On Thursday February 23rd around 5:00 I was driving home from a job off Peachland Road in Boonville. It was very cold and raining but I knew that home in Yorkville at a higher elevation, so I was not surprised when the rain turned to snow just beyond Boonville. I became alarmed as I climbed toward the Yorkville Highlands to see that the snow was beginning to stick to the road. I was racing to get ahead of the snow and failing. Pulling out to let faster cars pass I fishtailed mildly as I pulled back onto Highway 128. With my heart in my mouth as the snow was falling thicker and thicker, I suddenly felt religious and started praying to get home without an accident or stall. I made it, parking under a tree (genius) to avoid too much snowfall on my car. The next morning a huge chunk of my neighbors oak tree had fallen, missing my car by approximately 5 inches and completely blocking Big Oaks Drive and trapping three neighbors.
That same night we were laying on the couch watching “Desperate Housewives” on DVD when, at 8:42pm they disappeared along with the lights and the heat. Quick as a wink we became the desperate ones. When the “juice” disappears, comfort, convenience and the sense that “all’s right with the world” disappears with it. Thoughts quickly turn to how many bottles of water are on hand, how many batteries in stock and “where are those flashlights anyway?” There’s a sudden realization of what people in the Ukraine, Turkey and other besieged places are living through. Our outage pales to almost nothing beside their suffering. Even so…we managed to feel plenty miserable.
After the first night we woke up with a five-inch blanket of wet, sticking snow coating everything. All sound was muffled. Listening to the silence was weird punctuated only by snow sliding off laden branches and swooshing off the roof. It was beautiful, no denying that, but to my Southern California raised eyes it was mostly scary. Thick wet snow on the wild bird feeder swallowed up seeds; I had to put cardboard down to keep them from sinking. From the morning after the outage to the afternoon when the power came back on wild birds ate 20 pounds of black sunflower seed at my house; I guess we were the only restaurant open for business.
Our house is surrounded by trees that provide shade in the summer but without electricity it is dim to the point of dreary inside even in the daytime. To read we had to sit by one of our single pane windows and it was kinda chilly. Reading was about all we could do in the gloaming. About 4:30 every day the outside light began to dim so it was battery headlamps required. By 6:00 it was dark (depressing). The pioneers had kerosene lanterns. Note to self: get some Kerosene lanterns, I mean battery lanterns. With a woodstove and manually lighted propane stove top we had the basic survival tools. We also had enough bottled water. We charged our phones by running the car on idle (thank goodness for the car charger cord). These things might seem adequate to preserve life and sanity. Well, yes to preserving life, but our sanity was sorely tried as we learned how vulnerable we are (and always have been while ignoring it).
Safety and survival can turn on a dime. Lounging slothful TV watchers one minute and fumbling frightened fools in the dark the next. Gotta give the Boy Scouts their due, “Be Prepared” is definitely the way to go. There is no way you can beat Mother Nature or the laws of physics when the chips are down. How soon will I forget these immutable rules? In this emergency many in our neighborhood checked in with each other. Large trucks that could get through to Cloverdale or Boonville brought supplies back to those of us with non-4 wheel drive cars. On Thursday night 75 cars were caught in a snowy high spot on Highway 128 coming or going to Cloverdale and slid off the road into snow banks where they had to abandon their cars. Benna and Danny Kolinsky's Son, Daughter-in-law and grandbaby were rescued then taken to Andres and Tiffany Avila’s house for warm food and an overnight before Benna could get through to take them to her house in Boonville.
I know about this because I saw Benna pacing in front of my house. Apparently someone had sent her to the wrong Avilas — Penny and Ramon my neighbors instead of Andres and Tiffany. Ramon immediately hopped into his big truck and lead her to the correct Avila door.
In her little passenger sedan I’m sure the drive to Yorkville was harrowing for Benna but nothing can stop a mom or a grandma. My landlords, Dee and John Pickus, were also heroes. Their son Josh (AVHS graduate) came after work on Friday from the East Bay braving very bad road conditions and talking his way through the road block in Cloverdale to arrive with his big truck. They were soon dragging small trees and brush off the road and then chainsawing the really big branches and hauling them off too. Other neighbors also joined the clearing team to whatever degree they could manage — the Avilas, Don, Gary, the Dudziks and the Sites. Bad times bring out the best in people.
Throughout the snow time I have been grateful for a tip my neighbor Stacey Alberto gave me. She’s very knowledgeable about cars and mechanics, so she advised me to go straight whenever possible as it’s when you are turning that sliding happens. Many friends and relatives offered us their homes for respite during the outage but our four cats (and the wild bird restaurant) kept us close to home. Contemplating how people lived in the pre-electricity days is mind-boggling. They needed tremendous amounts of firewood and they had no chainsaws! They said, “The wood heats you twice; once when you cut it and again when you burn it.” Ax, sledgehammer, crosscut saw and maul anyone? “A flick of the switch” has assumed new meaning. The mind becomes focused very quickly when the house starts to feel like the inside of the fridge, the tap runs dry and you are walking around with a headlamp that has fading batteries strapped to your head.
While it took awhile to realize there wasn’t going to be a quick fix, the cracking of limbs and explosive sound of big trees splitting and toppling soon sobered us to the reality of our situation. Finally the PG&E estimate for when power would be restored became our north star but it kept getting pushed out.
It was easy to feel downhearted and we did. The cruelest blow came to Kathy Borst, Sue Marcott and their neighbors who experienced restored power only to have it go out again for several more days. When those lights went back in our house on February 28th at 3:21 it was a moment of pure bliss. Strangely there was just a tiny tinge of regret that the adventure was over (we hope).
Snowmageddon 2023 will live on in memory for years to come. My landlady, Dee Pickus, has lived here 30 years and has never seen anything like this. Please don’t let this be just the first of many such outages. In the meantime we should be nice to each other because you just never know. (Photos provided by Penny Avila, at Yorkville’s Hill Ranch. And by Lori Dudzik on Big Oaks Drive in Yorkville.)
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this and thank you for the kind words. It could have been so much worse as the trees and tree limbs that went down miraculously missed all the cars and homes on Big Oaks Drive. One minor correction, my folks have lived there Yorkville since 1979, so 43 years!