How to find peace in a howling Sierra storm

watercolor set up
A square-yard of watercolor calm while the storm rages just outside the window.

Big storm last week in the mountains. Winds howling through the trees, sounding like freight trains bearing down on us. Trees dancing and shaking like things possessed.

I sat down to work on a painting. Painting calms me; I have to be still inside to hear what the watercolors are saying.

At 7:45 the lights went out.

Scary noises in the dark

In the mountains, when the lights go out during a storm, it’s dark as hell, if hell is dark and winds screams on the wild hunt over the ridge and through the treetops. The house rattled and windblown branches cracked against the siding, smacked against the windows. In the dark I heard the fiddler in his upstairs office aerie play tunes in a minor key, and the wind wailed in harmony. The interval sounded like the Devil’s  chord.

The big trees on the windward side of our house swung and swayed; in the dark I couldn’t tell if the venerable cedar that leans towards our house was about to give way to the push of the wind, lose its footing and crash through the roof. The fiddler asked, should we build a fire in the fireplace? I prevaricated; if the tree went through the roof into the living room, it could catch the house on fire.

I love that we live in a house that’s like a tree house. I love the soft gray-green light that comes through the branches of the pine outside the window. I love my view over the forest and the baby cedars sprouting on the hillside below. I’m eye to eye with flickers and nuthatches; I watch tiny gray birds flock and flutter through the trees as I eat breakfast.

But being in the trees is a precarious position. Every season brings new pleasures, but also new worries.

John Muir used to climb tall Sierra trees and ride out big storms in the rocking branches at the crown. I’m too chicken to do that. Instead, I groped about and found my penny whistle to add my trilling keen to the fiddlers wail, while the wind augmented the fourth and chased across the mountains.

In the morning: The holy blue light of snow, melting in soft blip-blips. Water on the windows, branches on the ground, but the trees still stand.

Branch in snow
Actually, one tree did go down, a small snag killed by bark beetles and destined for the chainsaw anyway. It didn’t hurt anything, thank goodness.