Storms have a way of humbling us as a people. A tree can crash down on that status symbol of a car and knock out the power to our electricity dependent gadgets. Human beings can split atoms and peer into the secrets kept within the depths of outer space, but a little wind and rain can send society back to Abraham Lincoln’s 19th Century America within seconds.
The power wielded by Mother Nature was something I learned to fear long before I could respect it as a child. The flash of lightning would send me scurrying for the next blanket when I was a 6-year-old in Texas. Everything is bigger in Texas. The storms are no different. A few miles away from the Gulf of Mexico, our environment provided the right ingredients for monster summer storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, whatever. It’s those kind of storms that oftentimes help define who you are, as well as your neighbor. Last week, this town had one of those storms.
Ominous dark clouds that hang above our distant tree lines always promise the prospect of a dancing macabre. Trees dancing in the wind, surrounded by the flash of lightning and a cacophony of thunder. Our homes provide us shelter, allowing us to enjoy the view with a perceived sense of security. That was the case last week as my wife peered out the window to watch our pine trees swing and sway. Those same trees valiantly fought against the winds of Hurricane Irene just a week after moving into our home. I recall my own anxiety as I watched the trees bend like rubber against the wind’s force. We suffered no damage in that storm, leaving me all too confident against nature’s power.
“We’re losing our tree,” my wife yelled from the living room. Dumbfounded, I asked, “which one?” I was answered with the sight of a pine tree crashing immediately in front of our house. A neighbor later described how it wobbled like a top, hung over our busy street before snapping back up and toppling into the front yard, ripping the power lines from both my home and my neighbor’s. Once the storm subsided, I found just how lucky we all were. By providence, the tree placed itself gingerly between the road and our home, grabbing on to another tree to prevent crashing into our neighbor’s fence. Our driveway, however, was crushed.
What proceeded in the following hours was a precession of residents walking and driving by to marvel at the sight. A mature pine tree that once stood 100 feet over our proud property, was bent over exposing its roots unabashed. They took pictures. Motorists unaware as to why a crowd had gathered, snapped their heads back at the scene with slacked jaws. We watched from our home nearly as amused as those looking at our fallen tree.
But, my family wasn’t all too amused. Our tree served as an obstacle that prevented us from leaving. My ability to rush out and cover this news event was hampered by the lack of modern transportation. Once my family felt comfortable enough, I took to covering the news the best way possible — like George Willard in Winesburgh, Ohio.
I was introduced to George through Sherwood Anderson as I read “Winesburgh, Ohio” in college. As the town reporter, he was the central character in a series of books that captured small town America near the turn of the last century. My 20-year-old self had connected with him. Never did I think I would actually walk in his footsteps in the 21st century. I snapped pictures. Spoke to residents while running into our town supervisor to find out what was happening. All the while, our Jim Franco was covering double-duty to compensate for my lack of transportation.
Back home, our neighbors came to our door, some of whom we were introduced to for the first time. Our next door neighbor cut the dead cable line from her home so I could drive my car up across her front lawn. Another trimmed the limbs off the tree. Countless others offered to go grocery shopping. The empathy of those around us overwhelmed the acrid sense of division we’ve witnessed in our country over the years. The politics of the day was washed away and replaced by a greater sense of community. Something I felt had disappeared and was reserved for only those stories captured by Anderson in 1919.
I’m thankful for my neighbors who helped out this pass week, even if what my family went though could not compare to what others dealt with. The linemen and tree service people who worked tirelessly through the days. It was a sight to see.
— Michael Hallisey,