Experiencing Windstorm, Earthquake, and an Eclipse

A fallen Pine tree from the night of April 3 in front of Margot and Jim Butler’s house on Park Avenue. Photo by Margot Butler.

Column – On my watch

By Anne W. Semmes

During the last 10 days earthbound and celestial events have impacted us residents of Greenwich, with a tree-felling windstorm, a rare earthquake, and a rare eclipse. Fallen trees have closed streets, and some nearly fell on houses. But luckily not as severe as that 2006 tornado that hit Bedford Road.

Unforgettable was how a tree fell on the late Alan Weeden’s house. My friends Alan and wife Barbara were upstairs, each at one end of a hall when the tree crashed through the roof, separating husband and wife, but sparing their lives. The extent of tree losses on their property was also unforgettable, also seen on the nearby Gerrish Milliken property.

A week ago, on April 3, a Wednesday night when Greenwich was hit by a deluge of rain and a windstorm blowing nearly 60 miles an hour, a tall Pine tree was uprooted before Margot and Jim Butler’s house on Park Avenue, but fortunately fell away from their house, sparing them. And, according to Tree Warden Greg Kramer, the windstorm had closed or partially blocked some 23 roadways in town “due to fallen trees.” The Parks Department had received some 60-plus “Storm calls” involving private trees – with ninety percent involving utility lines.

A week ago Friday morning, April 5, I was sitting within an “Admissions Tour” group at Suny’s Purchase College with my high school senior granddaughter, daughter and son-in-law. The student tour guide was spelling out for the attending families the wonders of courses taught there when suddenly the building started shaking under us. Construction outside? “No, it’s a 4.8 earthquake,” reported a parent reading the news on her phone. “Well,” responded the student guide after the shaking, “Purchase also provides earthquakes!”

Other friends shared their earthquake encounters later at a friendly eclipse-viewing gathering this Monday afternoon in backcountry Greenwich. “I had just walked down the stairs and the washing machine was banging with the sheets in it on the dry cycle,” shared Susan Fisher. “When I got downstairs, all hell broke loose, and I thought the washing machine was walking across the floor.” “I was upstairs on my computer at 10:30 in the morning,” said Tim Werbe, “and I heard this rumbling outside, and my first reaction was it was a low flying aircraft from Westchester…And my window started to rattle. I looked out and I didn’t see anything. I went back to work and said, well, I must be imagining something.”

Dick Shulze was also at his computer when he heard a loud noise. “I knew immediately it was an earthquake. And I listened to my house creaking a little bit and I rushed to a window to look outside or to hear what was going on outside… And then I also experienced one of the aftershocks about four o’clock.” But Dick has experienced earthquakes “in Alaska since 1963.”

Perhaps Elise “Raindrops” Merrow, daughter of Easy Kelsey who was co-hosting the eclipse gathering with Susan Fisher, had the scariest share, in her five-floor walkup “prewar” apartment in New York City.

Hearing the earth quaking sound Merrow thought, “The neighbors had just taken it one step too far and gotten a washing machine right over my head.” But she found her bathroom also shaking. So, she hurried upstairs to find her neighbor’s kitchen shaking. “And I’m like oh my God.” The neighbor gets a call from a friend in Columbus Circle. “He’s up in a building and its totally moving!” All the while Raindrops’ mom Easy Kelsey of Kelsey Farm was in her barn on a horse. “I didn’t feel a thing,” she told “and the horse didn’t react. Isn’t that strange? But then we were on dirt in there. Really amazing.”

A progressing moon across the sun as uniquely captured by Susan Fisher. Photo by Anne W. Semmes.

So, we were curious as the eclipse slowly began to lessen the sunshine, would the visiting Springer Spaniel react? No anxious movement – he was happy lying under the food laden table. And what about those horses out in the pasture? When the light was shining early evening-like, would they be heading back to the barn? No, they were happily positioned out of sight. The birds did quiet down a bit. But as the eclipse decreased bird song was heard.

With some shortage of solar eclipse glasses for the dozen and more viewers, there was much sharing, and struggling to work the iPhone covering the glass lens to grab photos of that shrinking sun. No one had told us of its trajectory in our location, with the moon entering the sun about five o’clock then moving in and up until there was just a narrow crescent of sun when the moon then began veering up and over to the right, leaving us without that total eclipse.

During it all we were often disciplined by host Easy holding up her arm to halt our talking, to be silent in such wonder, but it was hard not to speak out on what we were witnessing! And it was dangerous when trying to take that photo with our iPhone when we would accidentally look at the sun for a second. And yikes, that image would linger for a while, every time we blinked!

Afterwards, it was a bit envy making, seeing and hearing all those exultant reports from those in the Texas path of totality of the rapture of seeing a total solar eclipse. Some of our chat in our gathering was in daring each other to live another 20-plus years for the next eclipse opportunity. But come right down to it all it was the sharing of such an historic event that was so happy making. The sharing of an experience of such a natural phenomenon, of seeing light move to darkness, and back to light was the delight!

A friendly eclipse gathering co-hosted by Easy Kelsey at far end in red and Susan Fisher out of sight in backcountry on April 8. Photo by Anne W. Semmes.
Elizabeth Ruland observing the eclipse through a safe viewing box. Photo by Anne W. Semmes.
Town-collected tree debris from April 3 seen at the transfer station at the Town Dump. Photo by Anne W. Semmes.
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