Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane-force Lessons

Yesterday, before twilight, I went out onto the back deck (which I'd completely cleared) and stood watching the trees in the woods behind my house bending almost sideways in the wind gusts. I have heard writers talk about what it means to truly experience the awesome force of nature and how it feels to be riveted to a spot despite (or maybe because of) the danger. Well, there it was.

The wind had a volcano-deep rumble I had never experienced and I could actually smell sea-salt in the air -- presumably spun up and trapped in the vortex of the massive storm as it had gathered force over the Atlantic, ever since Cuba -- even though my house is some sixty miles from the coast.

Camuccini: "Fallen Tree Trunk"
I turned from the woods to the massive split-trunked oak on the garage side of my house. I stood perched to jump back into the house as the wind gusted again. But the old man stood more firm than any of his cousins in the woods. There wasn't the slightest flex in his trunks and his upper branches only waved as if they were enjoying gentle spring winds. This is a tree we were warned to have removed. "It will come down," a tree guy told us. "Just a matter of when."

But time passes and you don't bank on hurricanes.

It didn't seem right; it didn't seem natural for the tree to stand so firm in so violent a series of gusts. It was weird. Was it the result of our family "Our Father," the night before -- was God cupping his invisible, massive hand around the tree the way we cup ours around a flickering candle, protecting the it from the breeze? Or was it a simple scientific occurrence, maybe the result of winds broken or redirected or curled into harmless, self-abusive little whorls after passing over the gully down where our swelling creek was hissing as if in a distant tunnel?

Whatever it was, Old Man Oak stood like a pillar of the earth.

All around, I see reports of people's homes smashed or flooded. I see the beaches on which I played as a kid -- the same beaches my children played on just a few months ago -- torn to pieces.

Am I thankful? Yes. But like all humans, the good never registers with me like the bad does.

My wife and I were talking. Maybe that tree doesn't need to come down if it survived this. We hate chopping down trees. The trees are one of the reasons we picked this house, after all. I remember leaning with my hand against this tree as we whispered (so that the realtor couldn't hear) how much we liked this place.

Then, watching the news tonight, we saw a report: Two children were killed as they played in their living room. In the picture, you could see that the fallen tree was on the same exact side of their house as our old oak. I think it was an oak.

No. After all, I don't need a tree to fall on me.


  1. When Hurricane Isabel blew through D.C. in 2003, it dropped a gigantic tree lengthwise onto my car. Trees look so benign and light that it's often a shock to see evidence of their true weight.

    If your ground is still wet, keep an eye on that oak. Sometimes a perfectly fine tree can topple because its roots have nothing to grab onto in saturated soil.

    1. Yeah -- we already lost our back deck to another old tree. I can empathize with your car situation. We had it taken down, sadly. This one is probably doomed, too.

    2. Spent some time today on the phone with my uncle, who had a fallen tree crush his back room and rip two holes in his roof. I've also been looking at pictures of familiar places all over New Jersey, from Piscataway to Manasquan. The damage and misery are making me heartsick and homesick all at once.

    3. I'm glad he -- and I'm presuming his family -- are okay. It's true, Jeff, that as things "sink-in" with the damage, it becomes harder to take.

  2. Surely taking it down after the event would be shutting the stable door (on the other hand, I don't want to be blamed, should something go awry)

    1. Maybe -- unless there's truth to the claim that these kinds of storms are going to be more common. I think we'll err on the side of chicken-liveredness on this one.