If a tree falls in your back yard

You know, it's really hard to get a sense of scale from a tree when it is upright. You can walk around it, try to climb it, or throw things up in the branches, but they deceive you. Maybe it's foreshortening, or slimming lines. I wonder if the secret behind big hair is that proponents are hoping to create the same optical illusion as a big tree - the top just kinda diappears in a froth of leaves, or hair.

I think that I am getting sidetracked here. This is, after all, a bit about a tree. No, it isn't a Shel Silverstein poem designed to make five year olds weepy. It isn't a “My Side of the Mountain” journey of self-discovery, either. It isn't even the whole story of the tree, just the end, or the beginning of the end, since most of the tree is still standing, but will now have to come down.

Mother's Day 2004 was muggy. If it were July or August we would be saying warm, but for May it was just plain hot. I was outside working on my car, trying to determine how much of the body work I could do myself and how much I would need to have a shop do for me.

Yes, it was Mother's Day, which normally would not be a good day to get dirt and grease under one's fingernails, but I had started working on my car on Friday night and then had skipped it on Saturday. If I wanted to drive to dinner with my mom I had to put the bumper and at least one head light back on the car. I made quick progress despite my vampiric response to the sun, which disappeared mercifully yet briefly under a few fluffy clouds.

“The light! It burns!” I cursed under my breath. Honestly I was enjoying the weather, but my programmer's tan wouldn't hold out for long under direct sunlight regardless of how pale I was to start. I noticed the clouds bunching up a bit on the horizon and it started to feel like rain was on its way.

For once I had plenty of time to pack up my tools and the extra bolts, fasteners, and bits of bodywork from my project. I had verified that I would only be able to get one headlight back in the car - the one that I had taken out so that I could replace the bumper. Everything was proceding according to plan.

I picked up the phone.

“Hey mom, I just got done putting my car back together. Did I miss dinner?” I asked.

“Oh, we just got here, so you'll be fine. It's Mexican. Just come over to Anne's,” my mom answered. “Jeans or shorts will be fine.”

I washed up a bit and changed my shirt. When I looked out the window over the sink the sky was starting to turn dark. I wasn't worried about making it before the rain, but I knew it was coming.

As I headed out to the car the tornado sirens at the fire station down the street started up. They reverberated around the neighborhood and were joined by sirens from elsewhere - unseen banshees howling their dark messages in eerie disharmony. Being a 28 year old from the Midwest I was not impressed. I got in the car and started driving.

I had disconnected the battery in the car when I was working on it, so I had to reprogram the radio. It was set to AM when I turned it on, so I plugged in 830, the local news station.

Immediately the announcer was talking about Tornado warnings in Hennepin county. I still wasn't very impressed. It wouldn't be long until I was in Ramsey county anyway. Okay, I was getting a little nervous, but the sirens shut down, so I figured that it had been a mostly false alarm and that they were really just sounding out a severe thunderstorm warning.

I turned on to Johnson street and continued. I needed to stop to top off my radiator coolant and replace a spring on my clutch fork, so I thought that I would stop at the EZ stop and at Home Depot, only not in that order. The streets were still busy with traffic. No one cared about the sirens that had just been foretelling doom.

The radio was a whole different story. The announcers were rattling off storm facts in the way that Minnesotans are bred for. Weather talk is everything here, and severe weather makes for the most interesting talk.

“It seems like the funnels that have been reported so far have all been quite small. That's good because it means less damage, but it can also mean that we don't get any warning about them.”

As I drew near Home Depot I looked out the passenger window and saw that unnatural shade of turquoise green that signals Really Effed Up Weather. I grimaced, but turned into the parking lot. Scoops of dark grey hung in a line at the edge of the greenish mass. I had to wonder if that was what was meant by a “wall cloud.”

“Okay,” I thought to myself. “I'll just duck in real quick and get that spring so that I can keep from wrecking my clutch. It will only take a minute to put on. If it isn't raining too bad when I get out, I'll just cruise on to the Mom's day dinner.”

A passerby looked at me funny and I realised that I had given voice to my rationalization. I shrugged and walked into the store. Two aisles later I found a pack of “handyman” springs to buy. My rationalization had proven valid - it had taken me only a couple of minutes to complete my activities.

Walking out of the store I was faced again with that nasty sky, and the sirens started up before, only I swear that I could hear a couple more. It started to sound less like a couple of innocent ghostly banshees and more like a demon chorus. I shivered despite the hot, moist air and hopped in my car.

“Oh, crap. I am not driving anywhere. I'm going home,” I said. I felt guilty. It was Mother's Day. On the other hand, I wanted to get into a basement fairly quickly. Thunder rolled loudly across the parking lot, even drowning out the wailing sirens. I saw lightning crackle at the edges of the cloud mass.

“Mom, I… I'm not coming. I'm turning around and going home. The sirens are going and the sky looks pretty shady,” I said, leaving out my quick side trip to the store. She seemed to understand, so I drove quickly but safely home. I didn't even drive around anyone turning left at Lowry Avenue. I waited my turn and then stomped on the gas.

I made it home without breaking any laws, but raindrops were smattering on the windshield as I pulled into the driveway. I wasn't afraid of getting wet, but I hurried to the front door anyway and bustled into the house. At least I had a laptop and wireless ethernet now. I could retire to the basement and watch the storm on tv while fooling around on the internet. Oh yes! This was going to the best storm yet.

It hadn't really started raining yet. The leading edge of the storm was still rolling in, so I put some leftover rice in the microwave and punched in a couple of minutes. I strolled over to the door to my attic bedroom so I could go up for a laptop.

Thunder sounded loudly outside, and I spun to see the flash through the window. The whole house went dark and silent except for the suddenly violent sounding wind and rain.

“Holy crap that was close!” I said to myself. Fortunately there was no one around to hear me talk to myelf this time. I walked to the sliding glass door and pulled back the curtain.

There, right on the other side of the glass, twitching and shaking as the wind pulled at it with a thousand writhing hands, was a tree. Our tree had fallen onto our deck and our house!

It took me a moment to realise that our tree was mostly standing. It looked like a big branch or two had fallen. We had just had the tree trimmed the preceding fall, so there weren't any dead branches, and certainly no dead branches a foot thick.

I panicked a bit. The power was out, but I picked up the cordless phone anyway. It took me a second to remember that the cordless phone wouldn't work and that we didn't have any phones with cords. I wasn't sure that our phone line was still standing - it looked like the entire deck was covered in tree limbs.

I tried my cell phone, but Verizon has seen fit to leave a hole in the cell phone coverage where I live, so even if there wasn't a violent “atmospheric disturbance” outside, I wouldn't be able to call anyone anyway.

I opened the door to the basement and saw pitch blackness. I'm not afraid of the dark, unless it is very dark. This was very dark, and I didn't want to be eaten by a grue, so I ran up to my room to get the only flashlight that I was certain about. It's a blue LED flashlight that I made while fooling around with infrared LEDs in an attempt to make a focus assist lamp for my Canon D30. That's another story, but suffice it to say that I wasn't able to get things working quite the way I had hoped so I put together a blue LED light for fun.

That light wasn't very bright, but it was bright enough to eat my cold rice by as I sat there listening to the storm through the fireplace chimney. The thunder and wind sounded distant, mere echoes sliding down the fireplace and around the closed flue. I couldn't tell if the storm was still active or if it was passing, so I sat there eating.

In between bites I checked my cell phone fruitlessly. No service. Actually, that rice was still pretty good, even cold. Still no service.

After fifteen or twenty minutes I ran out of rice and mango juice, so I went upstairs again to see how the storm was coming. The storm said “hi,” and that it was sorry if it startled me with the tree and all, but that was all that it was going to do, so I didn't have to wait in the basement all that time. I told the storm to eff off. It didn't listen.

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