Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Eight-Foot Stump

It's Wednesday and we've not had power since Monday. They say it may be a few more days. So, I'm cooking—or rather warming things up and boiling water for tea—on our little backpacking stove; running a generator for the refrigerator, freezer, and one lamp; keeping the wood stove going for heat; and visiting my friend in town for showers and buckets of water—she has power. I can access wifi through my personal hotspot on my iPhone, so I'm connected. I can keep up with the news, get updates on the power outage, and get some work done. But, it's not too bad. I'm warm and fed and comfortable. 

This situation makes me think back to the last time we lost power for several days; it was during the ice storm in January 1998, before I owned a  generator and an iphone. We had had a lot of rain at a time when the temperature was around 20. The upper atmosphere was so warm that the precipitation was falling as pure rain, but the lower atmosphere was well below freezing. So, all that rain froze as soon as it hit a surface, be it a tree branch, a power line, or the ground. I awoke Thursday morning to find we had no power, looked out the window and realized we were in big trouble. Everything was coated with a good half inch of ice, and the rain was still falling. I found a radio in a drawer of stuff we didn't use much, and learned that, indeed, the situation was serious. Trees down, wires down, power out, transformers blowing up, trees falling on houses and cars, people stranded on streets that suddenly were littered with branches and wires while they were trying to get someplace else . . . someplace safer, perhaps. I sat near a window all day to get light, and I listened to the news on the radio and to the sound of limbs and sometimes entire trees falling in the woods. A slow creaking noise and then a muffled crash. Something fell about every ten minutes, it seemed. I would hear a sound and look out the window just in case I could see what was falling, but often it was down the hill or a ways off. The ground was an ice rink and the trees looked like pure glass . . . like Chihuly creations. When the rain eventually stopped, the trees, as far as I could see, seemed to be lit up and glistening. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. At a time when there was so much danger and tons of debris lying around, the world in some ways was incredibly beautiful. 

I remember watching one tree fall at the far edge of my lawn. It was a medium-sized maple. I heard the familiar creaking noise and jumped up to look out. The tree had cracked off about eight feet above the ground and was slowly falling to the ground. It seemed to take forever . . . like slow motion. But then there was the crash. Lots of other trees fell, both on my property and in the woods around the neighborhood. But that one maple was somehow special to me because I watched it fall. 

In the spring we cleared out all the debris, and the changes in the woods were very noticeable. A birch was bent over almost to the ground, making a circle; it never again stood tall and straight. A big oak lost lots of limbs and looked very tall but not at all wide. Some trees split or tore and fell, leaving ragged stumps of varying heights. The effects of the ice storm were apparent for several years, but eventually the birch tree that made a circle died. The big oak recovered its breadth and looks perfectly normal to this day. Some trees made it, others did not.The eight-foot stump from the maple that fell at the edge of the lawn stayed there after we cleared away the rest of tree. I would often look at it and remember that I watched it fall to its death. The stump slowly rotted, and I pushed it over just last summer. After seventeen years, it was so rotten I could push it over with one hand and little effort. It went on to pass its nutrients back to the earth.

This week's storm was rain and strong wind, so trees and limbs fell, not from the weight of ice, but from the force of wind. We lost one big tree, a poplar I think. It broke off about 15 feet above the ground. At the break point, there's a big hollow area, which was probably begun by a busy woodpecker and eventually became home to mice or squirrels. But they're gone now, and soon we'll cut up the tree in hopes that some of it at least will make good firewood. 

That's how it works. The rhythm of life. Creation and destruction. Rotting and recovery. We long remember the events that are bigger than the norm. We use them to mark time. Eventually, though, they too fall away as our memories fade and we are one day laid onto the ground. And in that spot there will one day be a beautiful maple or perhaps an oak, standing tall and broad.

No comments:

Post a Comment