Part 1: Thunder and Bolts
Thursday was a particularly humid day.
Even as I worked in the shade, the sweat and discomfort wouldn’t leave me alone. Who am I to complain on such a beautiful day! I finished with work and headed home. I was taking the next day off, so, off I drove toward my weekend. I’ve been putting in long weeks with long days. A typical spring, but now I was ready for a break. My only thought now was to make it to the picnic table in my backyard for a beer with David.
There we sat in the sun. It felt good to rest and chat. At the same time we’re talking, I’m watching the sky change behind David. I had to interrupt,
“The sky is getting really intense. You have to look!”
The blue sky had disappeared and it was quickly getting to be dark. I got my camera and took a few pictures.
“I think we need to get the wash off of the line. It’ll get soaked if it rains.”
Yes, just before sitting down, David had put up our clothes line and we had hung out the first wash of the year. This was obviously more than enough to tempt the rain gods. We moved shorts and shirts back into the house to dry on the wooden rack. That was when I heard the thunder.
“Oh wow, this is really going to happen.”
The clouds had advanced quickly and the rain began to fall.
The lightning wasn’t visible at first, because of the daylight, but the thunder kept coming. We don’t get many thunderstorms around here and if we do it’s generally just a couple of strikes that resonate with a little thunder in the distance. This was different. A flash of light and then a low rumble would begin. Soft at first…a growl that builds in intensity…here it comes…that’s actually getting loud! The windows are vibrating (I know, they’re old, but?!!)…still going and rolling and….
The thunder lasted for minutes at a time. I ended up just going to bed and listening to the electricity in the sky until I drifted off to sleep.
The weather reports are saying that we had over 2500 lightning strikes that evening. That has got to be a record for around here. It was very exciting. At one point I almost got afraid. I don’t even know why. The sound and vibration was so intense.
I’m suddenly remembering a time when I was little, being huddled in the dark with my sisters, counting the seconds between the thunder and lightning. Every second was suppose to represent a mile. That way you could tell if the storm was coming toward you or moving away. The storm was coming closer and eventually we couldn’t even count to one. My dad had also told us about the titans and that they would fight and throw thunderbolts at each other. Were the gods mad at us too? It was good to be afraid there with them. Was I afraid now? The sky and the electricity moving through it wants to connect with the ground. Better get down.
Part 2: The Lightning Rods
Here lies the story of my Thundercloud Plum trees.
Trees reach up into the sky. That must take courage. Things can happen if you try to grow up so tall. Not many people know this, but a tree can have a difficult time trying to grow, a hard luck story to tell.
I was gifted five Thundercloud plum trees from my neighbor, Anne, whose garden I have written about before, For this moment. The idea was to extend the line of trees that she had started at her place along the parkway. The dream was that eventually others would continue the line and it would be so nice! Well, now it’s about fifteen years later and it’s still just the two of us with our ten trees.
I think I remember Anne helping me figure out how to place them. We measured out from the property line and then spaced them twenty feet apart. They looked like twigs sticking out of the ground compared to her more mature trees. I would look at all the luscious shade and green grass at Anne’s place and felt I couldn’t wait for my trees to grow.
It was around the time this picture was taken, give or take a year or two, that my trees had a really rough night. You can see from this picture that they were young and innocent. They were just standing there, not able to defend themselves. I woke up that next morning and, while I was having a cup of coffee, the trees caught my eye. Something wasn’t right and it took a bit for me to register what it was. They looked as though they were in a wind storm and were slanting at an extreme angle.
I thought, “Wow, they are really getting blown over out there.”
Then I realized there was no wind.
It was a calm morning that suddenly felt too calm.
My morning brain was scrambling to make sense of it all. My heart felt sick as I made my way out to the road. Four of the five trees were pushed over to about 45º and had half of their roots ripped out of the ground. The scene felt like a lot to take in. I finally noticed tire tracks straddling my line of trees. The bark had been stripped up the length of the trunks and the branches were scraped and broken.
Someone had run over my trees!
Who does that? Every car that drove past suddenly seemed unfriendly. If you’ve ever had your belongings vandalized you know that it can feel like a personal violation. I went straight to paranoia. Were the trees the target or was it us? This happened around the time that some trees in Seattle were killed by a neighbor who was wanting to improve their view. Was there someone who didn’t want my trees to get big and block their view? That didn’t seem likely. The only view from my house is a sliver of the bay. So, was it directed at us? Was someone mad at us?
You can see how this line of thought could drive a person crazy. I finally reasoned out that it probably hadn’t been personal and that it was likely just some bored kids out joyriding. Had it been exhilarating to run over the trees? Somehow it helped me to think that it had been a moment of fun for some teenagers. I pictured laughter as the branches whapped at the underside of the car.
Laughter, menace or greed; These trees needed help.
I dug out a half circle and did my best to replant the tree roots. I tried to tidy up the broken branches but, there was nothing I could do about the scraped bark that ran up the length of the trunk. I hoped they would make it. For protection I stuck a tall piece of rebar next to the trunk. That way if someone ran over them again, their car would get damaged as well. Whap, whap, whap. Yeah, that might be fun. The rebar was already giving me some peace of mind.
Months went by and I felt almost silly thinking about how suspicious and nervous that had made me. The more time that passed, the more random and less personal the whole event seemed.
One day I decided to weed around the trees. The rebar was in my way, so, I took them all down while I weeded. I would then put the rebar back as I finished each tree. When I stopped to have dinner that evening I didn’t feel up for going back out to finish weeding the last one. I thought it would be ok for one night without the rebar. I told myself I should stop worrying and just try to get past this.
The next day when I went out, the one tree that didn’t have the rebar had been run over again! It was creepy to think that I had been observed so closely. Now I no longer thought of teenagers having reckless fun, but of someone in my neighborhood that had a problem with me and my trees. I replanted the tree, replaced the rebar and gave the evil eye to all who passed. This lightning will strike all who thunder roll my trees! Oh yeah, I was mad.
Those were some bad times.
Then time went on. I left the rebar next to the trees for many years. I could never get them to stand as straight but, was able to eventually prune some of the branches from the untouched side to make the trees look more balanced and upright. I think they look pretty good now. They are starting to have the look of mature trees. Even the scars that run up the trunks are hardly noticeable anymore. Lightning can strike you, but thunder keeps rolling on.
Here are some pictures of my Thundercloud Plum trees waking this spring.
Click on the images to read more.