For years, the little cottage that is now ours was on my running route. And because I run fairly slowly, I could memorize every detail of the house as I trotted by. Sweet rocking chair and hanging swing front porch. Rust colored door and evergreen shutters. Meandering walkway to the front porch. Bright blue hydrangea bush. Four enormous oak trees, one on every side of the house. Oh, those oak trees were glorious. The little house was dwarfed under them. It was easy to fall in love with those trees, to want the house because of those trees and all of their history.
So when I arrived home from work one day to BF holding the flyer to a house that had gone on sale that day by owner and I saw it was the cottage, I was in. Full feet, couldn’t jump fast enough, in. And in the years that we’ve lived in this sweet place, we’ve fallen more and more in love with those trees. Walk into our backyard on a hot summer day, and it’s an easy fifteen degrees cooler than anywhere else. And while the trees are like our sentinels, we’ve long been aware that it cuts both ways, that we live in a precarious place under these beauties. It’s like anything beautiful, right? So thrilling, yes. So charming, absolutely. But like the ocean or the rain or the grazing bear not so far away, nature can turn. Things change. And so we’ve lived under these trees with some awareness that not everything is sweetness. There’s the magnitude of everything they drop- acorns, leaves, seeds, oak flower are the gentle things, limbs are the not so gentle thing. There’s the way they need all the moisture in our yard, making everything else impossible to grow. There’s the wild raccoon who lived in the one in our backyard for awhile, making us nervous about letting the dog out, lest she get bit by a rabid raccoon, and the overly-friendly black snake who makes her home in the one in the front yard. As is true with all good things, there is mostly the good. But at night, when the thunderstorms come through, and we can hear the wind wailing and our two bedrooms are directly underneath the trees, we live aware of how quickly everything can get rearranged, how fast things change.
And so we care for our trees. We have the tree guys come every few years to trim limbs and keep an eye on things. We marvel at these trees, and we delight in their stories. We live about a tenth of a mile from train tracks that aren’t used any more but, back in the day, this was a busy stop on that line. Soldiers would come down the road from the train station and gather under the oaks. Every now and again, our neighbor- whose been here for a long time- told us, you can find coins from the 1910s and 20s under these trees. Coins that fell out of the pockets of soliders who napped under these trees, about fifty years old then so plenty big for some shade.
About to head out for a family walk in the woods on Saturday, Happy and I ran out to the Sugar Shack for a few minutes to shut down my computer. And when I looked out the door, just past our biggest oak in the backyard, I saw the sky turn ominous. Suddenly, the wind picked up. Happy, I said, we need to go. In wind that was so wild I worried it might knock Happy down, we ran, holding hands, under that oak tree, and into the house. Safest place in the house, I asked myself. And I chose the master bedroom, the only addition to the old cottage, assuming that the newer roof might fare better than the ancient house’s roof. I didn’t think about how the biggest tree towered over the master bedroom.
I pulled out a puzzle for us to work on and we got to work fitting together red dinosaur parts. And then smash! A racket above us, no more than five minutes after we ran into the house. From the kitchen, BF muttered expletives.
Hey, hush, we’ve got little ears here, I said, grabbing Happy and running into the kitchen to see what had caused the commotion. And then I looked out the back window (where BF had been doing dishes and saw this all go down). The biggest limb from that oak had fallen on the house, the base of it on the master bedroom, but the length of it covering the entire house.
Some buckets to catch water, a quick responding tree service company, and a few tarps later, and we’re fine. The roof is mostly shredded, sure, but we’re- the three of us and Lola- are fine and the house is far more fine that it should be given the circumstances. As Happy says of the tarps and water shields that span the cottage, “Our house has a band-aid” and for awhile it will until insurance can be filed and we can get the work done to restore it.
As we finished cleaning off the roof and clearing the yard on Saturday night, BF lamented our fate.
“I can’t believe our luck,” he said, looking back out that same kitchen window where he’d born witness to the destruction hours before. Staring at that oak, at the gaping whole from where that limb once extended, all I could think of was Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The gash was like the natural world’s equivalent.
“Me neither,” I answered. “We have insurance. All of us are safe. And this house should really be flattened from a blow like that. I can’t believe our luck either.”
BF looked at me and shook his head. “You are right,” he answered. And then changed his tone. “I can’t believe our luck.”