Our Losses during the Storm

[Sunday, March 14, 2010] Our house is at the intersection of a T. As you drive up the stem of the T, you can see the branches of the Magnolia Tree behind the house and in the spring you can see the pink blossoms halo the house. Behind the Magnolia were two tall Norwegian spruce trees that towered over them. Straight, symmetrical, full and even, they were old but healthy with thick boughs laden with cones on top. Thick ivy crawled up their trunks into the lower limbs and the activity of squirrels and birds always bustled in their branches. The house is about seventy-two years old and the trees were here well before that, growing alongside a bridle path belonging to the Phelps’ Mansion, which burned down in 1888. William Walter Phelps probably planted them between 1875 and 1880, so they were over 130 years old.

I admired those spruce trees every time I drove up to the house. They were not as majestic as tall pines, but they reminded me of the northern forests that I love so much. Only yesterday morning my daughter and I were talking about how beautiful those trees were. I used to see at the kitchen table in the morning when I would read or write as I drank my coffee or tea, and I would look out the window and enjoy the scene. Before dawn I would listen to the sound of the birds and watch the silhouette and shadows emerge. My only consolation for living in suburbia.

But Friday night as the wind howled outside I could not sleep. I kept thinking about the times I have slept in the woods under a tarp during a storm. The tarp would whip and shake back and forth as the wind tug at the strings and I would fear that their stakes would pull up from the ground even though I had covered them with rocks. I would hear the thud of trees falling and the loud crack of limbs breaking, and fear that something would fall on me. And I would listen to the sound of waves splashing on the shore of the lake or the changing sound of the creek as the water rose as I wondered in the dark how high the water would rise. Or the times I was caught on the trail in a thunderstorm and witnessed trees fall near by me and limbs drop. As I listened to the wind outside and recalled these memories I would think of those beloved trees in the back of the house … and worry.

No more. Last night the ground was saturated with the rain and the driving wind pounded the trees for hours all around the neighborhood as they swayed unnervingly. Around eight o’clock we heard the thud after one of our spruces swayed too far. Suddenly it uprooted and fell, and took down its lifelong partner beside it. They broke off the back limbs of the Magnolia tree on their way down, smashed the branches of another tree and crashed through an old play-set and crushed all the bushes in its path. One of them landed on the neighbor’s deck and presses against her house. These beautiful trees left huge craters in the ground, their snapped roots still in the surrounding soil, and the clumps of soil that were lifted by the roots took several small trees with them and tossed the outdoor chairs and a table topsy-turvy. So much green! So thick with life! But no more.

These trees took well over a human lifespan to grow. They were so straight and tall and seemed so strong. After all this time, all these years, they toppled in one storm, this storm. Nothing can replace them in my lifetime. They become a metaphor of what we have done to the planet. We have destroyed its wildness, its health, its greenness, its havens for animal and bird life, and nothing can restore it for a long, long time—not in our lifetimes, not for generations.

I am sad. 

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