The Sound of One Tree

October 31, 2011. I’m sitting in my living room, two sweatshirts over a long-sleeve shirt and a tank top. The only sounds I hear are a buzz saw and a neighbor’s generator.  This is a Halloween trick, no treat at all.  The first snowstorm on record in October hit two days ago.  At its height there was the sound of clumps of snow falling, tree branches snapping off, trees toppling under the weight of heavy snow and leaves not yet fallen.  It reminds me of the avalanches I would hear in the distance when I visited Mount Cook, New Zealand, with my daughter.

No power. No Internet. No heat. Fortunately the sun is strong, streaming through the windows.  It feels warmer outside than it does in the house, a marker of autumn,  especially those days when you’re not quite ready to turn up the thermostat, that winter mindset (not to mention the oil bills) just beginning to take hold.

Without power, and with bright sunshine,  I can read. Books. Earmarked articles from magazines. I can also write. And yet something makes me want to do nothing but listen. This is no zen acceptance of things as they are. Living in a part of the Northeast where overhead power lines still rule, I’ve grown used to the power outages, typically in summer and winter, with the extreme weather those seasons is prone to bring. I almost welcome the silence, not even a hum from the refrigerator.  Until too much time without makes me impatient for the expectations I’ve grown to live with.  There’s something to be said, too, for the normal rhythms that give rise to a productive workday. A walk. Errands. Reading the newspaper, in print or online. A conversation with my daughter. Yoga. A workout at the gym.  Without them, am I feeling a little lost, maybe even unable to focus?

Besides, there’s this tree – a huge one – that has fallen across my driveway.  I can walk around, or under, the tree, which, admittedly, awes me with its sheer magnitude and beauty, even toppled as it is.  Mother Nature has dropped a sculpture at my door, an earthbound treehouse. But walking around, or through, or over – even owning up to its enchantment – will only get me so far.  How long before I begin to feel trapped by its presence?

I keep listening, as if the very listening will make the refrigerator begin humming, force the heat to kick in, the
sound of the buzz saw chopping away at the tree to recede into the background.  It’s an unpleasant sound, yes, even if rhythmic in a way that resounds with that methodical piece-by-piece elimination of tree branches that shaded my house and that full, once-sturdy trunk that stood like a regal reminder that something exists in spite of itself. In spite of me. A process of elimination that fascinates me as I watch three men, salt of the earth, move like bees in and out of a hive: sections of the tree chopped by one,  placed in a wheelbarrow by another, branches cascading like peacock feathers off the shoulder of still another.  Yes, there is that story I need to e-mail someone, and all those Tweets and e-mails and Facebook feeds I want to catch up on. If I can’t (yet) have that access at home, at the very least I can find myself a WiFi hotspot, or go to good friends who have power and provide the kind of warmth that goes way beyond a heated house.  But for that I need my car, to take me to the other side of the downed tree.