Friday, August 31, 2012

Lightning Strike

There was a huge elm tree on the boulevard in front of my 1940 something house. This tree was by far the largest of the row of trees on the street that were planted by the city even before the houses were built and we believe it was about 75 years old.  I have lived here in the shade of that tree since I was 16 years old.  I have spent almost 40 years with it shading my yard and house in the summer and with me raking it's leaves in the fall.  We have been banding the tree to protect it from Dutch Elm Disease for the past decade. My kids tried to climb it, took crayon rubbings on its bark and we watched the squirrels and birds that lived in it.

A few weeks ago we had a severe storm system move through the lower part of our province including the city. It was strange driving through it because there were strong winds but it felt like they were coming from all directions. We were safely in our house when heavy rains and winds and then lightning started. The lights were flickering and then there was an odd noise outside our house. We heard kind of a huge whoosh and sucking noise and we realized the tree outside falling. My daughter and I, perhaps rather stupidly, ran out side to see how bad things were.  One of the major sections of the tree had fallen to the side and was resting on roofs and the side of my neighbor's two-story house. Miraculously no one was hurt and there was no real damage to the house.

We walked over to the main trunk and were shocked to find that that it smelled like a campfire. I saw a blackened, charcoal area and I could see smoke rising off it and then as raindrops were hitting it they sizzled and steam was rising. You could feel heat spreading out from the tree.

Neighbors I hadn't talked to in years gathered around to chat. People were stopping their cars and getting out to take pictures. The storm lasted only 30 minutes but reports of damage came from all over the city including roof damage, power outages affecting 1000's and over 500 trees down.

The city forestry official came by the next day and talked to our next-door neighbors and said the tree broke in the wind because it was diseased.  The various neighbors discussed how I was wrong... it wasn't lighting and rather gently pointed out to me that I was wrong. I was very upset by this. I have been fighting so hard for so long to improve my cognitive skills and be seen as competent once again.
I have a very wise adviser, Deb, who questioned why the heck I even cared that a bunch of neighbors thought I was mistaken when I knew that I was not. Wow. Powerful. Why did I care? I think it reflects how much of a beating my self-esteem has suffered in the past few years. I can't always trust my memory, I come up with wrong words and I make a lot of random little mistakes. I have learned to doubt myself and second-guess everything I do. The problem is not if other people believe in me. The problem is  believing in myself.

 The city sent their crew out later in the week and it took them two half days to remove the tree. They filled up two huge trucks with the branches and trunk and it was to be disposed of in a way to prevent and chance of spreading Dutch Elm disease. It was kind of dramatic and exciting since I had never seen anything like that before. The crew was very professional and then it was all over. 

I had a very strong emotional response to this event.
I knew the tree was going to have to come down and that the damage was too severe to be worth trying to save the tree. The city put a big red sticker on it to declare it a hazard.  I know it sounds silly, but I was busy identifying with the tree. We both had a sudden catastrophic event that threatened our lives. We both were not in perfect shape when disaster happened, but that was not the cause of the serious consequences. It was just how things happened.  The decision was made that it was past its prime, it had the beginnings of a disease and there was one of its main limbs broken and no longer functioning. My heart broke with the removal of that tree. I was gratefully that I have had a chance to recover and I was so sad that we couldn't try and patch up the torn part of the tree with some tar or something.

We told the grandkids that the tree they were playing under the previous weekend was now gone. On their next visit our 6-year-old grandson and 3-year-old granddaughter got out of the car and ran over to the stump and stood on it. It became the little girl’s personal stage. She sang out in her clear little voice a joyful "tree song" that she made up.

The city will eventually plant a new small tree on the boulevard.  Perhaps my grandchildren will see it grow into a proud stately tree.

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