, fell in the other direction.

We discovered that trees die differently-alders crack and split as do sections of the large maples; uprooted cedars and firs whisper as they sink, cushioned by their branches. As the trees begin to fall in rapid succession, they sound like cannons going off, the ground shaking.

From one point of view, we can assure ourselves that we survived. We had enough wood split to keep the wood stove burning, Charles made soup on the stove top and we peeled satsumas and drank sparingly of our stored water. We are strengthened by the love and concern of neighbors and the islanders who arrived with chain saws to open the lane and our devastated driveway,We will replant the stricken woods and slowly clear the debris.

But we worry about the birds and animals whose runs have disappeared, whose shelters and food are buried under the fallen trees. We know more trees will come clown, so many are still hooked on standing firs. But we now see the sunrise and sunsets clearly in all their vivid colors and the strong line of Mount Guemes marks our horizon. Those far off trees still stand and seeing them reassures us that the island endures.

-Tess Hoffmann

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