Two weeks ago, I experienced one of the worst storms of my life. Certainly worse than anything I ever wanted to experience in the camper. It’s taken me a little while to share this story because I haven’t officially come out of the broom closet, but it seems like there is no time like the present so…
Ta Da! This story outs me more entertainingly than a blockbuster film.
The night started normal enough. There was a small craft advisory offshore, but since we’ve been here in the Pacific Northwest there is almost always a small craft advisory offshore. There was also a minor wind warning, mostly 25 mph with gusts closer to 40 mph, and we weren’t out in the open anyway. Nope. We were parked in the shelter of a nice grove of big evergreen trees.
I popped a big pot of popcorn while the girls got in pajamas, and then we all headed down to the ranger’s station for a little wi-fi. Well, everyone except the boy. He opted to stay home and do dishes for a separate trip down to the wi-fi later in the evening.
We giggled and gabbed and filled the truck with the sound of happy females as we downloaded videos and checked messages. The lights were acting funny. Going off and on randomly or strobing. It warranted comment but also was just something that we’re used to at this point. Some of our free campgrounds are a wee bit run down.
After about an hour and a half of nonsense it was time to drive back up to the camper. As I pulled out of the parking lot and entered the tunnel of trees that headed up into the campground a gust of wind swirled down and dropped a dead limb onto the truck. It scared the crap out of me but bounced harmlessly off the roof. The air immediately stilled, and shrugging my shoulders, I continued up to switch out the kids.
As we went higher the wind blew more regularly. Not super strong. Not exactly steady. Just enough for us to think…okay, the wind warning makes sense.
Once we got to the camper, it was time for bed. The not-so-littles brushed their teeth and stalled with their normal antics. The teenager grabbed her sketch book and headphones to settle in for an evening of drawing. The boy grabbed his phone and a snack, and we headed back down to the ranger station.
Things had changed in the little bit of time it took to get the girls in bed. We had a pretty steady breeze and the ground was littered with pine cones, needles, and twigs. Still not a big deal. The wind is always worse along the ridges. This was the storm we had been warned about and we were only going to the ranger’s station. An easy, slow, ten minute drive.
As we wound our way down to the ranger’s station, the wind decreased and the tree litter lessened. The parking lot was empty. Score! Wi-fi all to ourselves!
It was the sound of the flag pole about twenty minutes later that caught my attention. It was clanging a warning that couldn’t be ignored. A weird electric feeling like just before lightening strikes way too close. The lights weren’t acting up now, and we could plainly see the wind playing havoc with the poles in front of us.
Gust after gust, relentlessly pushing at those poles. The trees around us bending to winds a hell of a lot stronger than 25 or 40 mph. I slammed the truck in reverse and moved us as far out into the open as we could go. I quickly checked the weather again.
My heart sank. They had increased the warning to include gusts up to 60mph. Gusts, my ass. This was sustained 60 mph. And had escalated from almost nothing. That was when we heard what we later learned was the first tree snapping.
It was definitely time to go.
We made it through the gate and literally only around the second bend when the tree just in front of us on the right split in half. It was a sister tree and the trunk still standing was swaying dangerously over the road with every gust. Further along the road forked but for right now the only way back to the girls was past this tree. We waited, holding our breath for the tree to fall or the wind to abate.
As the wind inhaled for its next breath I hit the gas.
When we reached the fork I had a choice to make. The short, straight, berry lined cliff-side road or the longer, windy forest road. Both bad choices.
I chose the short, cliff-side road.
And almost made it too.
There are two treed sections on the whole road. Right at the top and right at the bottom. Just as we were about to hit the bend at the top Bishop yelled, “Stop!”
A tree crashed into the road right in front of us. Not the end of the world, but it did mean we now had to back down the narrow cliff-side road. In the dark. With the wind howling.
It was agonizingly slow. And you guessed it, just as we passed backwards through the treed section at the base of the road another tree toppled over. This one decided to get hung up in the power lines.
Did I say it was time to go?
Y’all remember Twister, right? That scene when they’re trying to outrun the tornado and calling out flying debris? Car! Barn! Cow?! Yeah…it was like that except everything was Tree!!!
Only one road in or out now and we were still pretty much at the base of camp. Up the long, windy, forest road we went. We made it around the bend about a third of the way up when we hit our next tree across the road.
Thankfully (?) it had fallen right next to a camper who happened to own a chainsaw, and he was already out clearing the road.
We waved our thanks and kept going. The higher we climbed, the worse it got. It wasn’t just sustained wind. It wasn’t just gusts. It was downdrafts. We watched trees get smashed from above, twist, and break.
Finally, what was probably only fifteen adrenaline filled minutes later, we made it back to the camper. The wind was so strong we could barely open the truck doors. My brain registered the damage at the rear of the camper, but it would have to wait. I had to get to my girls.
Bishop and I busted through the door like friggin’ SWAT.
Abby was sitting in the orange chair drawing, headphones on, completely oblivious. The not-so-little girls were peacefully asleep in their beds.
An apocalyptic storm was upon us and the girls hadn’t even noticed.
That’s it, I was going out to assess damage. Had I overreacted? The camper wasn’t even rocking.
Of course the big kids followed me. Some trick of the storm had shut off the wind. It was like the eye of a hurricane. We made it to the back corner of the camper–basically Olivia’s bunk bed. There was a tree on that corner and its top had snapped off. It looked like it had to have swiped the camper on the way down but Abby swore she had heard nothing and everything looked fine. Okay, we would check it again in daylight.
That’s when the wind picked up again. And by picked up, I mean the wind exploded from the east. It was coming straight at us. It was super weird. Shouldn’t it be blowing off the ocean?
I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it because we could see the trees in our headlamps. I slammed Abby against the truck and made a grab for Bishop as well. The trees were almost touching the ground as the wind barreled into them. I would hate to lose the truck but it at least has a steel skeleton. The kids don’t. And that’s when I had a great idea.
First, we had to get Abby back inside. The gusts had a rhythm to them so we waited for the storm’s next inhale and then ran Abby to the door.
Bishop and I went back out into the teeth of the storm. Dumb. Totally dumb, but the camper is the only home we have and it needed to be protected.
The wind was blowing straight at us so I wasn’t worried about the trees behind us.
There was a single tree on one side and a grove of three or four on the other. Nothing I could do about those except…as they rocked and swayed I threw every ounce of power I had into my mom voice and yelled, “Stop! Stop it! You are not allowed to fall on my home!“
The trees that concerned me most were the ones directly across from the front of the camper. They were swaying horribly. They were also a bit smaller, younger than some of the others. Tall enough to smash into the nose of the camper (my bed) but maybe not big enough to crush Beast. What if we used him as a catcher’s mitt?
And that was my beautiful plan. Use the truck to block the camper from falling trees.
Except before we could line it up, two more trees came down. One a site over, the other behind us. Not snapped. Literally pulled from the earth. Their roots flailing in the wind, their long tap roots refusing to break, pulling along the earth like some strange umbilical cord.
Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Bishop helped me line the truck up to where we thought the trees might land if they came down. Preferably we wanted them to hit the bed of the truck rather than the cab.
Then we were braced up against the shelter of the truck again as a series of gusts buffeted everything around us. I was out of practical ideas. This storm was much worse than anyone anticipated. Trees were swaying, snapping, and coming down all around us. I needed to protect my family and our home, but I didn’t know how.
Then I had another crazy idea. I was a witch, damn it. I’m connected to nature in all of its forms. I was birthed with divine feminine energy inside of me. I converse regularly with Mother Earth.
But this was no time for brewing tea or burning herbs. No. It needed something faster. Something more drastic.
So I did the only thing I could think of. I quite literally volunteered to take the power of the wild wind into myself to fuel the spell about to tumble from my lips.
I do not advise opening yourself up to wild magic in the midst of an unprecedented storm. It was reckless and dangerous and the only thing I could think of to keep my children safe as I was smashed up against my truck by the force of the wind and trees were literally being torn from the earth around me.
Again the storm inhaled and I pushed my son away from the truck and into the safety of the camper. I paused only long enough to give another stern “don’t even think about it” to the grove of trees three feet from our door. I wanted to get inside. I needed paper. I had a plan.
Okay, so if y’all are looking for something brilliant or ritualistically witchy… Sorry. I cast a protection spell alright but it was typically simple, familiar as only a daughter to her mother can be, and distinctly me.
I wrote a poem. I drew a picture. I poured every once of emotion, intent, and wild magic I had into it.
I folded the paper so it covered the drawing, front and back.
Then as an added cushion to my bubble of protection, I put it under my pillow. I spoke the incantation, and I stayed up all night.
Remember how when we were all new parents, we would watch our babies sleep convinced that if we stopped watching them that they would stop breathing? Yeah. That’s why I had to stay up. I was afraid my spell would stop breathing.
That is not to say that I passed the night quietly or easily.
I spoke to the three trees outside my window often. I encouraged them to dig their roots deeply.
I went outside when the tree out my other window went down. The trench from the unearthed roots extended under the camper. No wonder it had felt like an earthquake. It also only missed Tanky by inches. That’s when I noticed the grove of trees in the campsite beside us. Many of them were uprooted. We were no longer in a protective little wood.
I listened to the wind. I swayed with the now constantly rocking camper. And it hit me. I knew where I had experienced this before!
When I was a kid we rode out Hurricane Hugo in our home. We all slept in the living room together, probably because it was the closest thing to an interior room that we had. One of the walls was an exterior wall but years before my parents had attached a screened in porch to it. That attachment seemed particularly offensive to the Hurricane who sent its wind under the porch to try and lift it up off the house.
This was exactly like that except the camper was the porch. The wind ran underneath of us and lifted.
But we didn’t get blown away. The trees beside us still stood as the sun came up. It was time to go outside and face the damage.
There was a lot of damage.
And none of it was ours.
A tree crashed down just a foot in front of Beast. Tanky had another two trees come down around him but nothing actually landed on him. There were probably fifteen trees total down around us. Both roads in and out were blocked.
While we were assessing the damage, the rangers came out to do the same. They worked quickly to get the roads cleared.
That should have been the end of it, but of course, it wasn’t. This is 2020. Trees fell of their own accord for the next week. Nothing else near us thankfully, but the road was compromised several more times. Just after the windstorm, the wildfires blew up.
We spent the next week choking on smoke, watching ash fall like flurries, and generally wondering who had peeved off Pele.
(No offense to Pele or her followers. We had recently finished our study on lava and tectonics so the children had naturally delved into gods and goddesses of fire. The youngest was actually quite ecstatic at the ash because it meant she would get to see more of her favorite lava, pahoehoe.)
We are officially now somewhere safer. Somewhere the air is clear. Somewhere the trees are shorter. And somewhere the wind blows a little less violently.
So what is the conclusion to all of this? How do I possibly wrap it up?
Simply by offering that September has won the 2020 award for Weird Weather. We have seven days left before we find out what the October award will be. Stay safe.