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11/09/2011

A Very Fine Mess

CHAPTER 15 - Water, Trees and Halloween  

I had started to write this column before our snow event and began the column with some stuff about water in various venues. Pandering to my fascination with all things related to space and our universe, I started to write about various NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) releases on water out there in space. For example, the Messenger spacecraft now orbiting the planet Mercury may confirm earlier speculation that water exists in permanently shaded deep craters, even though the planet experiences blistering hot temperatures so close to the Sun. Recently reported observations on Mars suggest that if life existed on that planet it might have thrived in underground habitats laden with hot water. In an exciting report from ESA, its Herschel spacecraft has found "oceans of water" in the dusty disc surrounding a star 175 light-years away from Earth. This dusty disc is just the sort in which planets should form or be forming.  

Something very scary is also going on in our own watery environment. Increasingly, with overfishing in waters around the world, a water-rich critter, the jellyfish, is showing up in alarming numbers, taking over the ecosystem. A recent article in Science deals with a theoretical analysis of the effects of overfishing and the jellyfish. The equations show that the jellyfish, even though a slow and watery creature, is just the sort that will indeed prevail once its normal predators are fished out. 

Well, I was in the midst of writing the column when it started to snow. But let's jump back to 1965. It was then that our family, which by then included sons Brian Trumbore and Harry Trumbore, known to you StocksandNews readers, moved from Plainfield to Summit, New Jersey. Summit was closer to Bell Labs and I could ride a bus to work, giving up our need for a second car. Our realtor told us that one of the good features of the house we purchased was the fact that we had the biggest oak tree in Summit, a very large tree that had four trunks springing from near the bottom of the tree, each trunk qualifying as a major tree in its own right. We thought that tree and three other oaks on our property were really neat, fitting right in with the tree-laden community in which we were about to abide. 

Some years later, however, we were to get our first lesson in arboreal reality - water and trees can be a terrifying combination. It was a Sunday morning and an ice storm was in progress, the glistening trees a beautiful sight - until two trunks of our oak split away and fell on our neighbors house! Fortunately, nobody was hurt - the blow having been cushioned by the lower trunk landing on our neighbors' custom VW camper! Actually, we had learned by that time of the possible dangers of a multipronged tree and had the tree cabled, witness the fact that half the tree now lay on the neighbors' house with the cable dangling down off the roof. 

Let's now fast forward to this year and Irene. I've already discussed the effects of that hurricane in a column just a month or so ago. The huge volume of rainfall brought down three trees, two on houses, within a few hundred feet of our house. As I mentioned in that column, we only lost carpeting in the basement due to Irene. We had power, while our neighbors had none for a week. Fortunately, it was summer and the temperatures were bearable. 

I'm resuming writing this column on Saturday, November 5. Strangely, today we had two contacts with friends from Hawaii. One was a postcard from Margaret, who lives in California but is now in her condo on Kauai. She writes that she heard we had snow here and suggests that we should move to CA or HI, with much more equitable climes. Our good friend Dan, in Honolulu, called, saying he had read in Brian Trumbore's column that it might have been more than just an October snowstorm.  Along similar lines, my wife called her brother in the western Pennsylvania and he said, yeah, he had read that New England had really been hit by a bad snowstorm but hadn't seen anything about New Jersey.  

It's not uncommon that New Jersey doesn't get any respect and one objective of this column is to assure those not living in Jersey that this was indeed more than just an October snow and that we deserved media coverage just as much as New England. Going back to the Saturday morning before Halloween, sons Brian and Harry had taken off from Newark headed for Charleston, SC for a few days of R&R visiting historical venues and savoring southern cuisine. About an hour later, Newark airport shut down as snow began to fall in quantity, sometimes with heavy downpours of flakes as large as I've ever seen. The first sign of trouble for us occurred while my wife was talking to her brother in Greensburg, Pennsylvania and the phone went dead in the middle of the conversation. Having phone, TV and Internet with Comcast, this meant we had lost all three. Comcast had lost a "node" serving a wide area and would not resume service until the following Thursday afternoon. Even now, as I was writing this paragraph on Sunday, November 6 the service again went down, as it has intermittently! 

Back to that fateful Saturday. After losing phone service it was evening and I noted that there were no lights in adjoining houses, which included the houses upon which trees had fallen during Hurricane Irene, as I noted in an earlier column. I called one of the homeowners to see if they had lost power and was assured they had. While we were discussing this doleful situation, an eerie bright light filed the sky as transformers blew and our own power went out and the whole area was in darkness. The nightmare had begun. Thinking we had better get upstairs to get into bed to keep warm, I told my wife to use the stair lift to get up the steps, counting on the battery having enough charge to accomplish the mission - it did.  

Putting on sweaters, we went to bed with our clothes on but soon began to hear what sounded like gunshots as branches started breaking under the weight of the snow on top of the fall foliage. One break caught our attention and caused us to move back downstairs. A very large branch had come down off a tall cherry tree in our front yard, hit our house  and had bent the metal conduit for the power line out from the house and also taken down the cable line(s). Our power line was now about ten feet above the street and the cable lines only a few feet above it as they wended their ways to the pole across the street. I spent about an hour, flashlight in hand, flicking the beam at motorists to keep them from hitting the wires. My biggest accomplishment was stopping the city snowplow from taking them all down.  

Then it was back to bed and the start of three days and nights mostly spent huddled in bed to keep warm. Sunday we awoke to find that the our neighborhood looked like a war zone with fallen branches and a tree down across the street. I had used a cell phone to report our downed power line to JCP&L, our power company and on Sunday morning I looked out and saw a man in a yellow jacket in our yard with a small saw and cutters sawing and cutting away small pieces of the branch that fell on the power and cable lines. When I asked him who he represented he replied "Nelson's". I had no idea who Nelson's was but later a more communicative fellow said they were a tree service company that worked with JCP&L and that their goal was to free up the power lines and that I was responsible for getting an electrician to replace the conduit and restore the power line to its normal position. Fortunately, my snowplow guy, who is also a carpenter and contractor, showed up to clear the foot of snow from our driveway and he said he would contact his electrician.  

Sure enough, the electrician arrived bright and early Monday morning and $323 later, our power line was back in place, albeit without any power in it to convey. That morning, I ventured out, driving across town to Brian's apartment complex to pick up his mail and to check on the possibility that he had power and we could go to his place to keep warm. No power. Coming back, I had a hard time getting home, with streets totally blocked by fallen branches, trees and power lines. The scariest part was when I found myself driving under a power line upon which was perched the equivalent of a sizable Christmas tree, balanced upside down on the power line! I have no idea what, if anything was holding it in that position. We were ever so grateful to our daughter-in-law, who braved the treacherous road conditions twice to bring us such goodies as hot soup from a restaurant and more important peanut butter and bread. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have never tasted so good! 

Well, after three nights and the temperature having fallen in our house to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, we found refuge for the fourth night in a friend's house in Madison, which had power and wonderful heat.  (Fortunately, our stair lift had enough battery power to get my wife back downstairs for the trip.) We are forever grateful to Libby for her kindness in sharing that heat with us. The next day, Wednesday, I drove back to our house in the afternoon and was overjoyed to see our bathroom light shining. Our power was back! So we returned to some semblance of normal life, without phone, TV or Internet, however. Comcast would take another day to return, and then on an intermittent basis.  

On Thursday and Friday, we would get a better idea of the scope of the disaster when at one point we had lined up on our normally quiet residential street in New Jersey 11 utility trucks from Ohio Edison! These "migrant workers" were from places like Youngstown, Ohio and were key players in the ongoing effort to return our area to a semblance of normalcy. A week after the snowfall, I was awakened at 3 AM by the sound of chain saws running and looked out to see two of these Ohio trucks rendezvousing on our street to head off to another mission clearing out the fallen branches. 

An insignificant, but frustrating annoyance after a power failure is having to reset all the clocks. Having done that, what happens (at least 3 or 4 times)?  The power goes out and I go out to ask our Ohio friends what happened? Oh, they had to turn the power off while they carry out some power restoring task. Then, after resetting the clocks several times and no more power interruptions, there's the switch back to standard time and more clock resetting! 

As I'm finishing this column today, Wednesday, November 9, there are still many piles of fallen branches littering the streets and even main roads and our tree guys have yet to be seen in this area. I was assured that the very large chunk of our cherry tree still attached 25-30 feet up in the tree is stable and won't fall before they finally arrive! Our cable wire is still connected but not yet restored to its normal height and location.  

Our schools were closed all five days last week, using up all the allotted snow days and November has just begun! And what about Halloween? It was originally rescheduled for last Friday but it was clear that conditions were nowhere near safe enough for kids to be trick or treating. Naturally, I had stocked up on candy and already filled a basket to be set for the throngs of youngsters that typically come to our door. So, with no Halloweeners, I assumed that Halloween was dead for this year.  

But hey, the entrepreneurial spirit is still alive. Yesterday (Election Day) afternoon, there's a ring of the doorbell (a welcome sound after no power) and there are two cute little girls, probably around 10 years old and sporting black lipstick, carrying empty bags. I asked if Halloween had been rescheduled and they said no, that they had just decided to go out on their own. I told them to take everything in the basket and would have filled it. Unfortunately, I didn't fill the basket with more candy and I'm hoping for more kids to follow these two young ladies' example.  

Well, enough of my rambling on about our experience. I realize that on a disaster scale, our snow event can't begin to compare with a devastating tornado or tsunami but, coming on the heels of Hurricane Irene, the effect of those early snowflakes on a region does warrant mention. Even as I write this closing paragraph, the sound of branches being ground up in the wood chippers reverberates throughout our neighborhood.  

Allen F. Bortrum



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-11/09/2011-      
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Dr. Bortrum

11/09/2011

A Very Fine Mess

CHAPTER 15 - Water, Trees and Halloween  

I had started to write this column before our snow event and began the column with some stuff about water in various venues. Pandering to my fascination with all things related to space and our universe, I started to write about various NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) releases on water out there in space. For example, the Messenger spacecraft now orbiting the planet Mercury may confirm earlier speculation that water exists in permanently shaded deep craters, even though the planet experiences blistering hot temperatures so close to the Sun. Recently reported observations on Mars suggest that if life existed on that planet it might have thrived in underground habitats laden with hot water. In an exciting report from ESA, its Herschel spacecraft has found "oceans of water" in the dusty disc surrounding a star 175 light-years away from Earth. This dusty disc is just the sort in which planets should form or be forming.  

Something very scary is also going on in our own watery environment. Increasingly, with overfishing in waters around the world, a water-rich critter, the jellyfish, is showing up in alarming numbers, taking over the ecosystem. A recent article in Science deals with a theoretical analysis of the effects of overfishing and the jellyfish. The equations show that the jellyfish, even though a slow and watery creature, is just the sort that will indeed prevail once its normal predators are fished out. 

Well, I was in the midst of writing the column when it started to snow. But let's jump back to 1965. It was then that our family, which by then included sons Brian Trumbore and Harry Trumbore, known to you StocksandNews readers, moved from Plainfield to Summit, New Jersey. Summit was closer to Bell Labs and I could ride a bus to work, giving up our need for a second car. Our realtor told us that one of the good features of the house we purchased was the fact that we had the biggest oak tree in Summit, a very large tree that had four trunks springing from near the bottom of the tree, each trunk qualifying as a major tree in its own right. We thought that tree and three other oaks on our property were really neat, fitting right in with the tree-laden community in which we were about to abide. 

Some years later, however, we were to get our first lesson in arboreal reality - water and trees can be a terrifying combination. It was a Sunday morning and an ice storm was in progress, the glistening trees a beautiful sight - until two trunks of our oak split away and fell on our neighbors house! Fortunately, nobody was hurt - the blow having been cushioned by the lower trunk landing on our neighbors' custom VW camper! Actually, we had learned by that time of the possible dangers of a multipronged tree and had the tree cabled, witness the fact that half the tree now lay on the neighbors' house with the cable dangling down off the roof. 

Let's now fast forward to this year and Irene. I've already discussed the effects of that hurricane in a column just a month or so ago. The huge volume of rainfall brought down three trees, two on houses, within a few hundred feet of our house. As I mentioned in that column, we only lost carpeting in the basement due to Irene. We had power, while our neighbors had none for a week. Fortunately, it was summer and the temperatures were bearable. 

I'm resuming writing this column on Saturday, November 5. Strangely, today we had two contacts with friends from Hawaii. One was a postcard from Margaret, who lives in California but is now in her condo on Kauai. She writes that she heard we had snow here and suggests that we should move to CA or HI, with much more equitable climes. Our good friend Dan, in Honolulu, called, saying he had read in Brian Trumbore's column that it might have been more than just an October snowstorm.  Along similar lines, my wife called her brother in the western Pennsylvania and he said, yeah, he had read that New England had really been hit by a bad snowstorm but hadn't seen anything about New Jersey.  

It's not uncommon that New Jersey doesn't get any respect and one objective of this column is to assure those not living in Jersey that this was indeed more than just an October snow and that we deserved media coverage just as much as New England. Going back to the Saturday morning before Halloween, sons Brian and Harry had taken off from Newark headed for Charleston, SC for a few days of R&R visiting historical venues and savoring southern cuisine. About an hour later, Newark airport shut down as snow began to fall in quantity, sometimes with heavy downpours of flakes as large as I've ever seen. The first sign of trouble for us occurred while my wife was talking to her brother in Greensburg, Pennsylvania and the phone went dead in the middle of the conversation. Having phone, TV and Internet with Comcast, this meant we had lost all three. Comcast had lost a "node" serving a wide area and would not resume service until the following Thursday afternoon. Even now, as I was writing this paragraph on Sunday, November 6 the service again went down, as it has intermittently! 

Back to that fateful Saturday. After losing phone service it was evening and I noted that there were no lights in adjoining houses, which included the houses upon which trees had fallen during Hurricane Irene, as I noted in an earlier column. I called one of the homeowners to see if they had lost power and was assured they had. While we were discussing this doleful situation, an eerie bright light filed the sky as transformers blew and our own power went out and the whole area was in darkness. The nightmare had begun. Thinking we had better get upstairs to get into bed to keep warm, I told my wife to use the stair lift to get up the steps, counting on the battery having enough charge to accomplish the mission - it did.  

Putting on sweaters, we went to bed with our clothes on but soon began to hear what sounded like gunshots as branches started breaking under the weight of the snow on top of the fall foliage. One break caught our attention and caused us to move back downstairs. A very large branch had come down off a tall cherry tree in our front yard, hit our house  and had bent the metal conduit for the power line out from the house and also taken down the cable line(s). Our power line was now about ten feet above the street and the cable lines only a few feet above it as they wended their ways to the pole across the street. I spent about an hour, flashlight in hand, flicking the beam at motorists to keep them from hitting the wires. My biggest accomplishment was stopping the city snowplow from taking them all down.  

Then it was back to bed and the start of three days and nights mostly spent huddled in bed to keep warm. Sunday we awoke to find that the our neighborhood looked like a war zone with fallen branches and a tree down across the street. I had used a cell phone to report our downed power line to JCP&L, our power company and on Sunday morning I looked out and saw a man in a yellow jacket in our yard with a small saw and cutters sawing and cutting away small pieces of the branch that fell on the power and cable lines. When I asked him who he represented he replied "Nelson's". I had no idea who Nelson's was but later a more communicative fellow said they were a tree service company that worked with JCP&L and that their goal was to free up the power lines and that I was responsible for getting an electrician to replace the conduit and restore the power line to its normal position. Fortunately, my snowplow guy, who is also a carpenter and contractor, showed up to clear the foot of snow from our driveway and he said he would contact his electrician.  

Sure enough, the electrician arrived bright and early Monday morning and $323 later, our power line was back in place, albeit without any power in it to convey. That morning, I ventured out, driving across town to Brian's apartment complex to pick up his mail and to check on the possibility that he had power and we could go to his place to keep warm. No power. Coming back, I had a hard time getting home, with streets totally blocked by fallen branches, trees and power lines. The scariest part was when I found myself driving under a power line upon which was perched the equivalent of a sizable Christmas tree, balanced upside down on the power line! I have no idea what, if anything was holding it in that position. We were ever so grateful to our daughter-in-law, who braved the treacherous road conditions twice to bring us such goodies as hot soup from a restaurant and more important peanut butter and bread. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have never tasted so good! 

Well, after three nights and the temperature having fallen in our house to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, we found refuge for the fourth night in a friend's house in Madison, which had power and wonderful heat.  (Fortunately, our stair lift had enough battery power to get my wife back downstairs for the trip.) We are forever grateful to Libby for her kindness in sharing that heat with us. The next day, Wednesday, I drove back to our house in the afternoon and was overjoyed to see our bathroom light shining. Our power was back! So we returned to some semblance of normal life, without phone, TV or Internet, however. Comcast would take another day to return, and then on an intermittent basis.  

On Thursday and Friday, we would get a better idea of the scope of the disaster when at one point we had lined up on our normally quiet residential street in New Jersey 11 utility trucks from Ohio Edison! These "migrant workers" were from places like Youngstown, Ohio and were key players in the ongoing effort to return our area to a semblance of normalcy. A week after the snowfall, I was awakened at 3 AM by the sound of chain saws running and looked out to see two of these Ohio trucks rendezvousing on our street to head off to another mission clearing out the fallen branches. 

An insignificant, but frustrating annoyance after a power failure is having to reset all the clocks. Having done that, what happens (at least 3 or 4 times)?  The power goes out and I go out to ask our Ohio friends what happened? Oh, they had to turn the power off while they carry out some power restoring task. Then, after resetting the clocks several times and no more power interruptions, there's the switch back to standard time and more clock resetting! 

As I'm finishing this column today, Wednesday, November 9, there are still many piles of fallen branches littering the streets and even main roads and our tree guys have yet to be seen in this area. I was assured that the very large chunk of our cherry tree still attached 25-30 feet up in the tree is stable and won't fall before they finally arrive! Our cable wire is still connected but not yet restored to its normal height and location.  

Our schools were closed all five days last week, using up all the allotted snow days and November has just begun! And what about Halloween? It was originally rescheduled for last Friday but it was clear that conditions were nowhere near safe enough for kids to be trick or treating. Naturally, I had stocked up on candy and already filled a basket to be set for the throngs of youngsters that typically come to our door. So, with no Halloweeners, I assumed that Halloween was dead for this year.  

But hey, the entrepreneurial spirit is still alive. Yesterday (Election Day) afternoon, there's a ring of the doorbell (a welcome sound after no power) and there are two cute little girls, probably around 10 years old and sporting black lipstick, carrying empty bags. I asked if Halloween had been rescheduled and they said no, that they had just decided to go out on their own. I told them to take everything in the basket and would have filled it. Unfortunately, I didn't fill the basket with more candy and I'm hoping for more kids to follow these two young ladies' example.  

Well, enough of my rambling on about our experience. I realize that on a disaster scale, our snow event can't begin to compare with a devastating tornado or tsunami but, coming on the heels of Hurricane Irene, the effect of those early snowflakes on a region does warrant mention. Even as I write this closing paragraph, the sound of branches being ground up in the wood chippers reverberates throughout our neighborhood.  

Allen F. Bortrum