The 60-foot tree fell right in front of our pickup truck, the noise muffled by the deluge of half-inch hail rattling off the roof and windshield. When we backed away from the downed tree, a smaller tree fell, blocking the road behind us. The rain, hail, and wind whirled in a vortex around us. Husband Bruce and I were not going anywhere, for the moment anyway.
Earlier that evening, while I devoured a waffle cone at Jordan's Ice Cream in Belmont, the radio had warned of severe thunderstorms. It was cool with clear skies so the warning could NOT have been meant for me. A few bolts of lightning flashed as we headed south and home. Then as we turned down our dirt road, the heavens opened, and hail poured out.
Within ten minutes the storm had moved on, leaving us stranded between the two downed trees. We removed the tree behind the truck, but the one blocking our way home was hanging on a power line making it impossible to move or get around. After I called 911, Loudon Fire and Rescue arrived. EMT Bill told us they could not remove the tree and suggested that we back farther away from the fallen power line.
As he and his partner strung up their yellow caution-tape, Bill went on to explain that when the tree took out the power line, it probably tripped the circuit breaker and shut off power to the line. The problem was home generators.
When installed incorrectly, they can provide unexpected power, called “backwash,” to the transmission lines. At Miles Smith Farm we have a 60 kV emergency generator. Housed in a building 500 feet from the house, and connected by a certified electrician, it looks like a small locomotive engine. Because it was installed correctly, our unit never backwashes electricity to the power lines.
Backwashed power from generators can be as deadly as grid power to those who venture too close to power lines, which is why Bill told us to stay at least 50 feet away from the downed tree.
Since it would be a while until the road crew could clear the road, we decided to walk the mile home. So we started out with a detour through woods to get around the fallen tree.
In the forest, a mist hung close to the ground, created when frozen hail connected with warm soil. As we made our way around upturned root systems of trees toppled by previous storms, our voices and footfalls were muffled by the fog. I expected to encounter elves or maybe hobbits or even a dinosaur as we walked through the foggy, pine-needle carpeted forest.
When we got home, our Airbnb guests – a family of four from California – phoned from the other side of the tree wondering what to do.
Bruce and I borrowed two cars and retraced our steps so that we could guide our visitors through the mystical forest to the safety of our farmhouse and their accommodations for the night. Our visitors, wearing impractical sandals, followed us as we carried their luggage around the tree to the waiting cars. Soon they were eating delicious grass-fed hamburgers, cooked on generator power while watching a double rainbow hanging in the southern sky.
Later that night the tree was removed and power restored. The takeaways? Make sure your generator is installed by an expert; be wary of seemingly dead wires; and savor a moment of enchantment even when it occurs amid gross inconvenience.