Not that I am a tree hugger or one who goes out and plants them in every vacant spot I see. I just love trees. Their majesty. Their diversity. Their flowers when they blossom. Their leaves when they sprout each spring and when they change colors and fall each autumn.
I love seeing the naked branches in winter and viewing the vibrant green of the pines when everything else is a dull gray. I've seen some of the oldest and tallest in the sequoias out west. And I've seen the scrub oak of the South Carolina Midlands. All God's trees are something to behold.
That is why this week has been so difficult. Storm Pax that started with a few innocuous drops of rain on Wednesday morning has done devastating work to trees in our neighborhood and I feel sure to others around our community.
Those first droplets were already freezing by the time I was pulled from my slumber by the radio. Within an hour or so, it was apparent that the trees, especially the pines, were being coated with a glaze that would be extremely harmful.
By early afternoon in our area, the first of the branches began falling. They were the long leaf pines whose boughs were strained to the breaking point by the excess weight.
Electricity was cut for good around 11 a.m. and the sounds of transformers faltering could be heard in every direction.
The grandkids went out for 30 minutes of sledding down our street, which by then was covered by the sleet which had taken over from the rain. When a limb hit the ground in a nearby yard, we decided it was time to rein them in and get them inside.
An hour later a pine was uprooted and slammed onto the street taking with it the power lines nearby. We have amused ourselves over the past two days watching cars drive up our street until they reach the tree that completely blocked the roadway. Vehicles stop and remain stationary for several seconds as they seem to assess what to do next. Some tried to see if they could pass, before realizing that going back down the street was the only viable option.
As night fell in our home, we had a wood fire going in one room and gas logs in another. My wife and daughters were cooking on the gas stove, and other than a lack of abundant light, we were comfortable.
But nightfall brought a kind of terror that is usually reserved for movies and for war. Lights flashed from time to time – eerie, bluish-green light. More transformers coming to their end.
Then the pop-crack-swish-boom sound of huge tree limbs falling. They came from the trees at our neighbor's yard to the left, the one at our right, the one across the street, the one next to that and some from our yard as well. Some were distant. Some were close – very close.
Sleep was hard to come by as I listened to the sounds and waited for the next limb to fall.
When we moved to this neighborhood over three years ago, we were impressed with the beautiful yards and the wonderful trees. The area of Aiken Estates has been developed for more than 50 years, and the trees and shrubs are well established. The curse of that comes when an ice storm hits. Because they are so large, those plants get the most ice on them and are subject to this cruel fate.
When morning dawned, we saw a devastation that looked more like a war zone than a residential neighborhood. Whole trees were down. Gigantic limbs had tumbled to the ground. My neighbor had a branch on the front of his car.
We toured some of our streets on foot and saw trees split, others with tops broken out, some bent over to the ground and large limbs and branches down everywhere. The trees I love so much took a beating. A huge dogwood that sits in our side yard was uprooted, bringing an end to a favorite climbing tree for the grandkids.
Later in the afternoon when the thaw began, I thought that was the end of the devastation. I was surprised to see more branches snapping, more trees falling and a need to avoid walking beneath trees. One of the last limbs to fall in our yard came from a pine near the back of the house. The limb – five inches in diameter and about 20 feet long crashed down into a dogwood next to the kitchen, pinning one of its main branches across the power line to the house.
I love trees. The sight of so much damage to such beautiful plants is hard to see. I can only imagine what has happened in the woods that form a barrier between our backyard and the house behind us. I see much more sky from my office window than I did before. So much destruction.
But even a storm such as Pax (I thought Pax meant peace. There wasn't much peace from this storm.) brings with it moments of levity.
Two daughters and my oldest grandson had walked over to one of their houses to get some belongings since we were all staying at my house. Imagine this picture – five adults, four children, five dogs and a cat all under one roof.
We were going to get some food and more warm clothing. One daughter packed up things in a basket – the kind one takes on a summer outing to the park for a family spread on the lawn.
As we were walking down the street on the way to my home, two trucks came rolling slowly toward us. One was an SCE&G vehicle, the truck in the lead was from Kentucky with workers who were here to help restore power to our homes.
The lead truck slowed to a stop, and the driver rolled down his window. Looking at my daughter and what she was carrying, he said, “Are you going on a picnic today?”
We laughed, chatted and thanked him for coming from the Bluegrass State to help us Sandlappers. He left with the comment that during the last ice storm he went through, he was without power for 21 days. I hope that won't be the case.
An ice storm is indeed no picnic. It has taken our power, which will be restored in a matter of days. But it has taken many of the trees I love – something that took 50 years and more to grow.
Jeff Wallace is a retired editor of the Aiken Standard.