Wednesday, September 7, 2011

After the Storm

We braced for something bigger: laid in canned food, taped diagonal strips over the windows, filled containers with water. The hardware store was already running low on batteries; the gas station had only premium left when we went to fill the car.

The surf started rising Thursday, when the hurricane had barely passed Bermuda. Predictions of Irene’s path wobbled. As Friday and Saturday wore on, she seemed endlessly poised off the coast of North Carolina. On Saturday the town of East Hampton blocked public access to the beach roads. From a friend’s second-floor windows, you could see the height and power of the breakers beyond the dunes.

As always before a hurricane, it’s the trees that are simply there, rooted where they are rooted, their limbs raised as they're raised. Roots hold, or they don’t. Limbs sway, or they crack and come crashing down. Of the trees nearest us, one maple shades our living room, declared sound a year ago when we and the neighbors made the decision to take down its contemporary, after a major branch collapsed in a smaller storm, revealing disease deep in the trunk.

The choice, before a storm, is to treat a tree as an object, or else to address it: to wish it well, to bless it for its strength, to ask mercy for its sake and one’s own.

The wind came up Saturday night; the power went out some time before dawn on Sunday. Leaves, whole or shredded, flew horizontally past the windows until mid-afternoon. The maple thrashed through it all. And held. Up and down the block, limbs had snapped; power lines lay looped over hedges.

At dusk, the power still out, in a corner of the world lit only by fire, it seemed only right to thank this tree for what--and who--it is.

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