Residence --- January 2003 --- Ithaca, NY

Massive ice storm pulverizes the Northeast.

Today I spent most of the day working on my very first legitimate Darwin Award entry. I failed to qualify, but that probably counts as a good thing. Still, it makes for a good story, and I thought I'd share...

For those who don't know, Ithaca has been blessed with a real winter this year. The last major storm was a champion. It first deposited a 1/2" layer of ice on all surfaces, then dumped many inches of heavy, wet snow. The ice weighted down trees and provided a larger surface area for the snow to accumulate, weighting them down even more. As a result, trees all over the county have been crashing down.

Unlike poor Josh (who got a tree on his car) and poor Beth and Jonathan (who had one land on their garage), I've been relatively lucky. A very large Black Walnut is perched in my back yard. I think it might just brush the house if it fell, but it hasn't fallen. However it has dropped some pretty major tree chunks. But the big danger from the Walnut was the large piece of tree which had broken clean off, but was stuck in other branches. It was poised over the back yard, where Mandel and Lance roam half a dozen times a day. This was an accident waiting to happen, and I decided to eliminate the waiting part.

Now I'm not really all that stupid. I didn't climb the tree and hack away at the branches while standing on the loose trunk. I was perfectly capable of putting myself in danger from the ground. In fact, you know an activity isn't safe if a climbing helmet is the first thing you think to grab while performing the activity. After putting on the helmet, I filled a small stuff sack with snow, tied some parachute cord to it and started throwing it at the branch. This isn't as easy as it sounds. I did manage to get the cord stuck in every other branch in the Walnut, and even managed to get it stuck in a few trees which had wandered over to watch. After many attempts I decided the problem was the stuff sack. So I tried using a different stuff sack. Still didn't work. Go figure.

Undaunted, I dug into a closet and came up with an old skee ball. This was an arcade game from back before they had computers. You pay 25 cents and get about nine wooden balls which you roll at a target and get points based on where the ball lands. Sort of like bowling, but without pins. Back when I was in high school we used to play skee ball at the arcades. No, this was not in the dark ages before video games - - I'm not that old. We just happen to like skee ball. So my friends and I realized that you could play skee ball for 25 cents, but you could also buy nine wooden balls for 25 cents. That seemed like quite the bargain at the time. In our defense, there was no sign telling us not to abscond with skee balls, so it was probably permitted. Right? Anyhow, ever since then I've always had a few skee balls around the house. Never had a use for one until today.

So I drill a hole in the skee ball and put in a small eye-bolt. Tie the parachute cord to the bolt, and I'm in business. A few throws later and the skee ball arcs perfectly through a fork in the broken trunk. I do a minor victory dance.

Then I grab my climbing rope. Tie the climbing rope to the parachute cord and haul the climbing rope up and over the broken trunk. Holding both ends of the climbing rope, I walk far out of the path of the tree. Then I walk a little farther. Then I start pulling. And pulling. And pulling. The broken tree trunk is really stuck. So I start pulling in different directions. That does the trick. With a tremendous CRASH! the broken limb comes to earth. Missed me by at least a few feet. I do a major victory dance.

Then it is just a matter of carefully inspecting my climbing rope for damage (none found) and putting away the skee ball. After that I comfortably took off my helmet. The tree piece now on the ground is about 20' long and probably weighs over 200 pounds. Had it hit me, the helmet probably wouldn't have done much good, but I like to think that wearing a helmet earns the respect of the Darwin Award Committee and helps the chances of earning an award.

Anyone want to play skee ball?

Lance examining the giant tree branch I brought down after the ice storm. (Category:  Residence)

Lance examining the giant tree branch I brought down after the ice storm.    Ithaca, NY -- January 2003

Josh's car after being hit by a falling tree while parked in his driveway. (Category:  Residence)

Josh's car after being hit by a falling tree while parked in his driveway.    Ithaca, NY -- January 2003