A Tree Crashed in the Woods…

Written by Jennifer Griggs

The Setting

It was past 11 pm. Things were winding down in the house, the news a low murmur, the sky a deep purple, rain tapering off to large, infrequent drops at the end of a heavy downpour.

Then the power went out. More abruptly than it usually does…none of those warning flickers that let you know it’s coming. No chance to hold our breath and hope it was a momentary surge. A sudden crack–close by but not too close–from the sound of a giant tree falling. (We are surrounded by 100-foot oak trees.) It had to have been between us and our nearest neighbor. 

A quick check of the app on my husband’s phone encouraged us that the estimated time of power restoration was around 5 am. Not too bad–we wouldn’t have to throw away any of the food in the refrigerator. The garage door would open with the press of a button. We went back to sleep, both of us even more assured by a fresh update from the app that a crew had been called.

No crisis

I woke at 6:30 to see that the lights were on in the bathroom. I’d left my bedside light on, so my husband had woken up at 1 pm when the power came back on four hours ahead of schedule. 

On our morning walk, we canvassed the forest in the front of our property and couldn’t find the tree until we walked past our neighbor’s drive. A dead tree, arms stretched up, a barkless oak, sprawled out on the ground, its roots nearly bare.

Behind the scenes

I imagined the crew. Roused from sleep. Putting on their gear. Assembling their equipment. Driving to the spot where the power had lapsed. I imagined the flashing light on top of the yellow cherry picker, cars driving past as the unwieldy vehicle slowed down and pulled over. The workers finding and repairing the severed line, completing their paperwork, and driving home. 

We’ll likely never know what the crew members thought of this whole event. I am fairly certain they were not imagining us or our neighbor, an older man with metastatic prostate cancer, sleeping in our houses. Another night on call, another trivial and inconvenient repair in the rural Midwest. Nothing to see here

It’s unlikely that they told anyone the details when they returned home and got back in under the covers. Maybe they received a light touch on the arm…if their return was even noticed. 

Nothing to see here

This story–a tree falling, an electric line quietly repaired without celebration or fanfare, people doing their work to keep things working, a catastrophizing mind (mine) put to rest–has no drama to it, no tension, no days of hot, sticky air, no wasted food, no lasting damage done (although I do still wonder if the tree served as a habitat for woodland animals or if birds had a cache for the winter knocked out). It’s quite dull. You may not have actually made it this far in this story.

The joy of noticing

We seldom notice when things go well, when our flight leaves on time, when the library has the book we want, when a stranger treats us well, when the grocery store has everything on our list, when we finish a big project, when we get what we want for Christmas (work with me here…it’s a metaphor). What would it make possible if we could make a habit of sharing those stories? How would telling and listening to stories of the mundane but gloriously functional things in life change the way you see your world? 

There is much worth noticing that often escapes the eye.

Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

We are storytelling animals. We have long told stories of harm and danger and threatening things and worst-case scenarios to keep ourselves and others safe. We’ve had to be aware of and attuned to the cybertoothed tiger (not a typo). But what happens when the story continually reinforces the idea that the world is shit, that everything is broken?

It goes without say that none of these things has the power to soothe the pain of structural violence, the poverty of body and spirit of others, of betrayal, broken promises, and indignities that we and others experience. But stories of things going just…well, right…can give us moments of ease.

How about you?

Is there anything working well in your life? Even in the world at this most ridiculous and frightening of times? Is there someone you can call to mind, a stranger, who did their job without asking for thanks? Did your car not make a strange sound when you started it up this morning? Did the package arrive on time? Did the meeting end on time? What would noticing do to welcome ease into your life?


Photo by Vera Silkina on pexels