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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Ice Storm 2021

"Even with all our technology and the inventions that make modern life so much easier than it once was, it takes just one big natural disaster to wipe all that away and remind us that, here on Earth, we're still at the mercy of nature." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, planetary scientist, author, and science communicator.

   The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines an ice storm as a type of winter storm characterized by freezing rain, also known as a glaze event or, in some parts of the United States, as a silver thaw. The U.S. National Weather Service defines an ice storm as a storm which results in the accumulation of at least 0.25-inch (6.4 mm) of ice on exposed surfaces...occurring at temperatures just below freezing.
   Two storm fronts collided over the Pacific Northwest (PNW) of America last Friday, February 12th. A frozen cold low dropped down out of Canada, through Washington State and crashed into a large warm, wet storm front rolling in off the Pacific Ocean, resulting in Ice Storm 2021. This was the first of three storm fronts we were warned, due to plow through Western Oregon/Portland area (we live 15 minutes south of Portland in Gladstone). The second storm was due Saturday the 13th with additional snow and the third would bring warmer temperatures and rain on Sunday the 14th. 
   For those who are not familiar with the Pacific Northwest, the States of Washington and Oregon are divided vertically by the Cascade mountain range which begins in British Columbia, Canada and continues down into California. The weather west of the Cascades is a wet, mild maritime climate much like England's. Portland, Oregon is only 98 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. The mighty Columbia River has worn a gorge horizontally across the landscape for hundreds of miles on its way down from Canada to the ocean. The Columbia River Gorge is the geographic dividing line between the bottom of Washington State and the top of Oregon--all the way to the ocean and it acts as a wind and weather funnel moving massive amounts of both off the Pacific ocean and right over Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon--cities that face each other on either side of the gorge.
   With a general maritime climate and humidity that seldom ever drops below seventy percent, snow it a rarity, and Western Oregon homes and businesses are not built to withstand freezing cold weather events. Certainly Portlanders are clueless about driving in snow and ice, so this dire warning given on Thursday, February 11th, did not bode well. We have a fireplace in our apartment, but we had no firewood. A family meeting earlier in the autumn determined that we didn't have the money to buy a cord of firewood and where would we store it? Here in the greater Portland 'burbs, everything that is not locked up, is stolen by neighbors or the homeless encamped down along the Willamette and Clackamas rivers. The confluence of  both is directly behind our apartment complex, with a narrow greenbelt of trees, shrubs, and a paved pathway between us and the river's edge; lovely to look at but deadly in an ice storm as it turns out. Anyway, we opted not to buy firewood and after being evacuated for the wildfires in September, (which I have named Exodus Chapter one), the entire idea left our minds.
   Late Friday morning the snow began to fall and stick. Two of my girls were released by employers to come home early. Shiery was at a client's home, finishing up a twelve hour shift and she got stuck on the soft dirt driveway with a small hill going up to the main road. Off Mary and I went in in Kelli's Kia to rescue Sparky. My Subaru was a frozen solid mass of ice two inches thick and about as useful as a chocolate teapot! We had to traverse freeways nearly empty of traffic, and Portland streets winding up and down and around in the night time while the snow continued to fall and the streets were clogged with nearly  seven inches of snow and other drivers stuck in their vehicles. We made it, and managed to free Shiery's car with the help of one of the neighbors. By the time we arrived back home it was close to 11 pm. The wind outside was howling and the snow had changed to wet sleet sticking heavily to everything. 
   We lost electric power shortly before Mary and started out to help Shiery, so Kelli stayed home with the animals (five cats and a neurotic dog), and kept the fire going in the fireplace. We had  enough wood for one night! 

  An initial check-in with Portland Gas and Electric (PGE) indicated power would likely be out until the 16th. We needed to scrounge some wood, and get some ice for the fridge and freezer. 
   Around 1:30  am Saturday morning we looked out the window to find a frozen landscape glittering with a coating of ice. Trees, loaded with snow and ice began to lose branches as they snapped under the weight, sending a noisy shower of ice to the ground that sounded like a rush of loudly crinkling tin foil. Every now and then a sharp crack would report across the midnight air as entire trees snapped off and the wind blew them around on their way to the ground. This continued without let up for 48 hours! Saturday night we were all woken by an enormous, heavy thud that sounded like it was right on top of us. A tree had come down and hit the balconies of two apartments just down from us, removing their balconies and eventually piercing completely through the dining room wall of the ground floor apartment below them. The clean snow out our back patio was now littered with broken branches of every size and part of a fallen tree. Our animals were completely traumatized as were we. Every time we heard the beginning of another ice fall, we held our breath and waited for a tree to come crashing through our dining room window.

    I dug out my Cobb Oven and set up a kitchen on our back patio, with a cooler for our most perishable food items. I had made a large pot of Bison stew on Thursday and there was plenty left over. We also had a freshly baked Gluten Free lemon cake, sandwich fixings, some fruit, and instant oatmeal, so no one was going hungry! We heated water in a pan on the logs in the fireplace, and could also cook spuds wrapped in foil. Mary and Kelli scored some wood from her mom who heats only with wood, and that got us through the next days. By then PGE was no longer estimating a return of service! I was prepared for two weeks, as this was my second ice storm. 
   My first ice storm was back in 1996 while my children and I were living in a house on South Hill in Spokane, Washington--a city of over 340,000 and the largest city between Seattle, on the coast, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1332 miles eastward on the Great Lakes. This ice storm was so profoundly devastating with so many mature trees uprooted and downed, that many businesses were without power for weeks and our neighborhood was without power for two months! My children were farmed out to the homes of friends across two counties and I was managing between work as Spokane Public Radio, and the homes of friends who had power restored. Clearly ice storms are nature's means of pruning the forests. 
   I am happy to report we all survived Portland's Ice Storm, albeit a little frayed around the edges. The snow and ice are gone, clean up crews and property maintenance have tidied things up here at Rivergreens, and life is back to normal now. 

Saturday, February 06, 2021

What's Goin' On?

"Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings." ~Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

     I do apologize to loved ones, friends, and followers for allowing four months to lapse since I last posted. There was so little to post about and I had adopted a siege mentality that made me feel as though my life was stuck in amber like an insect. A few things have changed: the Biden/Harris win is restoring a thin veneer of civility to America--at least out here in the Pacific Northwest. I noticed the day after the election results were verified, people out and about at the grocery store seemed friendlier and more willing to allow a smile to travel above their masks, to their eyes. The continuing support for Trump and the very real split in the U.S. Senate between actual conservative Republicans and Trump sycophants indicates the wheels have come off their vehicle and a fight for the heart and soul of the GOP (Grand Old Party) is occurring. In Arizona--a heavily Republican State where a lot of the Trump crazies live--7400 registered Republicans have left the party and registered with the Democrats. In Oregon--a State with a majority of conservative Republican towns, with Portland and Eugene functioning as liberal islands in a conservative majority landscape, 10,000 registered Republicans have left the party. Below is a timely interview with retired Republican Senator Danforth about this issue. 
     I've come through the darkest months literally and figuratively for me anyway, stretching from November 30th to January 31st. I've made it through one more anniversary of  Les' death and the days are growing discernably longer again. Seed and plant catalogs are arriving in the mail box--harbingers of spring and summer ahead. We've signed a fourteen month lease on this apartment so I feel now as though I can truly unpack, hang some art and pictures, and make myself comfortable. I will post pictures when it is all unpacked and sorted out. 
    I try not to think about the Pandemic since I cannot change anything. Of the four of us--my daughter Shiery, my daughter-in-law Kelli, my foster daughter Mary, and me--only Mary has no medical conditions precluding her from getting the vaccine. Shiery, Kelli and I all have multiple auto-immune diseases so we continue to take careful precautions. Mary found an Etsy site (Elimstation) that sells the best masks we've found yet: three layers of fabric with a pocket for a disposable filter; comfortable, covers my chin and lower face, has a thin adjustable nose wire, adjustable ear loops, and each mask comes with one disposable filter. There are 56 different cloth patterns and child sized masks as well. These are the first masks I can talk in, breathe in without fogging up my glasses. The three layers and disposable filters (a pack of 10 can be purchased from the same Etsy shop) make me feel far better about going out in public. 

     The BBC online included a piece about the Covid-19 virus and its main host while undergoing mutations. Apparently the virus has taken up residence in the bodies of immunosuppressed individuals on Steroids and Chemo drugs for Auto immune diseases, where it makes them desperately ill for many months due to their pharmaceutically suppressed immune systems. Without an immune system to mount a defense against it, the virus utilizes the host body as a lab, replicating itself while trying out different mutations, before killing its host and spreading on to others. There are 89 known auto immune diseases and they are all treated the same--with massive doses of steroids and usually a chemotherapeutic drug to shut down the patients' immune systems. Not good...and one more reason why both my daughter and I refuse to be treated with the standard immunosuppressive drugs for our auto-immune diseases. 
     Personally I have just experienced another apparent sign post of aging. It occurred a week ago Sunday. It had been a long day of shifting the furniture around in my bedroom, installing lights on my new headboard, taping wiring up in the back so my cat Biscuit cannot reach it to chew on, installing a curtain rod and hanging room darkening curtains, etc. At 8:30 pm suddenly a large, dark floater appeared in the vision of my right eye. It was quite large and looked like a black swirl of ink might look if dropped into a white cup full of water. I noticed a half hour later in my darkened room, flashing lights at the peripheral of my vision in my right eye, like a strobe light. Shiery has worked in health care for over twenty five years. She checked my pupils and received a normal response. I took an aspirin just in case I was having a stroke of some kind and we decided to sleep on things overnight. 
     The next day the strobe light effect was still occurring but the floater had diminished in opacity and size, now shaped like a dark ring with a clear center, known as a Weiss Ring. I also had pain radiating our from my eye socket that was gradually growing worse. Shiery called the Advice Nurse at the hospital and she recommended we come into the ER so off we went. Shiery knows all the local hospitals so she chose one that is not a major trauma center and there were only two people in the waiting room when we arrived-- a mother and her four  year old daughter. We of course were wearing masks, and there was an attendant sitting behind plexiglass in the waiting room, checking temperatures of  those accompanying patients, and wiping down the furniture after someone left the area. Nevertheless, as soon as the attendant went to lunch, the young mother pulled her mask below her nose and her child had no mask on at all and was sneezing and coughing all over the bloody place. I could see droplets of saliva fly out of her mouth which pissed us off. People apparently do not teach their children civil manners anymore, such as covering one's mouth when sneezing or coughing. We were ushered into a small room off the waiting area and a triage nurse wrote down all the relevant information.  She wore a double vented heavy duty mask, clear plastic eye protectors and a shield. I said, "I bet you never thought you would see the day when you had to gear up like a welder to come into work." We laughed grimly...back to the waiting area and finally we were ushered through a door and in to an ER room.       
     Thank the Goddess it was a room with four walls and a door and not a giant bay with six flimsy curtains separating the beds and patients. The mom and child were installed in the room next door. At one point Shiery was out in the hallway and she overheard a doctor diagnosing the child with Covid-19.
    The pain in my orbital socket grew more intense. Finally the lovely Dr. Shah arrived to examine me, and she patiently gave me detailed information after several tests which determined I do not have Diabetes or Glaucoma. My retina appeared to be in one piece so she referred me to the Northwest Eye Health Center which is located across the street from this hospital and requested that I call their office first thing in the morning for an immediate appointment with an ophthalmologist. 
     The appointment the next day with Dr. Bengtzen resulted in an eye exam for new glasses, and several diagnoses. I had something termed PVD, Posterior Vitreous Detachment. As one ages, the gel inside the vitreous sack attached to the orbital socket and retina shrinks and tears away from both the socket and the retina. This can cause retinal tearing or detachment. My retina was okay--for now. Every time the sack of vitreous gel tears away it causes the strobe-light flashing. The dark floater in the shape of a Weiss Ring was caused by the glue adhering the sack to my retina pulling away. Dr. Bengtzen was surprised that I felt any pain. 99% of people feel nothing. During my intake he noted I have an auto-immune disease called Sarcoidosis which can cause the immune system to attack--among other soft tissues--the eyes. The Doctor was quite surprised to meet a sixty four year old who was not taking any medications at all. He asked what I took for the Sarcoidosis and I replied, "twenty-one milligrams of Melatonin daily." It does not cure Sarcoidosis but it does stop it from progressing without any negative side effects. He confirmed no Glaucoma, and no scarring from Sarcoidosis but indicated I have the start of cataracts--too small to worry about right now and caused by the aging process. 
     Finally Dr. Bengtzen shared with me that I have a genetic anomaly called Map Dot Fingerprint Corneal Dystrophy. It means my corneas are fragile and easily scratched, even by my own eyelid or something as innocuous as an errant lash. 
     That's all the news that is fit to print for now. Next time, a post all about Biscuit, my little black cat!

Eight Years Ago Today

 "Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color." ~MS Merwin, American poet, United States Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, 1927-2019

Eight years ago today, February 6th, 2013: Moored up at Fenny Stratford. Shopped at IKEA, and now it has begun snowing! We had a brilliant day out yesterday with our friends Sue and Ken Deveson (NB Cleddau/Boatwif blog site). We spent the entire day at their lovely home, eating a scrummy meal discussing education and all manner of things, playing Phase Ten, and having slices of homemade Coffee sponge cake with afternoon tea. They suggested we bring laundry to wash, so our down comforter and duvet cover are clean, dry and fluffy! Good thing as it is supposed to drop down and freeze again for awhile. Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and Cream gravy on the menu tonight, then hot showers, warm jammies and our feet up in front of the telly for a show.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs