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.

12 thoughts on “The Sound of One Tree

  1. I feel for you. We go through this at our place in the Catskills. This year we lost three trees. As much of a pain in the butt it is to lose power, it does slow you down and force you to simplify. I always think of the early pioneers, reading over candlelight. And the fireplace still works!

  2. Deborah,
    beautiful piece. sorry to hear you were w/o lights, but sometimes it is nature’s way of telling us to slow down and pay attention to it.
    I lost 2 computers due to viruses recently and I finally realized that they world will go on w/o me, but I could take the time to slow down and take in all that is around me- not counting the computer’s screen. stay warm. elizabeth

  3. Love this, Deborah. What strikes me most is the incremental quiet that creeps into your house and into your head, while outside, the power saw drones on and and on…

  4. hi deb,
    lucas and i feel kind of left out, that we were not there to join you for this new power outage. more dramatic than irene. great writing as always. thanks for sharing. you made me feel like i was there, having had a near-halloween storm experience with you guys during irene.
    big hugs

  5. It is amazing the amount of sounds we live with but no longer hear—until the power goes out.( Just as I’m writing this my refrigerator kicked and proceed on its repetitive cycle of twangs and hums.) The sudden quiet of a world usually drowned out is now heard. Fascinating. Lovely. Almost romantic. Maybe a little too quiet. Restless-instilling. Claustrophobic. Smothering! Then, aaah, there’s the fridge. It’s back; I’m back. Journey survived.

    Thanks for the post. My sis in NH texted me today: POWERS BACK!

  6. I’m with you on the sunshine! We haven’t had heat for almost two weeks, not because of a storm, but because of a broken furnace part. Hoping you get electricity–and we get heat–soon. (How long does it take to order a part, anyway?)

  7. Hey, Deb, is the power back yet? I don’t mind power outages as long as it’s light out, but doing stuff in the dark, and the fridge not workings. Yikes. But the way you describe it, puts me there. I can feel the zen-like quiet you’re experiencing. There’s a comfort in it. Thanks for bringing us along!

  8. Deborah,
    Beautiful piece and one I could really relate to. My power was out from Sat evening-Thursday evening. We have a generator, but it wasn’t working! Apparently we need a part that will take about 6 weeks to arrive. The first night was fun in front of the fire with my son, playing board games, but after that, not so much fun.
    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Sorry to hear that you had o go through this. It is when we have no more electricity and internet that we realise how we rely on them…That said, I am glad that you used this opportunity to write another beautiful post!

  10. I loved reading this. I, too, was writing and listening. The guy behind us had his generator going all week but we had power. Every five minutes another tree branch or trunk started to make that hollow breaking sound and I screamed “Timber” because I wasn’t sure if we’d be next. Very sad. 9D was a mess. I loved the language in this piece!

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