Trees Roads Outages

People moving to Whidbey Island frequently ask about how often the power goes out. The question is usually inspired by locals talking about generators, candles, firewood, chainsaws, and stocking up on food. Sure, the power goes out. The island has things cities don’t: tall trees, narrow roads, and the dead end of the power grid. Outages? It’s impressive that the power doesn’t go out more often.

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Look at photos of many roads on the island. Most islanders are Living The Two Lane Life, where there are more miles of narrow roads than there are passing lanes. Look to either side of the roads. Tall trees rise. They’re not old-growth. Those were taller. These are the kids that have managed to reach over a hundred feet up as the island re-forests itself. Between those trees and those two lanes are the poles that carry the power throughout the island. Let’s see – a tree taller than the road is wide, and between them, power lines that are likely to snap when a few tons of tree are blown over. A tree falls, the line breaks, the road is closed, and eventually someone calls Puget Sound Energy.

It is impressive how quickly they make the area safe, clear debris, reconnect the lines, turn the power back on, and reopen the road.

The bigger the city, the more likely there’s a grid that allows the power company to reroute power. Welcome to Whidbey Island where the power jumps across Deception Pass on a collection of cables, then tries to run uninterrupted to the south end of the island dozens of miles away. Dozens of miles means passing thousands of trees.

And no, the answer is not cutting down the trees. Farming and forestry are both businesses on the island, and while forestry does cut down trees, they spend more time letting them grow. It’s a natural thing. Even people who aren’t as interested in timber can be interested in the trees as trees. Save the trees, which some have, which is why there are still a few stands of old growth, parents and grandparents and possible great grandparents of today’s forests.

That’s why so many people have generators, collections of lanterns and stoves, and an excuse to buy lots of candles and oil lamps. Many also have chainsaws and log splitters because those fallen trees can become firewood, firewood which is used to heat and cook when the power goes out. Turn a negative into a positive – with a lot of sweat, and maybe some ibuprofen.

Does the power go out? Sure. It can happen anywhere. Instead of seeing the trees as some wort of threat, it is easier to remember that the rest of the days they provide shade, make an excellent backdrop, soak up noise, clean the air, and provide homes for many critters.

And if the power goes out, take it as an opportunity to light a candle, open some wine, and invite a few friends over.