The Painful Truth Revealed By a Fallen Maple Tree

Posted: April 13, 2015 in Life Lessons
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It was May of 2011. The wind howled past the house like I’d never heard before. The sound was a whistle and a roar and a rattle all at once. Sophie and I were huddled in our bathroom hallway, which was a small inner room with no windows. Anyone who has ever been in a tornado warning knows this is what you’re told to do. We had blankets, pillows, two cats, and two dogs with us.

We were terrified.

All I could hear was the rattling, roaring wind. In my head I thought, surely this can’t be the end of this house? It’s stood here for at least 70 years, through wind and rain and hot, muggy summers. Through a parade of families, pets, and possessions. It’s a strong house, sturdy and permanent.

“Mama, is this a tornado?” Sophie asked.

“I don’t know, sweetie. I don’t know what it is.”

“Is it going to blow our house away?” She asked.

“I hope not,” was all I could reply.

One time, I left the small inner room with the flashlight and stepped out into the dining room. There, the bay window shuddered. It was black outside. I couldn’t see the trees bending and swaying, but I knew they were because the branches were scraping and clawing against the side of the house and the window glass.

I returned to the hallway, to what was left of my family, and and turned my dying phone on for a moment, hoping my weather app could tell me this too shall pass.

It did pass, after a terrifying eternity spent just listening in the blackness, wondering if I should have taken us to the High School’s storm shelter across the street, or the neighbor’s house, where there was a storm basement.

But the storm passed, and the rain and wind with it, and before I would safely tuck Sophie into bed for the night, I opened the front door and peered out into the darkness. Our street had no power. All I could see in the dim light was what looked like leaves and sticks and parts of trees, fallen down all around. I walked to the left side of the porch, the front corner of the house where Sophie’s room was, and realized a huge tree lay on the ground, in the space between our house and our neighbor’s.

In the morning, the sun shone bright and revealed what the night had hidden. Our entire yard, in fact the street and the whole block, had been pummeled by what the weatherman would describe as near 100 mile an hour straight line winds. In a line stretching from Rudy, about five miles north of our town of Alma, past our house and to the southeast, giant trees had been toppled by the roots, several dozen of them, one after another like a giant nature’s version of dominoes. Leaves, limbs, and branches littered the yards and the street, pulling down the power lines on the street beside us, leaving us without power for days.

And in the front yard of my house, our big, beautiful maple tree began her slow death.

2011 storm revealed that our front yard tree was dead.

2011 storm revealed that our front yard tree was dead.

The tree was one of the reasons I loved the house so much. It shaded half of the front yard and our porch. In fall, the leaves turned a deep red and fell to the ground in drifts and piles. It housed bird nests and squirrels and a collection of bugs and creatures Sophie loved to explore.

Sophie at age 2 posed in front of the maple tree.

Sophie at age 2 posed in front of the maple tree.

And in that first full year after struggling to put the pieces back together of my broken family after my ex-husband walked out and never looked back, it was familiar, safe and comforting. It stood watch over the home I provided for my four-year-old daughter and myself. It shaded, it protected, it comforted.

And now, a part of it was gone, and in the aftermath of that storm, it was revealed the tree had been slowly dying on the inside, perhaps for years.

When I saw the giant half of the tree in the sparkling early sunlight that morning after the storm, the half that had fallen between my house and my neighbor’s house, barely clipping my daughter’s room and hitting the corner of my neighbor’s house on the way down, I sat on my front porch steps and cried.

I cried for a tree, yes.

But I also cried for everything that losing that tree revealed to me in that moment.

That something that looks perfectly good on the outside could be sick and dying on the inside.

That nothing, no house, no tree, no person, was permanent.

That something I had loved and found comfort in would have to be chopped apart and removed, and eventually, it would be as if there never stood a tree there. Only a handful of people would remember that tree. Only a few sat in the shade under its branches. Only one or two people had seen the brilliant red leaves fall and jumped in a pile of them, laughing and rolling in the crackling leaves in the crisp fall air.

Only I cried for the dead tree.

It felt to me like it revealed a part of myself that was both stronger and sadder now. I had watched the storm roar through, and I saw the tree limb after it fell, had peered into the spongy rot at the base of the tree and knew no matter what I did, I could never save it.

The irony was not lost on me that I had the same feelings about that dead tree as I did about my dead marriage. In that moment, as I sat and cried for my lost tree, I had to learn the painful lesson that in both nature and life, things happen that are beyond your control. If you are still standing after the storm, then somehow, some way, you will be okay. It may take time, but eventually you will be stronger for it, you will have learned from it, and you will look back and see the lesson life was trying to teach you.

Tweet: Appreciate what's here, right now. Because Appreciate what’s here, right now. Because “permanent” is an illusion.

Life is change. You stand strong, you adapt, just like the strongest tree. But sometimes you fall, and sometimes it is revealed that what’s inside is sick or broken, even though it looks okay on the outside.

With time and healing, you will stand tall again, stronger then before.

When the next storm comes, you will be ready.

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