Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Trees Behaving Badly... or, Why You Need Liability Insurance.

      I imagine it was just a cottonwood sapling when I first visited the hot spring with my dad in the mid sixties. Growing within a few meters of the hot spring source, it probably wouldn't warrant a second look at the time. If I had only known how that same sapling and I would cross paths again, I would have taken it for a wiener stick then when I had the chance.
                                         circa 1996  Note mature wiener stick, center.

Jump ahead over 30 years, I've noted this day in my journal, and can pin point the date. Monday June22 1998
 I had spent the morning mowing the airstrip and hopped on my mountain bike which was my habit to ride  to and from the hot spring campsite back in those days. I would have  wheeled right down over the bridge and skidded to a stop next to the big log bench that I would  lean my bike on. It had been a hot, busy weekend, but on Monday had whittled down to a handful of regulars. It was nice at the tubs, quiet, shady, with a slight summer breeze from the south., and  hardly anyone  there. Pierre Poirier and a friend relaxed in the far 'jacuzzi' tub. Someone was just packing up and leaving the A-frame. I had an idea of just stopping in for a minute, but happened to strike up a conversation with a couple sitting at the large uncovered outside tub that were there for the first time.  I was leaning up against  the upright on the lean-to shelter there, conversing with Mike who is a nice fella settled into the water, probably answering the same questions I always got asked. 
Suddenly, there was a rush of wind that went overhead, one that got our attention. We didn't feel it on the ground, but a quick, short blast had barreled up the valley. I scanned up the hill and could see large fir trees swaying higher up the mountainside. From her seat on the edge of the tub Sandy says in her Australian accent, "Wow, that was almost scary". Hmm, I thought to my self, it was rather odd. 
Right then we hear a deep, hollow 'crack'! You would think a branch had broken, but at the same time, it sure didn't sound like a branch, this was kind of hollow sounding, and came from low down seemed. Puzzled, after several seconds I took a couple of steps backwards to see clear of the lean-to structure which was obstructing my vision to the right. Meanwhile, over in the far tub, Pierre and friend have noted the huge, fully mature 80 foot cottonwood  next to the A-frame break 3 feet off the ground and slowly begin to lean towards the unsuspecting trio at the outside tub. He starts trying for my attention, but things happened too fast.  He finally resigns himself to seeing me mashed all over the deck and stands  there open mouthed as the events unfold before him in seemingly slow motion. Once clear of the lean-to structure I glanced up over the direction behind the A-frame. I'm staring at this huge cottonwood, and it takes a second to realise the leaves are turning back as it begins to pick up speed making a quickly accelerating bee-line right for us. 
John Wayne may have stood there waving his arms directing women and children out of harms way,  but in real life, you just react to save your hide. Sandy saw my eyes go "Holy shit!",  right before I spun around and took off like a shot, which certainly aroused her curiosity.  Funny what goes through your head at a time like that. I didn't want to go left because I was afraid of slipping on the wet deck, and I thought twice about going right as I was afraid of colliding with  the newly planted donation box.  
So off across the bridge I went like my hair was on fire. Sandy, bless her heart, pondered my departure for a moment, then stepped out to see for herself. 
Funny I had actually considered falling that same tree a year earlier during construction of the A-frame, and braced myself at the base with a snarling chainsaw. I judged the natural lean was directly in-line with the bridge. I knew just how far the tree would reach if it came down, and I didn't fall it then because I didn't want to deal with the mess right then. I figure the tree had it in for me. I knew I needed to at least reach the large boulder-barriers at the hotspring entrance. I was hoofing it across the walkway nearly lifting the planking behind me, and all I hear is an ever increasing whoosh of branches, leaves, and destruction coming  from above. I was going along at a pretty good clip already, but somehow found another gear and really poured it on, nearly stepping right out of my boots. Just as I reached the boulders I dove as far as I could. The top of the tree struck me from behind in mid-air and smacked me into the ground, and with the velocity I think I skidded on my face uphill for another 20 feet.

I immediately jumped to my feet, re-born, laughing and holding my arms triumphantly in the air. My back felt like I was hit with a cat o' nine tails, and the bark was missing off a few spots on the front from the slide. But I was intact. Turning my attention back down to the hot spring area, I see  Mike standing up dripping in the tub with a stunned look on his face, studying the huge tree that has suddenly appeared on the scene. I can not see Sandy and get a sinking feeling in my gut. But wait! A squeal comes out from under the heap of branches and I reach the spot in about 3 bounds, pulling branches out of the way to reach the victim buried down in the muddy creek, swearing in Australian. I got a hold of her by the waist and pulled her out of the tangled heap of branches and broken boards. I've never been so glad to see anyone alive in my life. Next to myself that is.
Sandy rubbed her head and says, "What the hell do you Canadians call that?" .
"Good adventure", I said, "...and none lost!".

              My poor mountain bike!! Only the log bench saved it from getting flattened.

 That would get your attention if you were relaxing in there. Buggered the tub too.

 I walked home for my chainsaw, giggling most of the way, and clean up began immediately.

 We found my ball cap pushed down through the planking, guess it flew off at warp speed.

Thumbs up for sure.
They build those Australian gals tough, drop a tree on them and and they get right back up.
She was fine, got a few scuffs and a bit of a bonk on the noggin, and a great story to send back to Australia. When I turned and ran, she stepped out in my tracks, actually watching me go, and got hit from behind, I guess branches knocked her forward and pushed her into the soft bottom of the creek.  Very lucky.
I venture that the T'sek spirit  intervened at the last moment. 

Postscript. About an hour after, the owner of the bike shop in Pemberton drove in for another free soak.
He took my pretzel bike back to town with him, and of course charged me full retail to fix it.

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