Posts Tagged ‘flood’

Rosslyn Boathouse Free from Toppling Ash

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain on June 27, 2011 at 2:11 pm
Ash tree undermined by Lake Champlain flood

Ash tree undermined by Lake Champlain flood

Remember the Lake Champlain flood? The good news is that flooding is abating. Rapidly. In fact the water’s “fallen” to normal spring flood stage… Which means that we’re finally catching up on the damaged waterfront, repairing the boathouse, installing docks and boat hoist, etc. You may remember that large ash tree was undermined by the flood and was beginning to topple down over top of the boathouse. Not good. You may also remember that local arborist Mark Sauslgiver decided to install a tension line from high in the tree to the guardrail north of the boathouse. The idea was that in the event the trees roots gave way and the tree toppled, the line would pull the falling tree northward, sparing the boat house.

I liked the idea. Sounded good. Looked good when I drew a little diagram on paper. But, I’d be lying if I claimed that I was 100% confident it would work. That’s a big tree, and I had a difficult time imagining a static line enduring a fall much less staying taught and pulling thousands of pounds of gravity-fueled ash anywhere other than straight down. On top of the boathouse, the pier, and the railings. But, turns out Mark knew his tension lines.

Today his crew removed the tree, piece by piece, sending massive chunks of wood down a “zip line” to the curb or New York State Route 22 where they could be cut up and/or chipped. The entire affair was a success!

I’m deeply saddened to lose a mature, healthy tree that offered much appreciated shade in the heat of summer and served as a charming frame for images of the boathouse. But I am overjoyed that the tree was removed before gravity won. And I’ve been assured that sooner or later it would.

I’ll add a short video soon!


Ed Pais visits Rosslyn Boathouse

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story? on June 13, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Edward Pais was a classmate of mine at Deerfield Academy from 1986 to 1990, and he now practices architecture in Burlington, Vermont. Despite being out of touch for more than two decades we recently reconnected via Facebook. Ed joined the Rosslyn Redux Facebook page and he’s offered ongoing feedback about our boathouse during the Lake Champlain flooding. Recently he offered to come over and take a look. Needless to say, I eagerly accepted his offer.

We started out with a delicious lunch at Essex Provisions overlooking the still flooded marinas, then headed back to Rosslyn to take a look at the boathouse. Ed’s reaction was encouraging, and despite pushing him into engineering territory a couple of times, I mostly listened and took mental notes. He reminded me that he’s an architect and not an engineer, but repeatedly expressed his confidence in the work of Engineering Ventures in Burlington. Paul Hobbs who handled most of the structural engineering for the boathouse renovation repeatedly impressed with his keen mind, so Ed’s confidence was not misplaced. That said, I do intend to follow up with Hobbs and/or Jeffords Steel to ascertain whether or not the beams which support the suspended pier were fabricated out of COR-TEN or a similar weather resistant steel.

Ed’s recommendation to quickly and aggressively treat the mold situation was highlighted in a follow-up message after his visit. He suggested that we should remove the baseboards to inspect for mold. He linked me to helpful information “Cleaning Mold on Wood” that confirms that we’ve been remediating the post-flood mold situation appropriately.

The molds seen on lumber are largely a collection of fungal spores on the surface of the wood. Wet wiping and scrubbing the lumber will remove the mold. But simply wiping the wood can release spores into the surrounding air. A better approach is to gently spray or wet down the mold prior to removal.

There are a number of products on the market, ranging from common bleach to commercial mildewcides, which are promoted for cleaning mold from wood. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests using a mild detergent and water for most mold clean up. The EPA recommends wet vacuuming the area, wiping or scrubbing the mold with detergent and water and, after drying, vacuuming with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum.

Common bleach and water can be used for cleaning mold. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using a solution of 10 parts water to one part bleach to clean mold from surfaces. (Western Wood Products Association)

Huge thanks, Ed, for taking the time to coach me through the latest challenge! I really appreciate it.

After De’s departure my parents joined us for dinner. They’ve just returned to the Adirondacks from Chicago for the summer, so grilling and dining al fresco seemed like the perfect way to launch their summer. While showing my mother the recovering boathouse, I asked if she remembered Ed Pais from Deerfield. She did! She recounted a story that I’d never known. My brother, two years younger than I, had come to Deerfield for his admissions interview. Although he already knew his way around because he had visited me frequently, he decided to take the admissions office campus tour anyway. His tour guide was Ed Pais! When we got back to the house I asked my father if he remembered Ed Pais, and he immediately told me the same story! Ed, must have made quite an impression…

Friends, Flooding and Photos

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on June 1, 2011 at 10:49 pm
Stephen Phillips field sketch and notes of Rosslyn shoreline/road condition

Stephen Phillips' field sketch and notes of Rosslyn shoreline and road condition on Friday, May 27, 2011

This afternoon Essex neighbor Stephen Phillips stopped by to help assess the damage to Rosslyn boathouse caused by week after week after week of flooding. Having run a large contracting company for many years, his perspective is valuable and his offer of assistance welcome. In this photo he’s sitting on the stairway down to the boathouse with my bride, waiting for me to don waders and trudge out to the partially submerged boathouse.

Stephen Phillips and Susan Bacot-Davis

Susan Bacot-Davis and Stephen Phillips

He spent the better part of an hour examining the structure, asking questions and advising us on how to proceed. We took plenty of notes! The good news is that the structure remains sound, and damage so far has been minimal. Unfortunately we identified increasing surface mold, especially prevalent on fir bead board that must have received less oil sealer than neighboring planks. Most boards are okay, but several are covered in green, gray and black fuzzy mold!

Beneath the water level inside and outside, everything is covered in slippery, green algae. We hope that this will be easy enough to remove with a pressure washer once the water retreats. At the very least we’ll need to re-seal and repaint all of the surfaces that have been saturated for the better part of two months. And until the water level falls another 18″ or so, we’ll need to continue monitoring the waterfront from large debris, trees, etc. Constant vigilance and quick log wrangling has saved the structure significant damage so far, but Steve was quick to remind us that even one of the large trees afloat in Lake Champlain combined with wind and wave action could devastate the boathouse. As if we needed the reminder!

George Davis in Rosslyn boathouse on May 16, 2011, photo credit Kathryn Cramer

George Davis in Rosslyn boathouse on May 16, 2011. (photo credit Kathryn Cramer)

On the bright side, he explained in impressive detail what is happening with the collapsing road. Have I mentioned this previously? Perhaps only on the Rosslyn Redux Facebook Page… That image at the top of this post is a sketch and notes he prepared last Friday when he came by to speak with the New York State DOT engineers who were preparing to stabilize the badly eroding bank. Actually, it turned out that the erosion was far more severe than he could ascertain, completely eliminating most of the embankment and undermining the road. The pavement began to crack in deep fissures running parallel to the lake as the weight of the road cause it to settle and slough.

The remedy involved 250 tons — approximately ten tandem dump truck loads — of riprap dumped over the side of the road to arrest further erosion and stabilize the road. I’ll share some video footage soon which reveals the current status of the waterfront and road including the riprap “armor”. The DOT is continuing to monitor the road to determine whether or not additional stabilization will be necessary. In the event that the road continues to settle, the next step will be to install a steel sheet pile retaining wall. Steve’s explanation for why this would be advantageous was convincing, but we are hoping against hope that it will not be necessary to mar this historic waterfront with a steel retaining wall.

Steve offered to assist us in deciphering the potentially complex decisions ahead, and suggested that we should consider this an opportunity to permanently address the long term stability and safety of the waterfront. I appreciate his optimistic perspective, and my bride and I have sent  out cosmic “Thank you!” vibes all afternoon.

Thanks also are due another friend and Champlain Valley writer/editor/blogger, Kathryn Cramer (@KathrynC), who has been doing an outstanding job of documenting Lake Champlain’s aquatic antics over the last couple of months. Full stop. Kathryn Cramer has done an outstanding job of documenting Lake Champlain for the last couple of years! That goofy picture of yours truly standing inside the boathouse in the earlier days of the flood was taken during her first visit to our soggy waterfront. She’s been back at least once, and even helped pull some driftwood up from the lake.

Kathryn’s support and understanding in recent weeks has been a big morale booster, and he exhaustive coverage of the 2011 Lake Champlain floods is simply unparalleled. I hope she’ll curate her many photos into an exhibition once we’ve all recovered from the damage. It would make for a fascinating chronicle!

Rosslyn boathouse transcending Lake Champlain floodwaters. (photo credit, Jill Piper)

Rosslyn boathouse transcending Lake Champlain floodwaters. (photo credit Jill Piper)

Although most photographs of Lake Champlain flooding in general and of Rosslyn‘s flooded waterfront in particular emphasize the dire and depressing, a spectacular counterpoint was recently shared by Jill Piper, the creative eye and lens behind Her photograph of our boathouse wading up to her knees in Lake Champlain was published on Facebook with the following caption:

…and the sun sets on another day under… fingers and toes crossed for a hot sunny week!!!

Ah, yes, another day under water, but optimism flowed easily after viewing her handsome image. In fact, unless you look closely at the lower left border (or recognize the submerged Old Dock Restaurant, visible in the distance), you might not even notice that the boathouse is flooded. A trick of the eye, but soon, I hope, the floorboards will be visible once again. And then we can set to work with pressure washer and paint brushes to restore her to her former glory. Thank you, Jill, for reminding us to smile, and for reminding us that being underwater (or not) is just a matter of cropping!

Did I mention that Steve Phillips told us all of the electrical system, outlets, fixtures, etc. would need to be opened up and inspected? Sigh…

Re-roofing and Flood Proofing

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on May 13, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Rosslyn boathouse when re-roofing was 50% complete in the summer of 2010

Rosslyn boathouse when re-roofing was 50% complete in the summer of 2010

Last summer (June-July 2010) our biggest concern with Rosslyn’s boathouse was restoring the roof. It’s hard to imagine that a year later our biggest concern is saving the building, pier and waterfront from finally-receding-but-increasingly-rough Lake Champlain flood waters! What better way to distract our anxieties than to look back on drier times?

The cedar shingle was suffering from many years of neglect. Covered with moss and rotted completely through in many areas, it was possible to watch clouds passing overhead (and fireworks) by standing in the second story and looking through the rot spots in the roof! Friend and former neighbor Michael Leslie headed up the project of stripping the expired shingles, rebuilding the rotted beams, sub-roof and related trim including the window overlooking the lake. The following comes from a blog post last July as we rounded the halfway mark.

The hardest part of re-shingling Rosslyn dock house is now behind us. Special thanks to Michael Leslie, Jerry Spooner and Jim Spooner for their progress so far.

In a bizarre twist, David Hislop asked me yesterday, “What’s the story with the dock house?” Hmmm… The story? Well, that’s what I’m writing: Rosslyn Redux. Coming soon to a digital download near you. 😉 Turns out he was referring to the roof. “People are asking why you’re re-roofing it AGAIN.” Again? Apparently a half dozen people have asked him this question. Easy answer. We’re not. It hasn’t been re-shingled since the early/mid 1980’s, but after a quarter century of rain, snow, ice, sun and wind, many of the shingles have rotted through and the roof is leaking, especially the southern exposure. We’d known that we would eventually have to strip the old shingles, but we had delayed as long as practical. Let’s hope the new roof lasts as long as the old one!

Although the re-roofing project took considerably longer than anticipated (this formula has become the rule rather than the exception during the process of renovating Rosslyn), it was worth every second when the beautiful work was complete. And doubly so last winter when snowstorms battered the little structure and again this spring when rain lashed at the roof. For the first time since buying this property in the summer of 2006 my bride and I could stop worrying about the boathouse that seduced us half a decade ago! The foundation had been restored. The structure had been restored. And now the roof had been restored. Life was good…

Perhaps we were too pleased? Perhaps hubris slipped into our homeowner psyche’s? Perhaps. Or perhaps nature’s far more powerful and far more fickle and unpredictable than we can possibly imagine. I’ve commented elsewhere that nature is a formidable foe and a loyal friend. I genuinely believe this, and yet this spring has reminded me that a boathouse built on a pier in the waters of a lake is not natural. It is a valuable architectural artifact. It is an indulgence. But it is not natural. And despite my resolve to balance my lifestyle with healthy stewardship of the natural environment, I never before stopped to contemplate how unnatural this structure really is. Although I’d likely discourage construction of a new albeit similar structure in fragile habitat like Lake Champlain, I never once stopped to consider Rosslyn’s beautiful boathouse a violation of nature because it already existed. It’s part of the architectural heritage of Essex, NY. In fact, we felt a responsibility to restore the boathouse. Indeed I still do, despite my newfound recognition that it contradicts my conventional bias.

Life is complex, and contradictions are everywhere. I don’t pretend to know all the right answers, nor even very many of them. But I’m beginning to suspect that the silver lining of Lake Champlain’s destructive flooding this spring is that I’ve been forced me to recognize and grapple with the contradiction in preserving Rosslyn’s boathouse despite the potentially adverse environmental impact. It has reminded me that conviction is handy but not infallible, that conviction must be balanced with questioning and humility.

So, I’m finally flood proofing my optimism! I’m still soggy and still anxious about the waves rolling through the interior of the boathouse and crashing against the rapidly eroding bank supporting Route 22, but I’m beginning to see that the glass is half full after all. And Lake Champlain? It’s still overfull!

Boathouse in Early 1990s

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on May 4, 2011 at 4:51 pm
Rosslyn Boathouse, by Bill Amadon

Rosslyn Boathouse, by Bill Amadon

I’ve just concluded a Champlain Area Trails (CATS) board meeting on a high note. Or, to be more precise, a fellow board member finished the meeting on a high note by handing me this handsome painting of our boathouse during drier times.

Bill Amadon, master gardener, trail builder and painter, has created several other romantic images that adorn Rosslyn’s walls, but the timing for this image couldn’t have better. After a difficult week of record-breaking Lake Champlain water levels flooding Rosslyn’s boathouse, Amadon’s painting reminds us of the structures past and future. Soggy today, this weather-worn icon will endure long into the future.

Today I noticed Amadon photographing the flooded boathouse before our meeting. I wonder if he’ll memorialize the flood with another beautiful painting. And if so, hopefully we’ll be able to look back on the history making floods of 2011 with nostalgia. But for now, we’re still struggling to get through the high water risks. This morning my bride and Doug Decker, the carpenter-turned-jack-of-all-trades-handyman who caretakes Rosslyn removed about 2,000 pounds of waterlogged driftwood, tree trunks and miscellaneous debris floating from our waterfront.

As we pack our bags for four days in the Utah desert, our feelings have been mixed. On the one hand, we welcome the escape from rain and flooding. On the other, we depart with heavy hearts, anxious with the knowledge that we won’t be here to intervene if the wind picks up and the waves begin to batter the submerged boathouse and shoreline. A 40-50 food tree with a trunk almost 18″ thick lurks just south of the boathouse, too heavy and too entangled in shoreline brush to be removed. Heavy winds out of the south could dislodge the tree and heave it repeatedly against the boathouse. The damage would be grave. Or a heavy wind out of the east could further erode the banks that are already badly undermined and failing. Large trees are at risk of collapsing into the lake, and the pavement of Route 22 which runs above the bank is already cracking as the lakeside begins to collapse.

These are the worries. These are the anxieties. And yet we are leaving. Our trip had been scheduled long before the floods, and we’re unable to change or cancel them. And so we throw ourselves upon the mercy of nature and our friends to preserve our property. Doug will spend the days until we return on Monday evening working upstairs in the boathouse, finishing trim woodwork and oiling the fir beadboard. He’ll be able to keep a close watch on the wind and waves and debris. If circumstances threaten, he will attempt to remedy the problem by redirecting or removing logs. Or by resecuring materials that are loosened by the waves. If conditions worsen further, several friends have offered to come and help out. In short, our friends and neighbors are lending a hand. So we can depart tomorrow morning confident that those who care about us, those who care about the boathouse and property will intervene if needed.

Amadon’s painting provided just the confidence boost I needed to board the plane, a memory rekindled for what the boathouse looked like in the past and what it will hopefully look like again this summer. Thanks to all who’ve helped us through this experience!

Need a Hand?

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on May 1, 2011 at 11:09 am
Rosslyn boathouse and dock section

Rosslyn boathouse in distance, upended 16' dock section in foreground

“Hey!” I looked up toward Route 22 and saw C.G. Stephens climbing over the guardrail. “Need a hand?”

It was the first time since our boathouse and waterfront had been submerged that anyone had offered assistance.

“Thanks. I really appreciate it,” I answered. I wanted to run up the hill and hug him, tell him how good it felt to be asked. But I didn’t. I was waist deep in thirty eight degree lake water, propping a portable dock up on the stone terrace to keep it from floating away. “Actually, I’m pretty good now. But thanks.”

Two sections of aluminum docking had gotten twisted and battered by waves and floating logs, and this morning the larger of the two had been knocked over the lowest stone retaining wall and lay upended on the submerged beach. Because the water’s now over my head on the beach and my waders only reach up to my chest, I had to work carefully from the terrace above the beach, slowly hauling the dock back up, waves and gravity working against me.

Doorless and flooded Rosslyn boathouse

Can't fight nature! Doorless, flooded Rosslyn boathouse.

Before recovering the docks I waded through the boathouse. We’re no longer able to shut the main door because the water has swollen the bottom half too much to fit in the doorjamb. The water’s now thirteen inches deep inside, covering the first step and part of the second step leading up to the second floor. The two louvered doors leading out to the pier on the lake side had been battered all night by the waves, and the hinges were ripping. The temporary fastener we’d used to secure the doors was gauging the waterlogged wood. I released the doors and opened them wide, holding one side back with a rope and the other side back with a large stone. Now the water is surging through the inside of the boathouse, still tugging the doors against their restraints, but hopefully the damage will be less severe with them open.

C.G. and I stood on the bank for a few minutes, talking about the water level, the flooding and the beautiful morning. He said goodbye and headed back up to his big pickup truck idling on the shoulder of the road.

“Thanks for stopping,” I said as he left.

I took a few photos and headed back up to the house to find my bride.

“I’ve just had one of those Ah-ha! moments,” I explained. I told her about C.G. stopping and offering to help. “I finally realize what’s been bugging me; nobody’s offered a hand.”

I’ve been practically morose for the last few days as Lake Champlain water levels climbed and climbed and climbed. I assumed it was just an emotional reaction to watching our dreams and hard work getting swallowed up by floodwaters. An investment under water. After all, it was the boathouse that had pulled my imagination ever since I was a boy. It was the boathouse that had seduced us and won our hearts each time we visited the house with our realtor. It was the boathouse which had provoked a disproportionate amount of anxiety during renovation, which had posed three years of permitting and engineering and construction challenges, which had drained our coffers and strained relationships with contractors. It was the boathouse that most represented the lifestyle choice which compelled us to leave Manhattan and begin a new life in Essex. It was the boathouse which starred in recent memories of swimming and waterskiing and windsurfing and kayaking with our nieces, nephews, family and friends. It is the boathouse that is celebrated by local artists in exhibition after exhibition. It is the boathouse that adorns postcards and book covers and brochures and newspaper articles over the last hundred years. It is the historic boathouse that was resuscitated by the inspiration and perspiration of so many people over the last few years. Obviously watching the water swallow it up is unnerving. And waking up in the middle of the night, hearing the wind, worrying that the waves will unleash a floating log like a battering ram against the walls or the columns or the railings…

But three words, “Need a hand?”, illuminated the lightbulb for me. Literally hundreds of friends and strangers have stopped to photograph the submerged waterfront and boathouse. Emails, Facebook messages, Twitter tweets and photographs have flooded in. Sincere condolences and flip observations have lightened the mood. Even a few aesthetic and philosophical reflections have attempted to reframe the scenario. “But until C.G. stopped, nobody’s offered assistance. Is that strange to you?”

My bride listened. She agreed. She’d noticed the same thing.

“And, CG, though I’ve known him for at least twenty years, maybe more, isn’t even a particularly close friend. He’s more of an acquaintance, not somebody I would’ve bothered with a request for help.”

Susan told me that on Friday night over pizza at Dogwood, one of her closest friends had dismissed the flooded boathouse with a cavalier, “Oh, you can always rebuild it.”

Right. We can always rebuild it.

Rosslyn boathouse with Kestrel

Rosslyn boathouse with Kestrel

Only, we can’t. Rosslyn’s boathouse is historic, built most likely in the late 1800s. It is a part of the historic architectural heritage of Essex, NY. History can not be rebuilt. It can be replaced with a facsimile.

Only, in the case of Rosslyn’s boathouse, it probably could not. Having been through the complex, multi-authority permitting needed for our original rehabilitation of the boathouse, I can say that if it were dismantled beyond repair, it is very likely that we would not be granted permission to rebuild it. New structures of this sort in the Adirondack Park have been disallowed for many years, and depending on the degree of damage to the structure, rebuilding is not a foregone conclusion.

And even if it were, the time, labor and material resources alone would be prohibitive. Flood insurance has not been an option. It is a boathouse after all. And even though there is absolutely no historic precedent for Lake Champlain to flood this high, insurance does not offer the safety net that it might for our house or carriage barn.

And then there is the human capital that it took to rehabilitate this structure. Mine. My bride’s. Several engineers. Between three and four dozen contractors, carpenters, laborers, painters and landscapers. Literally thousands and thousands of hours. Sweat and patience and dreams. People working in some of the most challenging conditions — forming and pouring concrete in freezing water; steel construction in snowy, windy winter; roof shingling and copper flashing in scorching summer — to save and restore a building that has greeted Essex residents and visitors for well over a century.

In other words, we can’t “just rebuild it.” And the notion that a close friend who witnessed Rosslyn’s rehabilitation from beginning to end wouldn’t see that surprised us both.

Why the self-pitying post?

Actually, it’s not self-pitying. Or, hopefully it’s not. I realize I’ve flown pretty close to the woe-is-me frontier, but I’ve tried to stay out of the No Fly Zone. I’m not asking for pity. Frankly, I’m not asking for a hand. Not yet. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and my psychic energy focused like a laser beam on dry, windless days until Lake Champlain’s water level drops two feet.

We’re resilient. A boathouse is a luxury, a folly, a non-essential, but we’re confident and optimistic that our funny little building on a pier in Essex will endure the flood, take on a handsome weathered patina and slip soon into the realm of “Remember when…”

So, if this isn’t a self-pitying post, what’s the take-away? If you’re a corporate speak aficionado, the take-away is empathy trumps apathy. Every time. And consider offering a hand when your friends might need it, even if you think they’ll decline, even if you’re not sure how you can help. Intention needs no translation.

On that note, if you’re anywhere near Essex, NY or Westport, NY consider offering a hand to the Old Dock Restaurant, Essex Shipyard & Rudder Club, Essex Marina, Normandie Beach Resort, Westport Marina and Camp Dudley. All of them are coping with Lake Champlain flooding, and even if they decline your offer of assistance, I suspect they will be genuinely flattered that you offered.

And, to close on a less preachy note, here are some of the more unique messages that I’ve received over the last few days:

  • “Global warming.” ~ Charlie Davis
  • “People pay a lot of money to have an indoor pool… I hope it’s heated.” ~ Michelle Rummel
  • “I got some great photos with the ducks swimming by, though. It’s all in the name of art…” ~ Catherine Seidenberg
  • “So sorry about your boathouse! Those pictures were so beautiful and so sad!” ~ Elena Borstein
  • “Maybe you can start your own ferry service – is it time to ski to Charlotte?” ~ Bobbi Degnan
  • “I suppose the bright side is that you can fish inside it…” ~ Paul Rossi
  • “I am all for starting a nice water taxi service, the Venice of the Adirondacks…” ~ Linda Coffin
  • “Still a beautiful boathouse even underwater.” ~ Matilde Busana
  • “Let’s all move to Flagstaff!” ~ Chris Casquilho
  • “I always thought it would be cool to live in that boat house with the lake and all… never quite meant it so literally though…” ~ Kevin Cooper
  • “Sad. But maybe there’s a children’s book there?” ~ Amy Guglielmo
  • “George is using him mind control on the lake. Watch it recede as he uses his awesome powers.” ~ Kathryn Cramer
  • “Heck, Catherine and I canoed through your boathouse today… We were very careful!” ~ Tom Duca

Soggy Soil Delays Planting

In Champlain Valley, Daily Munge, Gardens, Lake Champlain, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on April 29, 2011 at 7:21 pm
Doug Decker tilling the vegetable garden

Doug Decker tilling the vegetable garden

With some Champlain Valley residents being evacuated by boat and the Wesport Marina totally flooded, we’re feeling fortunate that a submerged boathouse and waterfront is the extent of our flooding problems.

Although we have our work cut our for us when Lake Champlain water levels drop, another short-term challenge is the super saturated soil. Tilling the vegetable garden has been out of the question, planting more grape vines, fruit trees and shrubs likewise has been suspended lest we drown the roots. Last year, I planted spinach and radishes in the garden in mid-March, and my bride and I had been gorging on succulent baby spinach for weeks by this point. Not so this year. Some onions and leeks wintered over, but nothing new has been planted in the vegetable garden yet.

The 7.88 inches of rain that fell in April in Burlington is of course a record, and is a full five inches more that what normally falls in the month… The soil is saturated and completely unworkable for farmers, gardeners, vegetable growers and others… To let farmers catch up, we really need at least a couple weeks of warm, dry, sunny weather… (Burlington Free Press)

I received a call from Mr. Murphy, the gentleman who — with his son and sometimes his grandson — has done an unbelievable job of maintaining our lawns for the last two years. He wanted to know when to start mowing lawns for the season. He agreed that the ground was far too saturated and suggested we wait a couple of weeks. I agreed.

Frankly, I’ve agreed with almost every decision Mr. Murphy has made over the last two years. He’s a lawn master. And a weather master. He keeps track of the forecast and works around it, advancing or pushing back our lawn mowing each week per the rain forecast. And so far we’ve never once had an unmowed lawn for the weekend! And he’s nice as can be, always smiling, always ready to let me in on an amusing story or anecdote. He’s famous in these parts for his tomato plants. He raises many hundreds of plants and then sells them to friends and neighbors, donating the profits to the local animal shelter.

In short, I’m a big fan of Mr. Murphy, and when he told me that his greenhouse was flooded, I was sympathetic as only a sunken boathouse owner could be. Water, water everywhere! We’re all ready for a drought…

Blooming hyacinth perfume the air

Hyacinth perfume the air outside our breakfast room

Actually, today I took matters into my own hands. Despite the notion that a couple of dry weeks would be needed to till and plant, I jumped the gun. Rising lake water had gotten its talons into my spirit, so I decided to ignore the flood and enjoy the first balmy spring day in a while gardening, pruning, landscaping. And you know what? It worked! I only wish I’d tried this approach a few days ago. Maybe Lake Champlain wouldn’t have risen so high.

Doug and I spent part of the morning changing over the tractor from snow plow to backhoe, and then proceeded to rip out a lumber retaining wall at the southeast corner of the old clay tennis court. I suspected that the area contained objectionable refuse (a battery and part of a garden hose had floated to the surface) and the wall had been built altogether too close to the carriage barn resulting in sill and framing rot. I’ll tell the story of what we discovered in another post.

Then we tilled the garden under for the second time, adding plenty of sphagnum moss to help lighten the soil. We were premature. The tines clogged repeatedly, but we made it through which will help the soil dry out. Tomorrow I’m hoping to make another pass and possibly — I dare not pronounce my wish lest I tempt the rain fates — just possibly I’ll be able to plant some spinach and kale. I’d hoped to have the vegetable garden so much further along by now because of some ambitious plans. We’re relocating the asparagus patch from south of the carriage barn to back by the vegetable garden. The strawberry beds will also be moved. And the rhubarb. And blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are arriving in a couple of weeks to be planted. None of these beds have been prepared yet.

But today marked the first major step forward in preparing the vegetable and fruit gardens. And tomorrow, weather permitting, I intend to continue full steam ahead! Fingers crossed…

Lake Champlain vs. Rosslyn Boathouse

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on April 29, 2011 at 9:10 am
Rosslyn boathouse is flooded

Rosslyn boathouse is flooded (6:00am April, 29, 2011)

We knew it would happen sooner or later. But like so many inevitable but dreaded events, we’d wrapped ourselves in a warm comforter of denial. And four springs slipped quickly past since purchasing Rosslyn without the boathouse getting flooded. Sure, we’ve had plenty of high water, but the water’s never risen above the floorboards. In fact, the highest it had ever gotten was about 9-12″ below the floorboards!

Not this year. Lake Champlain‘s water level has risen quickly in recent weeks due in part to seasonal spring melt after an extremely snowy winter and spring. But spring rains are the real culprit. Lots and lots and lots of rain. We’ve been watching day by day as the water crept up, reassuring ourselves that it must be cresting soon… Only it wasn’t. It’s still rising. About another 5″ inches since yesterday afternoon, bringing it to about one foot in the last 24 hours. That’s fast! But slow enough for us to clear out the items that don’t play well with water. Which put a dent in Doug’s carpentry work upstairs, finishing up the trim and oiling the fir. We also had to shut down all electric. Which makes for a dark and eerie lair in the evening. A bit like a flooded tunnel. Interesting photos though…

Most of the drama surrounds the boathouse, especially since we’ve worked long and hard to restore it to health and happiness. But the waterfront is another big concern. Major erosion already, and that’s with relatively light wind and minimal wave action. Big wind and big waves could be catastrophic! Hoping against hope that the wind will remain calm and the waters will fall. Help me hope if you’ve got psychic horsepower to spare. Although we haven’t finished landscaping the entire waterfront, roughly a third (about 80′) looked great up until a few days ago. We’ve rebuilt the stone walls and planted a lawn on the terrace above the beach. The rear edge of the lawn, following the base of the next stone terrace had grown into a handsome daylily bed that stretched the full eighty feet. Spectacular in summer. Now virtually erased by drift wood grinding and churning in the waves. All hand planted. All pampered through the first season. All healthy and thriving earlier this week. All gone now. Memories. I can only hope that some of the bulbs are intact, floating around Lake Champlain, and that they will wash up on people’s beaches and surprise them this summer with heirloom blooms!

In the time it took me to whip up this post, the USGS has changed the Lake Champlain water level from 102.54″ to 102.61″ which happened over an interval of about three hours. So, still not cresting. And the sky has gone from sunny and clear to dark and cloudy. Storm clouds threatening. Wind rising…

Essex-Charlotte Ferry Flooded Out

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on April 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm
Essex-Charlotte Ferry closes due to flooding

Essex-Charlotte Ferry closes due to flooding

At 8:13 AM I received an email and text message from Lake Champlain Transportation notifying me (and all other ferry-watchers) the inevitable.

4/28/11 – Effective IMMEDIATELY – Charlotte, VTEssex, NY ferry crossing closed due to record high water until further notice…

I can’t say that I was surprised. After all, I took the ferry from Essex to Charlotte yesterday morning and returned from Charlotte to Essex about 6 hours later. Although the weather yesterday was spectacular, the water had risen a few inches in the time between my two ferry crossings. I commented to my bride last night that the ferry wouldn’t be running for long.

Lake Champlain Transportation’s Heather Stewarts says the ferry between Essex, New York and Charlotte, Vermont shut down because of high water: “The Essex dock is awash, so water is on top of the dock, so it is unsafe for vehicles to drive on and off the dock.” (VPR News)

Of course, if the ferry dock is under water, then Rosslyn boathouse isn’t far behind! As of mid-morning today, the water had risen about 6″ above the floor boards. I’ll be posting some photographs soon. Of course our fingers are crossed that the flood has crested, but a glimpse at the weather forecast — plus factoring in how high the rivers are running — and the odds are that we’re going to see Lake Champlain’s water level rise further.

Andy Nash of the National Weather Service says the lake has already passed 102 feet above sea level in Burlington. “That is a record for the Burlington Waterfront, and even the measurements up at Rouses Point are up at about 102 feet. The all time record that we have for 1869 is just 102.1 feet up at Rouses Point.” Continued rainfall and snowmelt will push the lake even higher. Nash expects the waters to rise as runoff makes its way to the lake over the next couple of days. “We’re getting into uncharted territory now with the lake being this high, and if we get some strong winds, and we get the wave action on top of that will make things worse, so any property, roads that are close to the lake, they’re at risk.” And it takes a long time for water to move out of Lake Champlain. So Nash expects the lake to will stay above flood stage for several weeks. (VPR News)

The good news? So far the winds have remained low, minimizing boathouse damage from large logs and other flotsam surging against the dock, railings and walls.

Boathouse Needs a Snorkel

In Boathouse, Champlain Valley, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on April 28, 2011 at 7:23 am
USGS Lake Champlain Water Level, April 28, 2011

USGS Lake Champlain Water Level, April 28, 2011

According to this USGS data for Lake Champlain we’re making history. To be more precise, Lake Champlain’s water levels are making history. That red line at the top of the graph is the historic high water mark set during spring flooding on April 27, 1993. And, as you can see, the blue “actual” recordings have already flickered above the red line a couple of times, though — as I understand it — these figures are not official. Yet. Not sure why. Nor when we’ll know the official water level, but I can assure you that Rosslyn boathouse is now swamped. And the lake is virtually windless and flat… Imagine what this afternoon will look like if/when the wind climbs into the high teens as forecast!

Fortunately there’s less debris floating around the boathouse today. I’m worried that heavy wave action combined with a large floating log or two acting as a battering ram against the boathouse superstructure could be devastating. We’ve witnessed the damage already when the water level was 18″ lower. I’ll head down when the rain abates to take some more images of the drowning boathouse to share with you. Until then, please send dry, windless vibes Essex-way. Thanks!

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