HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
July 9, 2007, Herald Journal

1999 4th of July was destructive


The last remaining tree damaged in the 1999 Fourth of July blow down at our cabin in northern Minnesota is dying.

We thought the poplar was going to survive because only the top half of the tree had branches broken off. Another heavy tree had blown down on top of it.

The top half was dead, though, and broke off in a big gust of wind at the end of June this year. Fortunately, nothing else was damaged.

The 1999 Fourth of July blow down was another story. It damaged more than just the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It also included large swaths of northern Minnesota. Our family was up at the cabin near Akeley for the holiday weekend that year.

The night before the storm was oddly hot. Usually, when the sun goes down, the temperature drops. The guys, who had gone fishing until midnight, cleaned their catches, and went swimming about 2 a.m. in an attempt to cool off. The rest of us lay awake in the breathlessly hot cabin waiting for morning.

When morning finally arrived, my sister-in-law and her husband left to go to church in town. My nephew’s wife began fixing waffles for breakfast.

Instead of getting lighter, however, the sky got darker. The darkness seemed thicker than nighttime darkness. If you reached your hand into it, it seemed as if you could feel it.

When the storm hit, at first we saw huge waves in the lake, horizontal rain, and trees bending over from the wind. But as it got worse, we saw nothing at all.

Then, the power went out. My nephew’s wife had just filled the waffle iron with batter. To this day, no one knows what happened to that last waffle, and how she got all that cold batter out of the iron.

The wind was so violent we could hear the trees hit the forest floor, one after another, wham, blam, wham. We huddled together in the doorway between the living room and hallway, because we thought that was the strongest part of the building.

Minnesota lost thousands, maybe a million trees in that storm. After the storm ended, we heard that Champion trees east of Walker, those more than 300 years old, had been toppled in the blow down.

A huge tree fell and totaled my nephew’s pickup truck, broke off the corner of the roof of the cabin, and cracked the windshield on our car. Another tree was left hanging in a power line over the rest of our vehicles. One by one, we carefully drove the cars out from under the dangling tree.

My sister-in-law and husband knew there had been a bad storm because the electricity went out in town, too. They tried to drive back to the cabin after church. So many trees had fallen into the road, though, that they abandoned their car, and walked back.

It took months to chainsaw all the fallen trees around the cabin and clear away the debris. Now, the last remaining tree is biting the dust.