When the wind and rain of Frankenstorm Sandy blew through in late October, I wasn’t as concerned as when we were hit with some of the crazy storms that had skittered across the state this year with their big gusts.
We even had something scary blow through my town this summer, taking down trees and power lines along with a full greenhouse. That was just a mile from home.
With Sandy, I should have been worried.
About 2:15 a.m. that Tuesday, with the wind twisting and swirling and the rain pounding first one side and then another of the house, Sandy claimed what was likely the oldest, largest tree in my yard.
I didn’t hear the crash as I had just fallen asleep at the other end of the house, which was being battered so heavily with rain that it was like a drum beat. But I soon learned of it as other family members were jerked awake.
We knew it hadn’t hit the house, whatever it was, because the house was still standing. But in the pitch black, we had a hard time telling what had happened.
With the aid of a big flashlight, I finally laid eyes on the splintered trunk of the massive spruce tree just a couple dozen feet from my bedroom. My heart stopped for a moment, then I was able to see that the tree had fallen in the opposite direction from the house.
I cannot imagine the damage if it had gone the other way, for then it would have hit the house.
This is the price one pays for having trees around the yard, especially the stately sentinels that make a home looked lived in and cozy. I wouldn’t have it any other way, frankly, because the starkness of a yard without trees feels rather cold to me.
I have to admit, however, that with every storm, I’ve always held my breath when the wind is blowing a gale and the trees swaying. I just start praying they will withstand another round of battering.
On the morning after Sandy, the sight that greeted me was nothing short of frightening. It’s one thing to look up through the branches of a massive tree. It is quite another when that tree has been twisted like a tiny splinter nearly six feet up the trunk and the top is stretched across dozens of feet of land.
As you can see from the picture with this column, the spruce had several tops. With the way the wind was coming from all directions, my theory is that they all got twisting, putting an unbearable strain on the trunk, which splintered heavily. To give you an idea of its circumference, if I had hugged the trunk, my arms would not have gone even halfway around it.
The smell of fresh wood was heavy in the humid air as I stood surveying this fallen beauty for several minutes. It had been showing its age, but it still had plenty of growth.
The tree seemed to stretch for a mile into the woods. It had hit a couple of other trees in its downfall, and those were tipping.
I walked around the spruce, thinking that I had never known the world without this tree standing tall through all my childhood and adult life. I had not contemplated being in the world with this empty spot.
We had a tree guy come to survey the damage. Plus there was another spruce that was looking scary. We decided that had to go as well while he was there.
So now there is a huge empty place on one end of the house, where even the stump is gone. On the opposite end is the driveway, where the last spruce of a trio has been removed as well. We discovered that particular spruce died because it had been hit by lightning at some point.
My guess on the splintered sentinel that fell is that it was more than 100 years old. That’s older than my grandfather would have been. That’s a time before the world had its first global war. It probably even predated the Ford Model T, which was launched in 1908.
The flow of time and nature around a tree seems endless. The sun rises, the moon sets, the stars twinkle, the birds chirp, the squirrels chase and the rain falls. The world moves and the tree stands.
It hurts when a tree is lost.