Reflections on a fallen tree and the brevity of life

This is one of the trees that stand tall over my house. The trees shield us from rain and snow and the sun's rays, provide a home for squirrels and birds. I've never realized how incredibly gigantic this tree is or what power it holds for both life ... and death. Photo (c) Joanne Brokaw

This is one of the trees that stand tall over my house. The trees shield us from rain and snow and the sun’s rays, provide a home for squirrels and birds. I’ve never realized how incredibly gigantic this tree is or what power it holds for both life … and death.
Photo (c) Joanne Brokaw

Coming home from today from a walk at White Haven with Bandit, I took the detour down Main St in East Rochester (they’ve got the street to our house completely torn up with construction) and came across what was clearly an emergency situation.

There was a man directing traffic as a fire truck came towards the intersection, and a crowd of people stood staring at a giant tree that had fallen across the road. I could see the front of a car under the tree. I waited as the fire truck was in place, until I was given the go ahead to turn.

My first thought? I should run home and get the camera. It was a big tree (100 years old, I later learned) and there are always cars parked on that street. It seemed like one of those “moments in history” when it seemed appropriate to capture the images on film (digitally, speaking). I’ve taken lots of nature photos like that- trees down in cemeteries, a train derailment just a block from my house, snowstorms that shut down our town, and the like. I think I’m drawn to the power of nature vs. man in those situations.

But when I got home, I could hear my neighbor telling someone there were people trapped in the car and I decided to skip the “isn’t that interesting” picture-taking opportunity. A giant tree falling is opportunity for photos of nature; people trapped in a car is gruesomely voyeuristic.

Then I saw tonight on the news that the tree fell on a car that was driving down the road, killing the driver and sending the passenger to the hospital.

Imagine for a moment what exact timing there has to be for the tree to fall on the car at the precise moment the car is driving past. In a fraction of a fraction of a second, you’re before the tree, then under the tree, then past the tree. It took longer for you to read that sentence than it takes for you to drive past the tree.

What are the odds?

And what if, under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t have been driving down that road? With Lincoln Rd. under construction, all traffic is routed through town. What if you weren’t really supposed to be there to begin with, but on that one day you happened to drive down that road, a tree happened to fall?

What are the odds?

A few years ago, a train derailed just up the street from my house. Cars were hanging over the overpass, had fallen onto the road below, and had skidded just feet away from homes in the neighborhood where the trains speed by several times a day. While there was damage to cars parked in the lots right next to the tracks, no one was hurt. Which is a miracle, when you consider how much sustained traffic is on that street, how many people are walking to and from cars, up and down the road. And yet no one was hurt.

What are the odds?

But today? Someone is driving down the road and BOOM. Under bright sunny skies, a tree falls on their car and they’re dead. It’s sad and eerie and a little difficult to comprehend.

Even eerier for me was to realize later that, had Bandit and I left our walk at the park just a few minutes earlier, we’d have been driving down that exact street, possibly at the exact moment when the tree fell.

Who decides when it’s your moment to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? What supernatural forces are at work that keep you just a few minutes longer where you are or that would have you be in exactly one place in exactly a specific moment?

I wondered later about a giant BOOM Bandit and I had heard while walking. At White Haven (which is a cemetery memorial park; ironic) we’re just a mile or two away (as the crow flies) from where the tree fell.  It’s possible that what we heard was the tree falling, based on witnesses who heard it fall and said the sound was terrifically loud. In fact, the BOOM scared Bandit because it sounded a lot like thunder. It’s what actually ended our walk. Bandit is frightened of thunder, and given that we’ve had two days of storms, when he heard the BOOM, even though the skies were clear and sunny, he made a beeline back to the dogmobile.

I’d wanted to stop walking a few minutes earlier. I’d been feeling a little queasy all morning and was ready to head home. But at a fork in the road in the cemetery, Bandit (in what is a very regular occurance on our walks) stopped, and when I said, “OK, you pick which way we go,” he opted for a longer route back to the dogmobile – until he heard the BOOM.

What are the odds?

I wouldn’t normally dwell on my own mortality, except that last week I celebrated my 30th birthday for the 19th time. Last night darling husband and I were out to dinner and I was musing about how I’ve accomplished nothing of value in my life, left no mark, and wasted much time and opportunity. And really have no prospects that things will change in the near future.

I suppose birthdays are like that, especially as you get older, moments for reflection and a little bit of self-pity.

But I think today the lesson learned is that there’s no value on worrying about the past or fretting about the future when you don’t even have control of this exact second. There are no odds. There is force at work greater than our desires, our plans, our wants, who controls the moment for reasons we will never understand in this life. The only moment we have is now. That is the only thing we can be sure of.

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3 responses to “Reflections on a fallen tree and the brevity of life

  1. A day of sadness and a day of enlightenment. It is what you take with you from the experience. Any second, it could be us…in a car accident, plane crashing in your house, tree falling on your car.
    We stress about the bills, about our 401k, long term health insurance, retirement etc. We miss the nuances of enjoying life and living in the present. I learned when I was in my 20’s and the work that I was in that death can be very sudden and unplanned and knew that death may come as a “thief in the night”. Since the “enlightenment” each day is valuable as it could be my last.

  2. On October 11, 2013 the stars were aligned as my husband and I were driving to work, a tree fell at the precise moment we were driving by. I was trapped in the car and had multiple fractures, abrasions and contusions while my husband had only minor injuries. It is supernatural, it is God – it was a miracle. A 9-inch branch came through the windshield right between us…we were driving in the middle of the road because of flooding, if we had been on our side of the road my husband would have been impaled. So many things played into that moment that were only apparent days and weeks following the accident.

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