Wild Ideas: Big storm, little moments of resilience

Phoebe babies at the author’s house, the day before they fledged and a few days before the derecho hit. More photos of this brood at wildideasintheblueridge.blogspot.com. Photo by Pam Owen.
Phoebe babies at the author’s house, the day before they fledged and a few days before the derecho hit. More photos of this brood at wildideasintheblueridge.blogspot.com. Photo by Pam Owen.

On Thursday, June 28, my TV remote gave out. How was I going to watch the Nationals continue their rise to the top of Major League Baseball? There were no buttons on the receiver. Even after I figured out that it had a touch screen, it was a pain to operate, and I couldn’t fast-forward through commercials or channel surf easily. The remote would come in two business days, according to the satellite-TV company. How was I going to survive the inconvenience?

When I got the remote on Monday, I stared at it and laughed.

I couldn’t think of a more worthless object at that point, three days after historic derecho storm had hit during a brutal heat wave, and all of us in the mid-Atlantic got to learn what real inconvenience was. The power at my house died within seconds of the storm’s coming over the mountain. Lightening flashed all over the sky, like an artillery barrage, a real light show when viewed from inside the now-darkened house. Wind ripped through at near hurricane velocity, bringing down tree limbs and whole trees that in turn brought down power lines.

My dog and I hunkered down to wait it out in the dark in a hallway that was out of the way of most of the windows. Having 45 minutes’ warning, I had already dug out my emergency radio and lantern and my airbed, so I was able to focus on what was most important – hearing the rest of the Nats game I’d been watching. Listening to it over the radio brought back memories of hearing my first baseball games, on Armed Forces Radio in Germany in the early 1950s.

When the wind died down, I checked outside to see if anything disastrous had happened. The yard was littered with leaves and limbs, but no trees had come down on my house or my landlords’ house. Since it was getting late, I decided to go to bed and watch the tail end of the storm passing by outside my windows. Even before the lightning flashes had totally subsided, while rain was still dripping from the sky, what I saw outside in the dark was a testimony to the resilience of nature – hundreds of fireflies, from the lawn to the crowns of the towering trees on the mountain behind it, providing their own silent light show as they sought out mates.

While we humans struggled in the aftermath of the storm to deal with losing the technology most of us have come to depend on, wildlife seemed to accept this as just another day in the great outdoors. Broods of birds were likely blown out of their nests, and many other animals undoubtedly suffered the loss of their homes or lives when branches fell and trees collapsed in the onslaught of the devastating winds, but the next morning they just seemed to be going about their business – defending their territories, looking for food and, in the case of at least one pair of field sparrows, mating. Birds were flitting around and chattering everywhere, just as they were in the mornings before the storm, with newly fledged young swelling the local population.

The eastern phoebe babies at the house had also fledged, just a few days before the storm and a day after I had written about them in this column. I was glad they left, since the forest likely provided better shelter from the storm than their nest, which was on the windward side of the house. The mom was around, and the dad showed up the next day. There have been a bunch of little gray-and-white birds around in the forest edge, but it was hard to sort out the phoebe fledglings from the little blue-gray gnatcatchers and their young.

Other animals were also going about their business. My resident male groundhog, which I’m sure is the fattest on the planet – far beyond the nine pounds that is supposed to be its limit in weight – was grazing on the lawn. Rabbits, including this year’s young, were doing the same.

During the hottest time every day during the outage, I got into the habit of taking my dog down to the lower ponds so she could soak and I could sit in the shade and enjoy the breeze that cooled off as it went over the ponds. Chimney swifts had moved in down there and were now competing with dragonflies and other pond predators for the insects flying over the water. The storm and the heat that had built back up after it didn’t seem to slow any of them down. When I went back to the ponds at night to monitor the frogs there, the mating calls were just as many as before the storm.

At the house, just as many hummingbirds as before the storm were still battling over the nectar in the two feeders I had put out. Another humming has already started filling the sultry air at night – that of cicadas.

Other than a few large trees coming down and lots of limbs and leaves everywhere, nature seemed back to normal on the mountain. Not to say that continuing heat doesn’t put a strain on most wildlife, but as long as water is available, most adapt quickly.  

It took a bit longer for us humans on the mountain, but the power’s back on (for now), and I’ve been enjoying watching baseball with my new remote, merrily fast-forwarding through the commercials as the Nats are generating their own heat in their drive toward the World Series.

Pam Owen
About Pam Owen 286 Articles

Writer, editor, photographer, and passionate nature conservationist living in Rappahannock County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Two favorite quotes: By E.O. Wilson, who coined the term “biodiversity,” “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction”; by Douglas Adams, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they pass by.”