November 8th, 2009


The wind has been blowing hard the last few days. The airport registered a 54 mile per hour gusts and the next day there were gusts in the thirties. After it quiets down, I’ll go out in the woods to see what has blown down. There is always windfall.

Fall mushroom

Fall mushroom

When I was a kid, Dad would not let me go out in the woods during or after a windstorm until he had surveyed it for widow-makers.

One of Dad’s remote cousins was killed in a windstorm. His family had a farm in the community called Lawrence, close to Deming. The cousin followed Deming tradition and became a logger. His mother was partially disabled. She could walk, but just barely. A series of accidental falls and bumps to the head had paralyzed one side, her left I believe, shortly after she arrived from Germany, probably in the twenties. She never learned to speak English well, preferring to speak German, which she spoke rapidly and clearly, but with a slight stutter. Her bad arm was completely immobile and twisted up close to her body. Her husband died from a heart attack when the son was barely out of high school. The mother was self-reliant and energetic and able to keep house despite her disability.

The son was killed during a fall wind storm like the one this week. Heavy winds forced the logging crew to knock off work for the day and they were gathered around a warm up fire, getting ready to return home off the mountain when a gust of wind brought down a widow-maker, a heavy tree limb hanging in the branches of another tree. That widow-maker did not make a widow, but it killed my Dad’s unmarried cousin.



His neck appeared broken and his chest was crushed. The crew loaded him on the truck and rushed him to the hospital in Bellingham, but it was a punishing three hour trip, bouncing over miles of washboard and pothole logging road in a truck sprung for hauling loads. One of the loggers riding on the truck rushing to meet the ambulance told Dad that the ride was nearly as bad as the widow-maker.

After the death of her son, the widow sold the farm in Lawrence and moved to a small apartment in Bellingham. My parents visited her almost every week, partially out of pity because she was isolated and had an exceptionally hard life, but more because in spite of her broken English and lack of mobility, she was intensely interested in everything around her. She never talked about her absent son or husband, but she had lots to say about John F. Kennedy, whom she liked because he said “Ich bin ein Berliner” in German. After he was assassinated, she got books from the library and even spent some of her small pension on William Manchester’s book about him.

Eventually she died too and Dad was her executor. The cold war was still raging, but she willed most of her estate, which was much larger than Dad expected, to relatives in East Germany. Delivering the inheritance to those relatives was difficult because they could not accept foreign currency, so it all had to be converted into loads of coal, appliances, and cases of canned goods through brokers.

I will be checking for widow-makers soon. You never know what kind of trouble they will cause.

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