When Trees Lose Power, So Do We

Scott Gilman
7 min readFeb 26

With our climate changing before our eyes, we collectively need to adapt — or suffer the consequences.

Photo by Scott Gilman (taken from inside the morning of the storm)

From inside, it seemed the ice-coated trees glimmered and shined in silence. Only upon going outside was the assumed muted stillness and quietude of a cold winter morning betrayed.

The snaps and cracks from strained branches were a cacophony of cries, each minute another endurance test that so, so many limbs and indeed whole trees failed. Weeks later, sullen, empty, carved branches line streets, waiting for final disposal. More than 34,000 tons of tree debris have been removed. And that’s literally half of it.

On a second walk later that afternoon, the neighborhood was louder. More branches were audibly struggling, even more had fallen, some smashing cars and fences, others lying on top of roofs. Yards were littered with whole sections of tree. I tried moving a small branch from the middle of the road and was surprised at how heavy it was. No wonder so many branches were snapping.

Before returning inside I turned on my car, wanting the battery to get some run. Half of the radio stations were out. Checking my phone delivered the news that a friend had lost power, and that more and more outages were happening across the city.

I charged my devices and gave thanks for what I still had. Each time the heater turned on I held my breath. In bed, my sleep was restless, waiting and fearing for my turn to come. At 3:30 a.m. my computer and oven buzzed and beeped on and off, before finally giving in and going quiet and dark. The heat under the blankets was a blanket itself, but one that would eventually dissipate, its return unpredictable.

The magnolia, cedar, oak and other trees of Austin — totaling 34 million — cover 31% of the city. By comparison, Houston’s tree canopy covers 18% of the city, while the average coverage in Dallas is 29%. (New York City is at 22%, and Los Angeles averages around 21%.)

More than 10 million trees were impacted by the storm, a third of the city’s canopy. Is it a statistical coincidence that roughly the same percentage of the city’s residents lost power — or further evidence and proof of how inextricably linked we are to nature?

Scott Gilman

Thinking and writing about my place in the world, and making myself (and the world) a little bit better. I can be reached at scottmgilman@gmail.com.