Sunday, July 1, 2012

Howling Winds

Friday night, something blew through town. I don’t know if it was a tornado or just a monster storm, but it brought 75 mile-an-hour winds with it. The winds took down several of our huge forest trees. The trees, of course, had to land on, and crush, our split rail fence. They also ripped Cecil’s car up a good bit and showered our entire three acres with branches, leaves and debris. The front drive is completely blocked. Our power is out. All of this makes for a very nice showing when your house is on the market for sale. ‘Till now, I’ve stopped in the middle of a work day and worried I might have left my toothbrush on the sink. Now the whole place looks like a war zone.

It was supposed to have been such a lovely weekend – Cecil’s first time home in the three months since he began his stem cell transplant. I thought maybe things were getting off to a bad start when we found the dogs fighting over a dead possum, bloated from the heat with worms snaking their way out from the belly. Cecil and I jostled over which role we each had to play. I thought I’d won when he agreed to shovel the thing up. But, then I had to hold the bag and, probably by accident, the possum’s protruding butt hole touched my hand on the way in and, suddenly, I was thinking I’d gotten the raw end of that deal.

So, after a bunch of gagging and some very serious hand washing, we were just retiring upstairs when the chaos erupted. I mean, it came from nowhere and it came with a vengeance. We heard the winds rumbling through our woods on their way to the house before they got here. Books along the window sill came flinging off to the floor before we could react. I tried to get to the window, but actually had to fight the force. It was like in a cartoon where the character is pushing into a wind storm and his skin is blown back behind his face.

Cecil and I, with both dogs, huddled in the bed, except it was too hot to stay that way for long. The power went out immediately and there we were with no AC and no fans. What was it, maybe 105 that night? It felt like much more. We lay, actually moaning out loud about the heat, sweat dripping, in the literal sense, onto the sheets. The dogs were banished to the floor, but their panting haunted us all night long. We fluctuated between worrying they would die of heat stroke, and actually snapping at them from time to time to be quiet.

As I tossed and turned, more awake than ever sleeping, I thought I felt a tick burrowed into my stomach. Anyone who’s ever had a tick knows the drill. You stop, mid-action. Is that a tick? Once you’ve confirmed that it is, there is nothing in the world more important than getting the tick out. Except we had no power and it was pitch dark. I grabbed some tweezers, a mirror and a flashlight and set myself up. Every second was a nightmare. Surely the thing was already making its way into my bloodstream. You haven’t really roughed it until you have yanked a tick out by flashlight in the middle of a tornado, or whatever that was.

We woke up yesterday morning, exhausted from our night’s ‘sleep’ and laughed about the winds. Little did we suspect the horrors that awaited us outside. We surveyed the damage – it wasn‘t pretty. As Cecil shuffled about, so weak and so deserving something other than this, I barked out orders. We needed to call the insurance company. And the electric company, in case by some stretch of unfathomable coincidence, we were the only ones without power. Tree haulers needed to get to the property immediately. What if a potential buyer wanted to stop by? I was clearly delusional by then. After several calls, it became clear that what had fallen in our woods was too large for ordinary people to handle. We needed to bring in lumberjacks or someone else with red plaid shirts, a big-ass chain saw and a crane. 

After an hour on the phone with the insurance claims people, I realized I needed pictures. So, next I found myself out in the woods, no doubt communing with the mother lode of all ticks, not to mention a fair amount of poison ivy. It was out there, in the heat, that I realized we would lose everything in the refrigerator.

So, I jumped in the car to go get ice. It was 8:00 AM. What had I been doing all morning long? By then, every grocery store, CVS, and piss-ant mini-mart in the region was out of ice, batteries and candles. As I dragged myself toward home, resigned to losing the $300 in groceries I’d just packed into the fridge, I saw a woman pushing a cart of ice out front of a nameless corner market. You’d have thought she had gold in her buggy. I peeled into the lot, paid her twenty bucks on the spot and loaded the ice into the trunk.

I might mention, in passing, that the streets of Roanoke were no longer a safe place to find yourself. Intersections had no traffic lights and there was, essentially, a free-for-all going on at every corner. Road rage erupted without a whole lot of provocation. A significant number of ‘fingers’ were given, not to mention the obscenities that made their way out a number of windows.  

Once Cecil and I had moved the food into ice-packed coolers, it dawned on me that my cell phone and laptop batteries would soon die and I had no way to charge them. Losing trees and going without food were slight inconveniences compared to the notion of being unplugged. I crossed over long ago and freely admit I am neurotic about being connected. So, I jumped back into the car and charged the phone on my ride to Books a Million, where I sat casually sipping tea (as if I had nothing else to do) so my computer could charge. This morning, I am decadently draining that charge to write this blog post. Needless to say, I am banging it out and the writing will stink a little.

The only thing left was what to do about night fall. We couldn’t just sit there in the dark. I remembered our old-timey hurricane lanterns, so I left the book store and headed off to find some fuel. After practically elbowing people out of the way at five different stores, only to come upon barren shelves, I struck pay dirt in my store of last resort. I’d gotten down on my knees to look in the way back of the bottom shelf where it seemed the oil would be. There, lying on its side behind a bunch of other stuff that had not become popular survival items, was a lone bottle of lamp oil. I gave the now proverbial Yes – complete, as I remember it, with the downward thrust of the clenched fist, for emphasis. We would have light. In fact, when I got home, we found some sheets of beeswax in the cupboard and rolled candles, so, as the sun set and the rooms dimmed, we were actually lookin’ pretty good.     

 We hear it’ll be days before power can be restored. It’ll be weeks before our yard is back together. This is definitely not what Cecil and I had envisioned for his first visit home in three months. But, stuff happens. This was just one more reminder that you have to be flexible. As always, we tried to put a positive spin on the situation. Pickings were slim, but we came up with 1) At least the weekend wasn’t boring, and 2) Cecil won’t be as sad to head back up to Charlottesville on Monday to continue his recuperation regimen. That’s about the best we can do. Oh, and the roof didn’t blow off the house, and none of us died. 

I will close by saying I look forward to launching my new web site in August, after my son, Dru, gets back from Asia and builds it for me. The site will be devoted to life and writing about it, with a particular focus on my book Came the Hunter, a manuscript I am currently shopping to agents. But that’s another whole story.

Here’s hoping this coming week will be a little less eventful.


  1. You and Cecil were inconvenienced with the power outage during a horrible heatwave. I'm sorry you lost those gorgeous trees. Clean up is a bitch, but it all gets done. My friends in Colorado Springs weren't so lucky. Their clean up with be with brooms and pails to cart the ashes away.

  2. I guess I got a little minor version of this where I am, though some neighbors nearby had wires dangling off of trees. I'm sorry you had so much damage.
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