Frosty Trauma

I get up each morning and look out into the valley below my house. Sometimes I see the rings of mountains to the south, sometimes I just see fog. I sit outside with my coffee and tablet and read as the sun comes up over the mountain. I watch the birds peck at the feeders and scratch at the ground, the geese loudly migrating overhead. I can smell the ocean and the forest, and in the winter I can smell the snow high up on mountains between here and the ocean. This is such a magical place I try to filter the magic like a sponge. I can’t get over how awesome it is here, how close it is to everywhere I wanted to be.

Creatively, it’s been like moving next door to a whole neighborhood of muses. I have so much opportunity to think and create and learn and so many folks here who are actively doing and helping and creating. I can’t stop gushing. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Walking through the park next door has been like walking through a natural kaleidoscope of diverse beauty. Every park in town is an emerald jewel. 

We had adopted the trees around us for a calendrical celebration. We had learned about the firs and the spruces, the oaks and the cottonwoods, all through the prior year and discovered that we had gained the ability to recognize individual types of trees in what had previously been a nameless crowd. Every tree has a history, and people have had different ideas about different trees forever. Learning about some of these old stories brought us closer to the trees.

We were given some warning that a strong winter storm was a possibility, but the predictions seem to cast doubt on more than a slight chill. It was a shock to everyone that the frigid air and freezing rain would get so bad or stay so long. At first, we woke to an icy wonderland, but as the freezing rain continued and the ice layers on the trees thickened, we were hearing the first of the failing branches fall by sundown. 

We spent the night listening to the trees collapse in our yard, around the neighborhood, up in the park, and out by the highway. The falling ice and smaller branches would clatter on the ice-coated ground like firecrackers followed by a great boom of a branch crashing into the ice below. Every crash would tear another hole into my heart. Another branch, another tree, was like losing a brother or a friend. I walked past these trees in every season, they were part of my world. The loss of so many at once was crushing. I was unable to feel all the emotions. It was challenging to discuss. Only now, a couple of weeks past the event am I even able to write about it.

Slow motion devastation all around us played out as we waited for the sun to rise and show us the crushed, ice-coated hulks, pulled down from the trees or uprooted from the ground, and discarded like toddler toys. Deciduous trees appeared to have taken the most damage, with many splitting down the trunk to the roots. The firs and spruces were not immune to damage, many losing branches overweight with ice. As awful as the ice was, the damage continued with the thaw.

Ice puts an unreasonable stress on the trees, stripping branches from the trunk. But sometimes the ice acted as a preservative, holding things together until the thaw. Once the ice started to come down, so did many of the branches. Again with the now muted fireworks sounds as ice and branches tumbled down. A warming trend overnight, with warmer rain, washed the ice from the trees and the ground and left us with an enormous mess. Many areas in town lost power and water. We lost power for 10 hours and water for half a day. In the greater context of our community, we came out really well. 

One of our trees is a Japanese Elm that is almost umbrella shaped. The ice caused the branches to arch and fold down nearly to the ground. But after the ice had melted away it was clear that this tree had held up far better than any of the other trees in our yard. Is it because that’s where we feed our birds and they poop a lot? Or because we’d been watering the nearby rhody so it got more water? Or maybe just something about a tree that’s more used to that sort of weather? Don’t know, but I am very glad our favorite tree survived.

When we could finally venture out, the trees in the road, in every yard, and the snapped power poles told a story of unprecedented ice after a particularly dry year. It took about two weeks before most of the neighbors had been able to clean up their own yards and what had been marvelous, stately trees were carved down to stumps. Some folks, obviously hoping to salvage whatever remained standing, just cut away the damaged limbs and left the rest with strips of bare wood against the elements.  

Walking through the park was a mixed result. Some trees were lost completely and most trees lost at least a few branches. The damage was not as severe as we had imagined. There were still many trees left standing on the mountain, many trees remaining along the path. The environment here is conducive for strong growth, so these trees and branches will grow back over the coming years. In the sense that nature has these kinds of cycles all the time and we’re not really part of that equation so much. We just have to clean up and replant where we can.

The Buddhist message I remind myself is that life is change. These trees have come to the end of what they can do, but life continues. Other trees will grow in their places and bring diversity and change. Different kinds of life will have a chance to thrive in a more diverse niche. This kind of change can make life more resilient and stronger. This is part of the natural cycle. It’s not as pretty as the flowers, but it’s still a part.


One response to “Frosty Trauma”

  1. Life is change. Life is change. I know it in my head but my heart sometimes needs a bit to catch up.

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