The storm came in quickly. I remember seeing a warning for a thunderstorm at some point, but had written it off as a typical summer’s day – hot and humid and always a threat of impending doom to ruin afternoon plans. Mark was working late, which is something that we as a family have adjusted to, another familiar landscape that is changing. The kids were watching a few minutes of TV to simmer themselves into quiet after a day of summer play and swimming lessons. After finishing some quick work on the computer, I snuggled into the couch between them all, hoping that maybe it would go unnoticed if I closed my eyes for a brief moment before making dinner.
The lights pulsed, dimming and then coming bright again. I hadn’t even noticed the sky grow dark, but it certainly had. I couldn’t see any rain, yet, but knew it was only a matter of time. The wind was picking up, and I could see the tell-tale sign of the pale green underside of the leaves waving around. With the next gust of wind, the TV flickered off, and that is when the shrieks and cries of worry began. First, it was the disappointment of losing their show, but it quickly escalated to a tizzy of panic when the lights didn’t immediately come back on. Renee looked out the window just in time to see power lines dance with a wildness none of had ever seen.
Then everything happened all at once. My phone screamed at me to tell me of a tornado warning. I chased the kids, all crying, into the basement, dragging Maggie, the family dog, and a lantern with us. Passing the kitchen windows, we could see already a huge branch from one of the giant tulip poplars had blown down, crashing into one of our pear trees, where it stuck, entangled in the branches. Through the crying, the questions from the kids were rapid fire, leaving little pause for me to answer: “Is it a tornado? Will our house blow away? But we don’t live in Kansas! What’s going to happen? What about the electricity? Will we have to sleep down here? Will Daddy be able to get home? What are we going to do?” It’s in these moments of panic that I find myself most at home in my mothering. I stay calm. I hold hands, answer questions, do the next thing. The adrenaline roars through my body, and I think I know what my cave-mother ancestor must feel. Only after the storm is over do I let myself succumb to my own inner anxiety, and sheer exhaustion of mothering.
After the storm, we crept into the yard to inspect the damage. It’s not evident at first, but tends to reveal itself in the days following. This storm was destructive. A branch I had thought was fine turns brown quickly, an indication of its break from its life-giving tree. We spend the next few days driving some back country roads to survey the toll of the storm, the kids pointing strongly, shouting “damage!” every time they see a tree down. Some transformations are slight – the branch, still full and lush and green, that is outside my bedroom window hangs closer than it did, pushed lower and out by the storm. We spend days dragging limbs into the woods. I pay the kids a penny per twig to clean up the driveway. The skyline of my back yard is different. Changed.
It has been a season of changing landscapes. Things that were once as familiar as the freckles and veins on the back of my hand seem foreign to me now.
It continues to change.
As long as we’ve lived in this little house-on-the-hill we have had a vacant wooded lot catty-corner to our property. We have long used these woods to cut through to the neighborhood behind us, and further still to the sports center and beyond. These dense woods have afforded deer and other animals the cover that they seek out, and the tall, thick trees have added density to the canopy that hems us in.
Someone bought that plot of land this spring. Then, just last week, they began cutting down trees, tying pink ribbons on the giant ones marked to come down, clearing space for a house. One hot morning, I opened the back door to sit on the patio with my coffee and I heard the roar of chainsaws. Thinking not much of it at first (after all, chainsaws have been roaring strong and fierce in the aftermath of that storm), I then heard the creak and crack and then the crash of a felled tree. This was not simply clearing debris. The kids and I stormed up the hill, to see with our own eyes. Dozens upon dozens trees, already down or marked as such.
I wanted to wave my hands, shout at the top of my lungs. I wanted to say that nobody had asked me! I didn’t get any warning! Tears stung at my eyes, and I couldn’t quite rationalize why. I slowly walked back down the hill, turning to look back when I reached my patio. Already, there was more sky than I was used to seeing, big holes in the canopy cover of green.
It has unnerved me, this change in my view.
Sure, I feel this grief for big important reasons, like the ecology of my intimate environment. The kids keep talking about the squirrels and the birds, and I feel swirled into the idea of growth and life and death.
But deep down I know it shakes me on a more personal level. Falsely, I had come to know this landscape as mine. These trees were my view, with my morning coffee on the patio, the backdrop as the kids run through the sprinkler and leap into the splash pool. It is what I see at night, the moon descending below the trees, when I sit with Mark around the fire pit.
But I don’t own those trees. Don’t own them any more than I own the sun and the clouds.
I came inside, to my familiar family room with its familiar piles of paper and same old furniture, and I began moving things. My desk went from one end of the room to the other. The TV is at the opposite end now. Little things, baskets of books, end tables, all rearranged. Standing back to survey the change, I realized how crazy this all seemed.
Isn’t that how it is, though? When the outside landscape changes in ways that seem so dramatic and sudden and out of my control, I go inward and insist on control in my interior space.
My scenery is constantly changing in such minute ways, too. The flowers in the front garden bloom and, overnight, fade. Grant tells me that his hair grows one millimeter every ten days. There countless ways that the things that I look upon are in constant flux – birth, growth, death, decay. Perhaps it’s refreshing to experience the shock and intensity of this present destruction. It forces me to see it for what it is, instead of growing numb to change over time.
This landscape has changed. The skyline up the hill and beyond my house is different. It will take time to learn the shape of it, but I will. It feels all wrong now – light in the wrong places, shadows drifting unfamiliarly across the grass. But it won’t always. Someday this new landscape will feel as familiar as the veins and freckles on the back of my hand.