Cambrian: Slice of Life

A stormy nighttime in the cone zone

We were experiencing the first big storm in our Top-of-the-World home on a rain-drenched, wind-tossed Tuesday, Oct. 13.

Bang! Crash! It’s proving to be a slightly daunting but informative adventure, one that reminds us about some less-publicized hazards of living surrounded by trees, especially our beloved Monterey pines.


We’re well versed about the fire danger of living in a forest and the odds and hazards of having a tree fall on a Cambria house or car. Heaven knows, I’ve written about those traumas in these pages often enough.

Clatter! Clatter! Bang-bang!

But we forgot about the pinecones.

In winds of nearly 40 mph, the trees were tossing their seedy grenades at us with fearsome regularity, much as an angry crowd of theatergoers used to toss elderly tomatoes and eggs at a bad performer.

With dozens of pines on our property, we have plenty of ’cones. Some are as big as cantaloupes, but are much, much harder. In windy weather, even without a storm, a smart person would wear her hard hat when strolling around the neighborhood, or she’d risk a concussion from being bopped on the noggin by a piney missile.

As the storm rages and the staccato pelting increases, our admiration expands for the stubbornness of squirrels and jays. Imagine having to dig your dinner out of a pinecone!

At our previous home on Marine Terrace, the only big trees were two huge cypress that stayed green and secure through droughts and floods, thanks to roots we suspected went down below sea level and partway to China.

Pines and eucalyptus are different, oh yes.

During windy days now, when I look up through the skylights and see euc boughs waving and pine-tree trunks bending, it’s a bit distracting … worrisome, even. I know how shallow their roots are. In this fierce onslaught of a storm, we wonder if our trees will stay upright, as they have for decades, or if we soon will be digging out from under a tangle of branches and repairing damage from a 3-foot-around, 100-foot-tall falling log.

It’s a roll-of-the-dice part of living inside a forest. And talking about it feels a tad risky for the superstitious, rather like musing about flat tires and dead batteries before taking off on a long car trip.We watch the storm’s fury at dusk. The drenching rain is horizontal, driven by relentlessly stiff winds and hard gusts.

Branches on our favorite little, lacy eucalyptus tree — the ones that always wave in the slightest breeze — are now flailing like the arms of a hyperactive orchestra conductor. The many trunks of a split eucalyptus tree wiggle and wobble like an octopus with an itch it can’t reach.

We can’t see the ocean today because, way up here in the Top of the World neighborhood, we’re in the clouds, not under them.

The wind growls in the fireplace chimney. We hope the damper is firmly closed (we don’t light wood fires because of Richard’s asthmatic reactions to the smoke). Sigh. It’s too late to check it now. Still, we are warm, snug and grateful for the security of our new abode. We hope our neighborhood cats and wildlife are similarly safe and secure.

Surprise! Even though the power is out, our little gas-fired stove just came on. We didn’t know it would do that without electricity. What a delight! The flames flicker and dance, mimicking the turbulent tree ballet going on outside. Warmth spreads through the main room. Lovely.

As night falls, we are ready. Our miner’s-type LED headlamps are hanging around our necks so we’re ready to read a book, fix dinner or work with well-lit ease. A tiny spot flashlight hangs around my wrist on a springy bracelet designed for keys. Lanterns cast soft light in various spots, highlighting stray walls and other things we know full well are there, but haven’t yet memorized to the point where avoiding them is instinctive in the dark.


The scene is eerily beautiful out there and cozy inside, but in this tail end of a typhoon, we could be in for a long, dark, pinecone-peppered night.


Earplugs, anyone?

E-mail Kathe Tanner at