Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The morning after

Last night, just as I was thinking of walking to the store, a storm began that turned into a frightful experience. At first, there were nearly incessant flashes of sheet and streak lightning, beginning at about 8:15 p.m. This lasted for about an hour unabated. It began to rain, then to rain hard, then to rain so hard that sheets of water hurled themselves at the windows while the lightning continued and thunder sounded. Suddenly there was a terrifying roaring as the wind picked up, tossing the trees back and forth and seeming to cause the building to shudder.

I surprised myself by feeling scared.

At the moment when I was beginning to realize this was the worst storm I'd ever weathered, worse than any of those in western New York that made the trailer seem instantly frail and vulnerable, there was a blinding flash and a simultaneous, deafening thunderclap.

My heart stopped and then raced.

I have been that terrified at an autonomic level only a few times in my life, and even while sensing danger at the door, I felt acutely alive yet disconnected and detached.

This morning presented a scene of minor, yet disturbing devastation. I noticed last night that a half-dead tree in Burnham Park across the street had fallen on the sidewalk. It was not the only tree to succumb. A couple of my favorites, large shade trees, were among the victims, either fallen or snapped off partway up the trunk. Partial trunks and huge branches littered both nearby parks. The landscape was altered, as trees that had been growing 30–40–50 years cracked or crashed in an instant.

The Chicago Park District was at Burnham Park today at 7:00 a.m. to clear the tree blocking the sidewalk that the police use to enter Burnham Park and Promontory Point. It was a curious operation in which 4–5 men stood around and watched a truck awkwardly scoop up the not-very-large branches and place them in a dump truck. The scooping method was inefficient, and I'm not clear why so many people needed to supervise the operation. From what I could see, it would have made more sense for the 4–5 men standing around simply to pick up the branches and toss them in the truck. It would have taken half the time and would not have wasted the fuel. But we are no longer a society that does anything "by hand" or respects manual labor. We are slaves to the machine.

Tonight, I walked around part of Burnham Park and Promontory Point. So many trees wrenched out of the ground, or split in half, or with limbs torn off and strewn about. I found the two gingko trees I have spent many hours reading under torn in half. They were usually the last to lose their leaves in autumn. It looks like last year was their final fall. They will shelter me no more.

I looked up at the Shoreland from near the underpass. Trees no longer filter most of the lower part of the building. The tree line is broken, open, scarred.

It took decades to create the beauty of mature trees.

And minutes to destroy it.

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