CONTEXT: Collateral Damage

The brown mass next to the heaved sidewalk slab in the photo is the underside of the root ball of a massive maple tree.  It had stood in front of our house for more than 120 years.  The tree fell east, away from where I took the photo, and still lies across parts of our yard and two neighbors’. The storm that felled it hit two weeks ago last night, but only today did the city address that big tree trunk, and then only to cut it into logs, not remove it.  It’s taking weeks just to deal with the immediate damage.

Neighbors still start our conversations with animated descriptions of damage, and are sometimes almost in a “Can you top this?” mode when we describe our losses. We’re very much in the present: “There’s still a branch across my porch.”  “I’ve ordered new shingles for my roof.”  “I still haven’t found my lawn furniture.”  After covering all those bases, we sometimes confide, almost guiltily, that we notice some strange things in our own thoughts and behaviors.  To some degree, at some point, most of us have experienced shock.  We have a visceral reaction each time we see the tree that shaded our home, our kids, and our grandkids, lying in the street. We do illogical things like trying to move branches that obviously will require machinery to even budge.  We study the cavernous holes the root balls left when they were wrenched from the ground, as if staring could reverse the occurrence.  We are surprised that day after day, more loosened twigs and branches tumble onto the yards, like guests arriving very late for the party.

Then we tentatively begin to speculate on the changes that the tree losses have brought. in our perceptions of our surroundings.  No lush canopy provides shade or protection in places that have always enjoyed both.  If the breeze is brisk, I’m afraid to tend my gardens under the big trees that are left.  It there is any breeze at all, I don’t let my grandchildren play in their shade. Will I be able to rock and read on my front porch again?  I don’t know. The 1000+ workers who came in to help restore power and move debris cannot fix everything.

Of the original 12 maple trees in the strips of tree lawn between our sidewalks and the streets on our corner, three remain.  The trees were so much a part of the inside ambiance of our home that I have only wood blinds on the bay window in our south and west-facing bedrooms upstairs and the picture window in our living room, because the spectacular views were straight into the maple branches. Losing the trees did not just affect how the outside looks, or the eventual market value when we sell someday. The very light in which we live is different, the views from our windows are different. Now we will need to close those blinds for privacy.

The storms of life often leave evident, immediate, painful damage.  We use trite phrases like, “Pick up the pieces and move on.”  It’s as if it’s a demonstration of some sort of character, strength, and courage to do that as quickly as possible.  But collateral damage, physical, emotional, and even spiritual, is just as real, and just as painful, and lasts a whole lot longer than the shock of the traumatic event does.  After a windstorm or a personal storm, I want to allow myself time to grieve the changes and not feel weak or guilty for doing it.  A part of the process needs to be hope, and the hope needs to put out some tentative tendrils, like the morning glory vine that keeps emerging from my flower bed of zinnias–all little plants that came through the big storm quite well.  I need to be looking for the place I’ll thrive, even if the protective and comfortable shade to which I’m accustomed is no longer there. I need to begin planning for the good that’s going to happen in sunshine.

I have laid out a place for a huge shade garden under the dogwood that is sheltered between our house and our neighbor’s.  My husband bought me my own mattock to dig the trench for the brick liner, and I bought bags of red mulch for the ground cover. Those hostas and hydrangeas  with the brown sunburned spots and crispy edges on their leaves from losing their shade can thrive just as well under a dogwood as they did under a maple, and digging in the dirt to re-set them in a different perennial shade garden will do me good.  A lot of good.

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