The First Tree Fell

The first tree fell when I was six years old. We went out in the eye of Hurricane Gloria, everything quiet, sprawled, and exhausted, a giant tree resting against the shattered windowpane on one side of our home. There was no sound. Wind and leaves and branches never coursed through the rooms of our house. It was only remarkable later; the tree’s roots stuck up in the air. The earth torn open into a wild, gaping hole.

I remember footsteps on the roof. I remember my Dad shoo-ing away some laughing kids who climbed the tree in the dark later that night. Most of the memory sits in a glossy photo my father took. I was on a tiny bike next to the fallen tree, rainbowed streamers leaking from its handlebars. He wanted to make it look like I had done the damage. I staged an ‘oops’ expression on my face. This is my Dad’s humor, like the time a waiter came around when I was four years old at a restaurant and he made me request lobster off the menu to make everyone laugh. He liked the idea that it could be little ole me and the force of my teeny two-wheeler that took the great tree down.

The second tree fell last fall in a freak afternoon storm. Little O had an ear infection that day. We had been sent home with a milky pink penicillin concoction that needed to be refrigerated. We stood in the kitchen and the house wobbled, as if it were walking on stilts. Leaves swirled and whipped around in mini tornadoes on the back porch. There was no sound. I held a limp and tired O and circled the house, looking for the culprit, when I saw, through the living room windows, our neighbor jumping from his car, running to our front door. I couldn’t imagine what could have happened to prompt that kind of urgency, until I opened it and saw the giant tree sprawled across our front lawn, so tall, it draped over the roof into the backyard. Climbing the stairs, I expected to see a tree inside our home, but there was only one small stretch of sheetrock, dangling from the impact. The tree had fallen at a perfect slope across the roof, as if it were only resting its head to sleep.

“Trees fall quietly and slowly”, the arborist told us, later, assessing the risk all the trees around our new home could pose. We walked around and, with each tree, we looked at its crown, determined its health, figured out which way, this way or that, it could fall if it fell. So you can decide to take a tree down on the basis of its health, its angle and proximity, and, lastly, as if we were Marie Kondo-ing mother nature, he said, you think about how much joy it brings you. You weigh that against the odds.

The third tree fell last week, while both sets of grandparents were visiting the littles. We were on our way out the door to lunch, when I heard a soaring whoosh and called out, ‘What was that?’

‘Just O,’ my Dad replied. ‘Playing with the door.’

As we made our way outside, we learned it wasn’t O or the swoosh of the door. It was the whip of a Hickory tree, once at the foot of our driveway, now stretching across the road.

I can’t help but wonder, in YouTube-double-rainbow-guy fashion, what does it mean?

I did hear it this last time. A warning, maybe, or just a reminder, that it is here, or was, that great things fall again and again. One last murmur before falling silent again.

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