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‘Many of those trees were my friends’

December 17, 2011

Truncated Norway spruce seen through splintered shards of Spanish chestnut.

I couldn’t help thinking of these words from Treebeard in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ after seeing the aftermath of the storm last week. Dear reader, our lovely trees have suffered badly in the past few days, and many are laid low. Had I been able to post a ‘Tuesday tree’ this week, it would have felt more like a requiem. Here’s what’s been happening.

We are emerging from a chaotic few days: a severe storm followed by a gale, each bringing long power cuts, with a house party sandwiched in the middle and the school holidays beginning straight afterwards. Hence the lengthy silence here at Dancing Beastie! We had a day and a half without electricity during the storm. As we sat by the fire by candelight for the second evening in a row, all I could think about was that we had two families arriving to stay at any moment and fifteen people coming for lunch and dinner at the weekend, while the house grew colder and the food in the fridge and freezer grew warmer. When the power was restored and the engineers arrived to check that everything was up and running – twenty minutes before the first guests arrived – I almost hugged them. Three days later, however (miraculously, the day after our guests had left) fresh gales brought the power lines down again, by which time it really wasn’t that funny any more. The poor engineers must have felt trapped in Groundhog Day too. Anyway, they got our power back on Wednesday afternoon, just as I was leaving home for our elder son’s end of term carol service. It’s been a busy week, and I am so tired, but at last I have the chance to sit down and bring Dancing Beastie up to date.

For those furth of these shores (i.e. beyond the British Isles), I should explain that a severe storm hit us last Thursday. The highest wind speed recorded was 165mph at the top of Cairn Gorm, an hour or so up the road from us. That’s really some wind. Winds over 100 mph are not so unusual on the tops of the hills in winter, but we had storm force winds at lower levels too. I was away from home on the morning of the storm and had a very hairy drive back with my younger son, manoeuvering around and under fallen branches through the rising gale. It was only once I got home that I felt a bit wobbly, realising that trees had been falling as we drove. Anyway, we made it home safely, soon to be joined by a refugee from the gales: trying to get home from her job at a school six miles away, she found every route closed by fallen trees. Her last resort was to try to cut along our drive, only to be trapped by trees falling in front and behind. Thank goodness she made it to our door! The storm contined for the rest of the evening, so she had perforce to join us for our candlelit supper (the power lines were down by then, of course) and to go to bed here in a borrowed nighty. None of us slept well in the cold house with the wind buffeting the shuttered windows, and I’m sure it was a great relief to her when I was able to lead her safely out to the road home and civilisation next morning, once the route was cut clear.

After seeing our ‘refugee’ on her way, I came back and set off into the woods to see how they had fared. The good news is that, on reflection, the vast majority of the trees are fine. The bad news is that we have lost some old favourites, while others have been badly damaged. The first impression was that the storm had caused carnage in the woods. Huge tree trunks have been snapped like matchsticks. Everywhere you look, there are limbs torn from trees, trunks leaning against each other and roots sticking up in the air.  The ground is strewn with branches and twigs, as if a giant hoover bag full of them has burst all over the policies. No species has been immune: everything from slender birch to solid oak, mature beech and massive conifers have been affected.

A tall silver fir crashed down through a walk of ancient yew trees.

The poor yews suffered predictably:

it looks as if the yews will all survive, though, so it could have been a lot worse. But the loss of the statuesque silver fir is a sad one, as is the loss of a Douglas fir beside it, one of the originals planted here in the 1840s and the first of them to fall.

The torn stump of the Douglas fir

In my favourite wood, an old sweet chestnut has lost another massive limb, and a Norway spruce has snapped near the base.

Norway spruce

Looking at the destruction, I was awed by how violent the wind had been. Some of these tree trunks almost look as if they had been dynamited. Again I thought how lucky we all were to get home safely through the storm.

The Norway spruce (with spaniel to give an idea of scale)

Perhaps the tree that we are most sad about, however, is one that stands alone in a field near the drive. It is – was – a magnificent Deodar (Himalayan cedar or Cedrus deodara). It was a real feature of the policies, and I am dismayed to discover that I cannot find any photos of it as it was, tall and stately. This is how it looks after the storm, which snapped it in half.

I must confess that, following my walk through all this damage, I came home and burst into tears. A week on, though, and I can see that it’s not so bad. The losses are sad, but the survivors are legion. Nobody was hurt and there is no major damage to the buildings. New trees will grow up around the ones we have lost, and within a few years we will hardly notice the evidence of the ‘great storm of December 2011’; except, perhaps, for the battered remains of the once-beautiful Deodar.

At least we won't run short of firewood for a while...


There is another post about the history of the trees here and storm damage in May, in Victims of the gales.

42 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2011 8:52 pm

    Oh, DB, how very, very sad and what a scary glimpse of the fearsome power of nature! No wonder you wept at first sight of such widespread damage. I was thinking of you and Sian when I heard about the storm and I’m so glad to hear that you and your family and house are safe. It’s such a shame to lose fine old trees, but as you say, others will grow to take their place, though it’s only future generations who will see them in their full glory.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 18, 2011 8:55 pm

      Ah well, planting trees is all about hope for the future, isn’t it. It is very melancholy seeing all this damage, but we are lucky to be enjoying the vision of the laird here in the 1840s.

  2. hmunro permalink
    December 17, 2011 9:22 pm

    What sad photos, DB. I’m so sorry to read about all you’ve endured over the past few days, and I’m heartbroken about all the tree friends you’ve lost. Nature can be so cruel sometimes. Thinking of you in Minnesota …

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 18, 2011 8:56 pm

      Thanks, Heather. Trees have such presence, they really do feel like other ‘beings’. I will miss them.

  3. Erika W. permalink
    December 17, 2011 10:26 pm

    Horrible to see death in your woods like this.

    We lived in Oregon for a few years and after a while I began to have to choke back tears whenever a load of huge tree trunks would drive past to a sawmill. It was always a sickening sight.

    Right now we are wrestling with the decision to have a very large, dying spruce cut down–too near to the house to allow it to come to its natural end and this year no squirrel drey in it so it is time for it to go before the winter Nor’Easter storms arrive here in Delaware.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 18, 2011 8:58 pm

      It sounds like a sensible decision to take down your spruce, but I can understand that it will be a sad day nonetheless when it goes. I have pleaded with my husband to leave the remains of the deodar rather than cut it down: I’m just not ready to say goodbye to it yet.

  4. December 17, 2011 10:59 pm

    I’m so very sorry. Trees do come to feel like friends, and it hurts to see them broken and twisted after strong storms. You are fortunate your home and family came through safely.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 18, 2011 9:00 pm

      We feel very fortunate that no people were harmed, and that is the most important thing. But yes, it is so sad to see the trees that have met untimely ends.

  5. December 17, 2011 11:04 pm

    Oh DB it wasn’t much fun, was it? Rob was in the Cairngorms over that time, in the eye of the storm and spent pretty much 5 days without electricity. There was a wedding at the big ‘hoose’ and he helped clear the 3 mile drive of trees and whilst they were busy with chainsaws, trees were crashing to the ground all around them. As you said, it was a frightening experience. He then battled home up the A9 on Monday in snow. The second gale had an easy time blowing over already weakened trees. The landscape round your home must have changed quite a bit 😦
    Thinking about you
    Katie x

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 18, 2011 9:02 pm

      Goodness, how scary. I am so glad to hear that he came through unscathed. There were any number of brave people out working at the height of the storm, clearing roads and drives and repairing power lines. In hindsight it’s almost miraculous that no-one was hurt. Deo gratias!

  6. December 17, 2011 11:51 pm

    “I cannot find any photos of it as it was…” was the line that touched me most. It’s made me want to look around at the things I love but take for granted. On a lighter note, didn’t you love the unofficial name for the storm? Hurricane Bawbag!!!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 18, 2011 9:07 pm

      It’s nice to hear from you again! Aw, I do hope that somewhere in my archive I will find a photo of that tree. I fear that, because it seemed so iconic and *permanent*, I may have just taken it for granted. And I am someone who ‘looks my last on all things lovely every day’, trying never to take anything for granted, so I am aggrieved with myself.

      Because of our power cuts, I didn’t hear the media chat about the storm until afterwards – but yes, I loved that name! Sian over at ‘Life on a Small Island’ has a hilarious video and song about it too.

  7. December 18, 2011 5:46 am

    That was a powerful and dramatic force of nature that you and your loved ones (including the trees) endured. And here we are in Sydney, and all we can talk about is that we don’t have our normal hot summer. But the main thing is, as you note, after seeing and reading about experiences like yours, is that that no one was hurt. I hope that your weather returns to its normal December pattern . I will have to look at your region online weather and follow what happens.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 18, 2011 9:10 pm

      Not that it’s any consolation, I guess, but we had a rubbish summer here too! I hope that the Aussie one improves for you – preferably without going to the extremes that you have seen in the past few years. I am beginning to wonder what our ‘normal December pattern’ is these days, as every winter seems to bring some new challenge. Anyway, we have a bit of snow now, just enough to start feeling Christmassy. The poor fallen tree trunks have a dusting of white on them.

  8. December 18, 2011 9:46 am

    As a fellow hugger of trees I can understand you bursting into tears, it’s so sad to see all this desctruction… the storm was ferroceous.. lets hope we dont experience one again for a long long time.

    Wishing you and your family a lovely christmas and a very happy new year.

    Sarah x

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 18, 2011 9:17 pm

      Thanks, I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels so much for the trees. Sometimes I think I should pull myself together, but then I think, well, what’s wrong with a little compassion for the natural world? As you say, let’s hope things quieten down for a while…

      Thank you for your good wishes and a merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too.

  9. December 18, 2011 11:54 am

    So sorry about those fine trees. That sure was a crazy storm… I heard that every bridge in Scotland was closed. Glad you made it home and things are more or less back to normal now.
    It was sure a mess in the Aberdeen after all that too… every other bin in the city must have been blown open. At least it’s all cleared away now, and this morning there was even the first bit of snow that stuck!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 18, 2011 9:20 pm

      Thank you, Jodi. It was pretty unusual for a storm to be so fierce inland as well as on the coast. Doesn’t the snow make everything look better, though? Clean and pure again, at least for a while.

  10. Margaret Lambert permalink
    December 18, 2011 12:35 pm

    It’s terribly sad to lose all the stately, ancient trees. Between the effect of drought encouraging bark beetle, forest fire, and occasional storms which bring ‘micro-bursts’ of extreme wind, we have lost many very tall Ponderosa pines in our neighborhood. One, over 100 feet tall, crushed a car very near our home, last December.
    We are all relieved to hear that everyone is safe, but saddened to hear of the losses, particularly of the uncommon varieties which have been cared for on the estate for so many generations. Perhaps the legacy of your generation’s residence will be to find hardy new trees to nurture for the future. There are some beautiful Japanese pines…

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 19, 2011 9:12 am

      It’s frightening when you experience a ‘near miss’ like a tree falling on a car, isn’t it. Someone I know of had both his cars crushed by one huge branch last week, poor guy – but at least there was nobody in them!

      You are so right in looking at what we can do for the future. We are indeed already nurturing some new varieties here, including some Japanese ones…! 🙂

  11. December 18, 2011 12:42 pm

    I’d been wondering how you had fared in the storm. We got off lightly in ORkney – though there were power cuts for some and a gust of 135mph recorded in KIRKWALL! It was very scary though and the noise of the wind ferocious. So sad to see your lost trees, but as you say in a few years nature will have replaced what is lost and there will be more beautiful trees standing strong. I remember in the 1980s when the “Great Storm” hit kent and many beautiful trees in woodland were lost. It is such a sad sight. But glad to hear you are all SAFE, if a little chilled!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 19, 2011 9:16 am

      Thanks, Sian. I’d been thinking of you too. With gust that high, it must have been terrifying for Orcadians! (Mind you, I suspect that you Orcadians are not easily terrified by wind, unlike us sooth-moothers!)

      I was living in Wimbledon in the storm of 1987 and I remember coming outside next day and finding the Common a mass of tangled branches and conkers. And I seem to remember that Sevenoaks lost six of its eponymous trees? Yet now you’d never know.

      • Sian permalink
        December 21, 2011 11:23 am

        Sevenoaks was one of my stamping grounds as I lived not far from there. The town was really sad when it lost several of it’s “Seven Oaks”, but as you say, now you wouldn’t know it had ever happened!

  12. December 18, 2011 6:29 pm

    We lost several trees in a nasty windstorm two years ago. What amazed me the next morning was the change in light, because of huge gaps in our dense woods. My husband has a chainsaw mill, so a lot of the wood he milled into lumber for the inside of the old cabin I’m restoring. He also milled some large beams for a structure we are going to build. So there was use that came out of loss, but I still miss the trees. Oh, we had one topped like one of your photos, and it’s actually sending up a new leader, so maybe that tree will survive. One sad thing during the windstorm; I hated hearing the trees go.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 19, 2011 9:20 am

      The sound of a tree going is like the end of the world. It appalls me every time. They are not wasted, though, which is good. We too have a sawmill, so all the timber will be used, whether for the building trade, for woodturning (bowls etc.) and furniture or simply as firewood. I am really encouraged to hear that your ‘topped’ tree is showing signs of life: I’ve just persuaded my husband not to chop ours down, so we will see how it fares.

  13. Toffeeapple permalink
    December 19, 2011 1:49 pm

    I hadn’t imagined destruction on such a level until I saw your post, I am so sorry for you losing your beautiful trees. It must be dreadful to see.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 20, 2011 3:19 pm

      The local forester is here with his tractors and helpers today, cutting and clearing great piles of brushwood that were once the sweeping branches of a Douglas fir. It is a melancholy site.

  14. December 19, 2011 9:45 pm

    I saw reports about the storm – but you don’t realize the impact until you see it up close like in these pictures. How sad. Can you get a forester in to evaluate some of the trees? Sometimes they will live with a little specialized care. So glad the wood will be used. What a weird year for weather.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 20, 2011 3:20 pm

      I am really hoping that Himalayan cedar might live. We’ll see. The others are just so much timber now. 😦

  15. December 21, 2011 9:43 am

    It is a physical shock to see this, and it must be even more so for you. A tree with its crown snapped off is such a brutal sight.
    I was due to have been in Kosovo that week with work, and had been worried about travel conditions there. As it was I had to go north to see my Dad, who was unwell, and ended up cancelling my return train journey to Edinburgh on the Thursday because of the storm.
    In terms of high Scottish culture, I take it you’ve seen the Youtube video of the trampoline in the storm?

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 21, 2011 10:18 pm

      ‘Brutal’ is the word for it. I think my tears were partly owing to shock. A trampoline whizzing past is more the level we expect of a Scottish gale, isn’t it?! At this that gave me a laugh.

      Your work takes you to unusual places – I am intrigued. Meanwhile I do hope for all your sakes that your father is feeling better.

  16. July 14, 2013 12:20 am

    I know this post is old, but I’ve only just discovered your blog, so it’s all new to me! It makes me so sad to see these beautiful trees destroyed. My husband and I were married on my parents’ little farm on a large flat rock where I played as a little girl. It was surrounded by mature trees, though none as old or lovely as yours. While we were away on our honeymoon, a violent storm went through and toppled many of them. It was heartbreaking, but I was so glad the setting had been so fully and recently captured in our wedding photos!

    I’m so enjoying reading about your world. I know it’s probably not the easiest life to live, but thank you for sharing it with us!

    • July 15, 2013 11:35 pm

      Hello Kerry, thanks so much for having a look round Dancing Beastie.
      Looking back at this post, I am a bit shocked over again at the mess of the hurricane. Happily, everything is much more settled now and we are hardly aware of the storm damage in most places. The deodar’s damage is sad, but the sheep and cattle still appreciate the shade of the half-tree on hot or wet days. The loss of your family’s trees must have been really awful, particularly when they were part of such a significant place and memory for you. Trees have such presence. Thank heavens that you, at least, have the photos.
      I live in a most beautiful part of the world and feel enormously blessed. Life here can be a little quirky at times, but it’s all grist to the blog! 🙂

      • July 16, 2013 9:49 pm

        I’m glad things have settled down. I love the trees around Balmoral (many of which look very ent-like to me!), and the photos of your trees remind me of them. If you’re interested, I just published a blog post about my wedding day (which was eight years ago today!), including several photos of our leafy, green setting.

  17. January 10, 2015 2:02 am

    I remember this storm very well. We too lost power for some time. I found it peculiar that the wind culled some ancient, established, large trees while younger, less robust trees adjacent to them survived. The ability to bend with the wind I suppose. Our area of Mid Argyll was fairly devastated by tree losses. We were lucky to just lose some tiles, roof lead and guttering.


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