When Trees Are Not Our Friends

A couple of weeks ago, my feelings about trees underwent a change. Trees have always seemed like friends to me: I liked to climb them and to sketch them, to sit under their shade and read or to stroll beneath their branches. I’ve thought about changing the name of my blog from time to time, but I like the fact that it gives a nod to Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees.” Heck, I’ve even made the pilgrimage to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Then Irma came along.

Oh, I know I have nothing to complain about, compared to the folks who lost homes, boats, vehicles, livelihoods, and even their lives down in Florida. Still, the morning that we woke up to this sight in our driveway, I began to realize that Tall Trees + High Wind = Potential Catastrophe.IMG_0157 (1280x960)

The night before, violent winds had tossed the trees surrounding our house. After two hours of flickering lights, we were relieved at 12:15 a.m. when the power finally went off and stayed off.  I’d been trying to print my son’s homework (air printers aren’t always our friends, either): every time the internet connection was nearly complete, the lights went out. We armed ourselves with flashlights and went to bed, but sleep was slow in coming.

Most of the trees around our house are hardwoods, but that didn’t matter to Irma. Limbs struck the roof, and mysterious objects crashed to the ground. My husband, who isn’t the worrying sort anyway, wasn’t much comfort: he was trying to sleep in case he got called into work. Drowsily, he told me that hardwoods don’t fall and went back to sleep. Thrashing branches and howling winds with gusts up to 31 mph kept me awake for a long time, but my efforts to see into the dark yard were useless.

Around 4 a.m., the winds died down, and I slept. The next morning, we didn’t even notice the tree in the driveway: a limb had hit my son’s trampoline, but we didn’t see any other damage. Suddenly my daughter, late to her work, dashed in to ask if someone could move a car so she could get out. And there it was, a majestic red oak, no longer destined to shade our yard or provide refuge for squirrels: down it had been thrust by those vicious winds, and down it would stay.

When I looked around at all the trees that could have hit our house, I knew we had dodged a very large bullet. Even the two cars parked in front of our house had escaped. Gazing around uneasily, I realized that we were surrounded by threats: tulip poplars, white oaks, red oaks, sourwoods, maples, and pines glared menacingly at me. No longer did our wooded yard seem a friendly place.

And what to do with this large obstacle blocking our driveway? My husband doubtfully said something about chainsaws and getting his dad to help, but, given his schedule, we agreed that professional help was the best solution. Happily, he knew a guy to call: two hours later, Element Arbor was tackling not only the large oak (wish I’d measured it!) but also a hemlock. The air buzzed with the sound of chainsaws, since our tree was not the only one to fall in the neighborhood.

As my son and I cleaned up the fallen leaves and branches that afternoon—his class had been cancelled, so the unprinted homework was not a problem—I heard the wind from time to time. And I trembled as I would not have the day before. Yet there was beauty even in the broken limbs, especially of the oak trees: never had I seen acorns so fresh and green. What will the squirrels eat this winter, I wonder? Surely the acorns fell too soon, and many will be carted off when the neighborhood crew clears away the brush.

Something about the red wheelbarrow, the crumpled leaves of bright orange and yellow, and the aching green of the new acorns caught at my heart. IMG_0162 (960x1280)After the rain—the ground was drenched, saturated with Irma’s angry tears—everything looked fresh and clean. My son had voluntarily gone out and started clearing leaves from the driveway: he hadn’t done it quite the way I’d have liked, since he’d pushed the leaves to the side rather than sweeping them up and dumping them in the wheelbarrow. But he and I were both busily working outside, feeling industrious, drinking in the cool air that had a nip of early autumn. And how could I be sad any more?

Although Irma brought destruction—in a small measure—to our yard, she also forced us to step out of our normal lives. No orchestra practice that afternoon, no boy scouts that night, no computer to tempt us back inside, and still no power, so my mother-in-law graciously invited us over for dinner. How pleasant it was to sit around her lovely dining table, eating spaghetti and talking of past storms and future plans. My in-laws were happy to share the leftover blueberry pie and softer-than-usual vanilla ice cream that we’d brought over, and we were happy to have a place to charge up all our devices. (I wish I could say that a day without power had cured us of the desire to check our devices, but that would be a lie.)

When we got home, yellow lights were gleaming in more than one window. Hooray for the power workers who had been pushing themselves since the wee hours of the morning to restore power! Aside from the ice cream, everything in the refrigerator seemed okay; even the milk was drinkable, according to my son. And, when all was said and done, the enormous oak tree hadn’t hit our house.

But I do feel sadder, if not wiser. Wisdom would be for us to call in a tree expert some time and have him check the remaining trees, especially those likely to fall on the house. I hate to lose any more trees, but I remember the menace in that howling wind.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

–William Carlos Williams


37 thoughts on “When Trees Are Not Our Friends

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  3. I live on the west coast of Cornwall, where we don’t have a hell of a lot of trees to break the wind. It makes me realize how double-edged it is to have trees. Yes, they fall in a wind. Yes, they’re dangerous. And yes, without them the wind’s a whole lot stronger.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a point I had not considered, Ellen. I read your post about helping with the dig in Cornwall, and you mentioned the force of the winds. In the days when pioneers were building homes in the west, they would planttrees to break the winds (which maybe wasn’t the best for the prairie ecosystem, but I can see why they did it). Trees, like most things, have their good and bad points.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And after the dust storms of the 1930s, the government promoted a policy of planting windbreaks to keep the entire prairie (which some people argue should never have been plowed up to start with) from blowing away. It seems to have worked, and with our short memories a lot of them have now been taken out to make room for crops. Because in the short term, the trees aren’t profitable.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ellen, the “shelter belt” which was perpinducular to the front of our property in West Texas was quite profitable while it was allowed to do its work. The two property owners in front of us (one on either side of the trees) were well protected, and their land remained stable as long as they lived. However, new landowners moved in, both of whom removed the trees, and they and we suffered the consequences. My father was a USDA Soil Conservation engineer and knew well how to use terracing and plant crops that held the soil and the water.

          Thanks for provoking the pleasant memories! ❤

          Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: Retreating to the Trees | sappy as a tree: celebrating beauty in creation

    • Ankur, you make a good point: many things that are not evil in and of themselves can become a deadly force: too much water (or too little), too much sun (or too little, which leads to vitamin deficiency). . . . I hadn’t thought about it that way.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: So long, September! | sappy as a tree: celebrating beauty in creation

    • Maybe? But life, despite its many trials and pains, is very precious to me. Perhaps I would feel differently if I or a loved one were ill? I trust to God’s providence for the ordering of my days (there’s a verse that eludes me at the moment).


      • Absolutely! Everyone values life unless for some reason they have given up; but what I saw in that post was a good discussion about facing fears; facing end-of-life decisions, facing things out of our control. I don’t want to run away from it. I want to be able to do the right things when I have to stand with someone who is in such a position or when I am there.

        Tomorrow we may have to decide to cut a beloved tree for the greater good.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Many years ago, a strong hurricane pushed our sycamore tree into a slight leaning posture. Since it leans away from the house, and since I’m kinda the crazy tree lady, I’ve let it stay that way. It has sent up a smaller trunk on the opposite side, I’m guessing for balance. Now, whenever a big hurricane is coming, I go out and give the sycamore a hug. So far, so good. 🙂 I’m glad you and your home were safe during the storm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That shows a true love of trees! Unfortunately, we have a couple of tall trees that do lean toward the house. The guy who dealt with our fallen oak took a glance at one and said it was okay, which made me feel better. Then he seemed concerned about a maple that is straight. We don’t get such high winds often, thank goodness.

      Liked by 1 person

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  9. Yes, there is still beauty even in devastation. Maybe the Creator had in mind to rearrange the landscaping, or maybe he thought your muscles needed a workout. Your poem by William Carlos Williams has still another beauty. It is the simple, but profound feeling in the expressions of his poetry. These prove there really is a beating heart behind the white coat. Haven’t you found that too? ❤


    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes–in my case, I was forced to look–really look–at the trees in my yard and to notice the textures and colors. The beauty of people working together also occurred (in a tiny way); many beautiful stories emerged from people dealing with Hurricane Harvey.


    • And, “yes” about the William Carlos Williams poem: simple words and images can convey deep feelings, too (I should remember this when searching for that perfect synonym).


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