4 pm ~ 8/3/15
I am sitting outdoors under a great white oak. It is one of the proud survivors that stand among his fallen brothers. Both oak and I are stunned at the severity of this storm and Glen Arbor’s great white oaks are the ones that took the brunt of this bewildering storm of August 2nd, 2015.
Hawthorn is hacking at white pine branches with a hatchet. All day he has watched men with chainsaws cutting into the tremendous swath of fallen trees. And finally it is his turn to show his salt at woodcutting. He is making little progress on a thick branch with his little arms and dull hatchet. He is working at an insignificant stick amongst acres and acres of fallen trees. If he looked around, he would feel as his father does—overwhelmed at the destruction—like what ants must feel after the lawn mower passes over their head.
Yesterday, we spent the afternoon 20 miles south of Glen Arbor. As we headed up into ground zero, just 30 minutes after the storm, our first sign was overturned docks and loose boats on the southwest side of Little Glen. Next we saw the Glen Lake Manor’s giant cottonwoods with roots unearthed and limbs laying two properties away.
We headed across The Narrows between the Glen Lakes. We were now two miles from Glen Arbor and the biggest evidence were erratic drivers. For the most part the trees were intact across the west shore of Big Glen—but cars were flashing lights and traffic was backed. We heard a “big tree” was across M-22 so we turned around and tried Day Forest, but that road was closed too, so we headed back to the line of cars again on M-22 thinking that the impasse might be freed. This time we found a place in line and stepped out of the car and waited. Soon we were surrounded by friends. Harry Fried was in subtle shock. “There is no chance we make it into GA this way. The road around the bend has fallen tree after fallen tree and they are tangled and stacked for as far as I can see.” And so, very innocently, we ditch our car to hike the two short miles through the deep woods of Alligator Hill to home sweet home. It was 5 pm.
It wasn’t 15 minutes later when we realized the challenge of our expedition. Before us, as far as we could see, was a swath of fallen trees that stood like scattered fence rows. We climbed and crawled around and over and under at an infant’s pace. At 6:15, we were high on the northwest side of the alligator looking at sweeping views of Sleeping Bear Bay and Big Glen that haven’t been seen from this angle since the loggers of the 1880’s cut this hillside to the dirt. Below us were a mix of uprooted oaks and beeches snapped in half with broken shards pointing into the sky. We were stunned. None of us had seen destruction like this before. Steph and I shared a moment together with moist eyes and soft hearts.
I walked ahead with Hawthorn scampering to keep up. I was in bewildered silence while my seven year old played and chattered along with me on what seemed like a magical new jungle gym to him. Fifty yards behind us were Steph and Harry, marveling aloud at every tragic feature. Colebrook was with them, trailing, trailing, trailing and Colebrook too, was silent.
At 7 pm, after some moments of panic thinking that we might not get out of the Alligator Hill woods before dark, we found the Intermediate trail again, but the landscape was so unfamiliar on this trail I have hiked a hundred times—we still didn’t know where we were. We trekked on in a long steady rain that soaked us to the skin. We headed downhill looking up at the treetops for areas where the trees hadn’t fallen. This was our only way to find sections of standing trees where we could pass under. Soon I saw a gravel road.
When Steph and I got to Forest Haven and saw the Alligator Hill trailhead parking lot, we should have been relieved and happy to be safe. But both of us cried in the presence of so many fallen pines, oaks and beech. Nothing about this place we’ve seen 1000 times was familiar.
We headed down Forest Haven Road toward Glen Arbor. We stopped at Hagermans driveway, when we saw power lines lying on the ground. They opened their front door and were walking toward us before we headed to them. We asked if the road was safe to walk down. All they knew was that we could walk the woods to JP’s house. They wanted to know everything we knew. While Steph filled them in, Harry and I left Steph and the boys and headed on.
The owners of the house between JP’s and Hagermans were standing stunned in their garage with the door open. There were fallen trees everywhere. We found a way to JP’s door and knocked. JP was on the phone. He hung up and joined our trek to town.
We jumped power lines and trees and zig zagged from one side of the road to the other. We ran into two rangers in a 4 by 4. They said they were on a mission to find four hikers stranded on the Alligator. Harry and I told them what we knew of the conditions up on the hill. They drove away looking for a better entryway.
We stopped at Patty Dingmans, who was in a panic because her door was locked shut from the inside and her back door was unusable because of a tree and the garage door wouldn’t work because of the power outage. For ten minutes we tried to help her and finally, we decided that she should get the fire department to break into her house and so her daughter climbed out a narrow window and headed to the fire department.
My mother was good. I scolded her for not answering her phone. She scolded me for the same. We hugged and I ran back to get Steph and the boys. Harry went on to his wife at Lake Street Studios.
While my family headed home, I circled around and took a look at Cherry Republic. Some major limbs to our giant white oak tree were grounded and two giant white pines. But luckily there were no buildings damaged. I was so thankful that our two iconic scotch pines out front were standing tall. And the great white oak and my white pine brothers were also OK. All the staff had sensibly gone home.
And that’s where I went. Steph was already in house camping mode. She was gathering flashlights and water containers in the last light of the evening. Soon we were heading to the town hall for water. It was packed with campers and tourists and locals stuck in Glen Arbor with no place to go. Everyone was waiting for a safe route out, but electric lines and trees blocked every road.
Randy, Mary and the rest of fine dining crew at Blu were in the kitchen cooking. I nonchalantly scanned the scene while filling water jugs. Roast duck, angel hair pasta with spaghetti, a salad with blueberries and feta, crème puffs. I decided that I might stick around and see if any dinner was leftover after the more deserving ones ate. As I waited for everyone to go through the line, Steph and the boys came looking for me and so we all waited together. It was 9 pm when we filled our plates with food.
I headed to bed full, but still unsettled. Hawthorn is sharing a bed with Steph, so I jump in the other big bed with Colebrook. He silently snuggled against me and it feels soothing to be with this quite unfazed boy.
I wake later than intended and call Ed, our Admin Manager. He gives me a play by play of where we are. I join him several minutes later and a plan for the day develops. It is a healthy balance of Cherry Republic work, home and community.
We get the Great Hall open at noon and are recording sales with pen and paper. My mother, at 85, is proudly there working, like nothing is more important on this day than the customers. In the café, any pie and cookie sales are going to the Glen Arbor relief fund. The jar has a good start of green paper.
I stand out front and greet. Nobody is really shopping, but all are relieved to see we are open. Who would have known that people would crave a sense of normalcy and they find it in our store with its door propped open, with our cheerful greeting, and with the samples overflowing the bowls.
Everyone has a story to share
I hear Cronin’s story of being in a speedboat out in Big Glen and having to drive right into the eye of the storm when the brunt of it passes over. When the hundred mph winds and hail and rain subsided, they looked up—it was only 45 seconds, but they were 2 miles away from where they thought they would be.
I hear the story of the man trapped in his car across from my mother-in-laws and she and her neighbors getting him out from under a crushing tree, then organizing a boat to take him on a makeshift backboard (a door) on to the hospital.
I hear from a couple whose car gets smashed while they are in it, but they are unhurt and able to get out. And they had no place to stay that night, but were offered a place by Harry and Alison across the way.
Story after story is shared. Steph gets impatient to see her Mom, so I take the kids and she heads down Dunn’s Farm Road knowing the road is closed, but willing even to wade Big Glen to see her.
A friend frees my tractor from under a tree and Hawthorn and I jump on and push and move brush off of driveways around Glen Arbor. We push trees laying out onto the roads back into the ditches. We work for several hours while Colebrook works the store stocking products and samples. I come back and find him grumpy. He has worked three hours—too long for a little boy, so I take him to the Little Glen shallows for some swimming.
We run into Gary Hogaboom who drove up from his home in Grand Haven with his chainsaw in tow to help out. As we talk, the boys head out to play in the shallows. I wave Steph down as she drives the only open road to Glen Arbor from her parents. She cries when she greets me. I cry back. And I hear about the devastation at her parent’s house and all along Dunn’s Farm Road, which she had to hike over and under and around hundreds of fallen trees for a mile.
We look out to the water to check on the boys and Colebrook is climbing onto an upside down speedboat drifting in 3 feet deep water. Steph orders our nine year old off, but he is too far away to hear. I chase out to check on him. Jim Becker has taped his name and phone number onto the boat. This is one of hundreds of boat wrecks on Glen Lake
As we climb into the car to head home, Colebrook says, “Nobody is on the dunes.” I drive over to the dune climb to find a ranger blocking the entryway. I pull over and he says that the climb is closed. I ask why? He says because of the storm and when he sees that I look puzzled he says, we don’t have electricity for the rest rooms. I say, “We don’t have electricity and we are open.” He looks back at me awkwardly as I drive away. (Note: We find out later that the Glen Arbor Fire Department asked them to close because they didn’t have the resources to cover the dunes with all the staff cleaning up after the storm)
It bums me that the key destinations in the park are closed. It is giving our visitors one more reason to leave Glen Arbor.
We arrive at home to find Steph cooking dinner. That night, we eat our farm share produce and other valuable perishables as the last of the cool air has left the fridge.
After dinner, we go on a bike ride around town. This ride is an elixir– lifting everyone’s spirits tremendously. Colebrook is taking in each fallen tree—big or small. Four teenagers are climbing high up into the horizontal limbs of a fallen tree and their parents are taking a picture of them.
We ride to the Houttemans. Steph stops off for a bath in Sleeping Bear Bay, while we grab Michael and continue our ride. There is an eeriness around town, but I can’t figure it out. We stay near the Lake Michigan lakeshore where the trees are toughest and I am relieved how few of them have fallen. A giant bushy white pine that has eaten many hardballs during my childhood has fallen. I consider digging around to see if I can find one of them 40 years later, but it is close too dark and it is time for bed.
That night of day two, Steph and I lay in the dark sharing stories of our day. The stories are changing. No longer are they of the storm; they are stories are about community and resilience and generosity. Each story is soothing like a lullaby and soon we are asleep.
——–10:15 pm 8/4/15——–
Colebrook and Hawthorn are asleep as we end day three. I suspect Steph might be as well. I am back at my computer with a growing urge to write. For a while hearing peoples stories would make me feel better about this shear storm and it’s damage. And then, seeing the evidence of giving by the community has helped. But still there is this hole in me. Ugh. I am hoping that writing will help me lose my angst.
It was a good day of resilience at work for all of us at Cherry Republic. Our warehouse staff did logistics by flashlight. A big relief for all of us was when Brent and Tom shuttled everything from our powerless and warming freezers to big commercial freezers 30 miles away. Jason ran into TC and purchased the basics so we could festively serve brat lunches to our hungry customers out in the garden for $3 all day.
After work, I hopped on my little tractor and set a boy on each leg and drove the three miles up to Gloria and Jon’s for tree removal duty. It felt so good to have these two boys in my arms with their heads and voices so close to my ears. As I drove I had a hope to hear what they think. But after witnessing a few graphic sights of trees smashing buildings and electric poles, Colebrook went silent again. Hawthorn filled the void with goofy songs and silly shouts to passing cars. I took a moment to push some cut trees off the road, but it didn’t seem right to slow down. We had work to do at Nana’s house. Plus, I was starting to like these one lane roads with all this beautiful green foliage to dodge around.
As we headed up Miller Hill, the storm carnage started again. I saw where Steph parked our Tundra and hiked this closed section of road to her parent’s house. It was cool being on a tractor—even with kids on my lap, the utility man let me through. We drove by big cranes and trucks and chainsaws and levers and many, many crewmen working. And we three Sutherlands felt their kinship.
Jon got out his chainsaw and we cut for 20 minutes and then we loaded logs onto the tractor and hauled them from the Glen Lake side of the house out to the road right of way. It was hard work, and Jon and Steph were already tired from a long day of hauling. During one break, Jon and I talked about how naked his yard feels without the canopy of trees overhead. In some ways, his yard feels like a home with the roof lifted off.
After a few hours we stopped for dinner and then Steph hopped on the tractor with me to show the devastation east of her parent’s house. We pulled in driveways and talked to the Dows and Lanphiers. The Dows had a TV News correspondent doing her last story of the day on the 16 fallen trees against their damaged house, on top of their squashed two car garage, and lying not too kindly on several smashed cars. Not surprisingly, nobody was mourning the cars or garage or such. But Mr. Dow was near tears talking about his oak and beech and pine and hemlock and all the ageless friends that he’s known for 70 years.
We drove further west to see dozens, no hundreds, no thousands more trees down. We turned around. We had seen enough. Soon we were collecting the kids and heading back to Glen Arbor.
I wasn’t surprised when Steph said, “lets see how much progress the utility crews have made on M-22 south of Glen Arbor.” We parked at the Northwood’s Hardware and Jeff Geitzen, 3 ½ hours after closing his store was still working. We picked up the 5 gallon jug Steph had ordered.
Then we walked down M-22 toward the worst of the destruction. This was the area that first stopped us three days ago as we innocently drove home from a tennis match at Crystal Downs. As we walked, a huge parade of utility tree removal trucks weaved their way through the fallen trees on their way to their hotel in Manistee. We now had this closed road alone.
We hiked by hundreds of trees lying across one lane and cut at the center line. We walked a trench line of trees one lane wide that dead ended with uncut trees laying completely across the road. Yes, still more work to do four days after this amazing storm.
Jacob Wheeler, the editor of the Glen Arbor Sun happened to be investigating this section for his paper. He was lucky enough to get Steph to make a rare appearance on video talking about resilience.
As we hiked back to the truck, Colebrook ran by pointing out one of the big huge white pine survivors. And then he pointed to the glow of the cranberry marsh with some big white pines on the other side. Colebrook pointed out the healthy big white oak that several years ago held a swing on one of its long sweeping branches. He remembered that I would push Hawthorn and him when they were barely able to hold the ropes.
And so I end on that note, with Colebrook opening up finally and sharing a positive story by pointing out the survivors. He will be OK, so will I, so will Glen Arbor. He will never forget this experience and I am so proud at how he quietly recorded it inside his alert little head. He saves it to tell his grandkids and maybe yours as well. His stories will have happy endings as trees grow, and buildings repair and landscapes fill out. As with all the great natural places– beauty always wins in the end.