Blow Down Memories: Clearing the Road

After twenty-four years of cabin cleaning, I find that I don't need to concentrate too hard on what I am doing in order to get the job done. This in turn frees up my mind to think about any number of subjects while my hands go about the chores. In a week like this, I find myself remembering our big blow-down storm in 1999. The interesting thing is that the calendar this year matches the days to the dates for the storm and its aftermath. Yesterday I thought about Monday after the storm, and today I thought about Tuesday after the storm. Seems rather crazy, but it keeps my mind occupied, and it reminded me that I should really write some of this stuff down, so that someday it will be there for my grand-kids to read.

We all have our own store of personal memories from big events and milestones in our lives. Something I've found interesting as the kids have gotten older is how their version of events and memories differ from mine. In particular, because of their respective ages at the time, their perspective is quite different from what I think that they would/should remember. To that end, at dinner tonight, I asked Paul and Addie what they recalled from the Monday following the big blow.

Monday, July 5, 1999 for Greg and me was about clearing trees off of our side road. We had spent the previous afternoon and evening attempting to restore a bit of sense to our own property by removing trees from driveways, paths, porches and cabins. We cleared enough to make things passable. The big clean-up and hauling away would have to wait. Paul said that for the most part, I had him stationed at home. He said that first and foremost, he remembered answering the phone....a lot. We still had guests in our cabins. Some were waiting for the road to be cleared, as they were scheduled to leave that day. Others had arrived by boat the previous night. They had been able to weave their way up the Trail by about seven p.m. (the storm had hit us at one in the afternoon), and had put their boat in at Gunflint Lodge. Since we had folks in house, I felt that someone needed to be at the front desk. Who would have thought that I'd leave my ten-year-old in that position of responsibility?

Greg had been using his Bobcat skidsteer to move trees around here at the lodge, so it seemed natural to just continue with it on up the county road. He would chainsaw, and then move the big logs. Robert and I followed and moved the smaller pieces of brush and such. I'm sure some of our guests were assisting us as well...I know that we had several "angels" who showed up at all the right moments that week. We got near the mailboxes, and at that point, we joined up with the neighbors from the Mile O' Pine road, to continue along the county road. It was a slow moving work train---chainsaw, push logs, haul brush, then move on to the next batch. At one point, we came to a power line across the road. No one wanted to touch it, fearing the unknown. Finally, our neighbor who was an electrician saw our hesitancy and assured us that it was a dead line, since none of us had had electric power since the previous day. Larry said to Greg, "Go ahead and touch it." Greg said, "No way until you touch it first!" So Larry did, nothing happened, and the work party continued.

On a run back to the lodge for food and water, I picked up Paul to come out and help. By then I was realizing the enormity of the moment, and really wanted him to be a part of it. The phone calls could wait. If we weren't there, they'd call back. Addie, in the meantime, had been hanging out with us, even though she was too young to do much work. She was seven at the time, and so she was mostly just playing with another girl who had been staying with her family at a cabin on the Mile O' Pine. Eventually, Celine's mom took them to their cabin, since they would have more fun there than just lingering on the road while everyone worked. That was for the best, as the work really was dangerous to a certain extent.

When that many people are working in such close proximity, with chainsaws buzzing and hands reaching in to toss the brush and move the logs, it really can get dangerous. We were all very lucky that only one minor accident occurred. One neighbor happened to nick his knee with his saw, just as the chain was winding down. It cut swiftly into the flesh, and suddenly, there he was with a real dilemma on his hands. He definitely needed stitches, but there was no way yet to drive out to the Trail to get to the emergency room. So he did the next best thing in a crisis like this. He went to visit our neighbor who was a retired physician. She was more than happy to assist him by cleaning and bandaging the wound, making it possible for him to continue on with all of us on the road. He took to tossing brush at that point, since all that bandaging limited his mobility.

By five in the afternoon, we were halfway down the three-mile road. At that point, we all were sweaty, sappy, and exhausted. But then we saw and heard the sweetest thing...on the other side of the next pile of downed trees was the county road crew and all of their big equipment. We yelled in excitement, paused to take a group photo, and then folks turned to head back to their cabins. We stayed a few minutes and talked to the road crew, to get a bit of perspective on what they had seen and heard. Then we, too, headed back to the lodge, to let the departing guests know that it was now clear to leave.

I think back now about that amazing effort of teamwork, how we all came together and each person found a way to contribute to getting the road cleared. I remember hearing the birds singing, continuing on with their day, as though not much had changed. We had a lot to contend with, experiencing a natural disaster like that, but we all were so fortunate, too. To this day, I think that everyone would agree that in its own way, it was one of the better experiences of our lives.