For a couple of weeks we had a fool-proof conversation starter around the neighborhood: “How’d you do in the storm?” The storm being the July 1st just after midnight blast of wind and rain that knocked stout branches out of grand old trees and brought them down on parked cars and utility lines and garages and the roofs of houses. So, how’d you do in the storm? We were pretty lucky.
I guess it was heavy drops of rain pelting the blades of the window fan that woke me up, or maybe it was the city’s siren and the jetstream of wind passing the side of the house. If the screen hadn’t been sturdy that fan would have been sucked right out of there. I pulled the fan in and closed the window. We roused the family and hurried in robes and sleepware to the first floor.
The power was still on, but not for long. I went to the front of the house—you know it’s traditional for a percentage of residents to do something utterly stupid in a big storm, and it was my turn. Before we talked ourselves into heading to the basement, I kept watch at the big west-facing picture window, checking for funnel clouds and wondering how many espresso shots it takes to get a fifty year old maple tree to dance like that. Right about then the wind took the top eight or ten feet off the junior high school steeple across the street, the copper part that always looked so pretty at sunset. I didn’t see it fall, but in the morning it was like crumpled foil there on the ground beside the school.
The wind subsided pretty quickly and most of the family went back up to bed. I was wide awake, though. I put on some outdoor clothes and a wide-brimmed hat and took a walk in the moon-dark neighborhood. Whole trees and majors limbs were torn and snapped all up and down the nearest blocks. There was no way a fire truck or ambulance could reach some of the houses. Nobody had electricity there, but on the horizon the downtown lights popped back on. Neighbors with big flashlights were out checking their damage and chatting in the light rain. Cars approached, but when the headlights reached the trees that had toppled into the road, the drivers turned back. One large tree, standing a little cockeyed, was cracking its knuckles as I walked past. In the morning the west half of that old beauty was stretched out on the lawn.
And in the morning stories started to circulate in the neighborhood. So and so’s van was smashed. So and so was in the bedroom when a large tree limb broke through the wall. So and so sold the house and moved away just a couple of days before. So and so was planning on teaching his little kids to climb the perfect climbing tree in their new front yard, but now that tree was sideways across the sidewalk. One neighbor counted 162 rings at the base of his downed tree.
As far as I know, nobody near us was hurt, but you have to hope all the insurance was paid up. The trees really suffered. A few old beauties now stand stripped and jagged, ready to haunt someone’s dreams. We lost only some small limbs and our young people went wincing without their wireless for nearly four days. I met some new neighbors in the night and then woke to find we had more sunlight for gardening. I was grateful once again for taxpayer-funded city services—those huge dump trucks hauled away tons of broken trees. On the sidewalks, people started talking about what kind of sustainable, bug-resistant native trees we could plant to make the neighborhood beautiful again. One neighbor has hired a saw mill to make boards from a massive old maple, and who knows what beautiful woodworking will come of that in a year or two. People with chain saws and wood stoves got their wood piles ready for next year’s snows. When I take a walk now, I keep spotting little twigs broken in the grass.