Thursday, November 10, 2011

Forest for the Trees

Not being able to see the forest for the trees is a truism we all know. But until last week's devastating storm swept through Connecticut, leaving some 20 inches of snow, tens of thousands of damaged trees, and downed power lines all over, I hadn't thought very much about the phrase in a literal sense.

Our house is in a heavily wooded spot, and we had terrible damage here. The oaks and maples were still in full leaf, which is why they were so susceptible to damage, as the leaves were like sails in the high winds, and they also held the snow and ice, which would have slipped through bare trees with less impact.

In my five days of dark and cold (and no water either, because we are on a well that requires electricity to run the pump), even as I began to deal with the aftermath, arranging for the downed trees to be cut up and cleared, identifying the broken trees with dangerous hangers (which need expensive attention, thus the need to triage -- tree-age -- and only do the work on the trees near the house, leaving the trees on our wooded hillside as they are, though some of them are so damaged they will probably come down through the winter), I realized I have spent years not seeing the trees for the forest. Only at a moment like this, as these massive oaks and maples are tilted and strewn and broken in jarring new ways, do I really see each tree.

My only source of warmth, the roaring fires I built each evening in our fireplaces (it's an 18th century house with four fireplaces that throw heat nicely), were made with the cut, dried, and stacked logs of wood from other trees we have lost through the years. I depended most of all on chunks of oak to burn steadily through those cold nights.

I couldn't work during the power failure. I really depend on electricity. These days, people have taken to calling books "physical books" to distinguish them from e-books (the way an ordinary clock is now an analog clock as opposed to a digitial one), but for a long while they have also been called "dead tree books," too. I am sure there is a useful metaphorical lesson in here somewhere.

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