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Tossing Lines: When trees attack

An old philosophical question asks “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I can’t answer that, but I do know from recent personal experience that when a tree falls on a house, it most certainly makes a sound. A hideous, indescribable sound.

Last fall, I was driving from Connecticut to Florida when I stopped in Decatur, Georgia, on the edge of of Atlanta, at the home of my daughter.

After a sleepless night listening to pounding rain, screaming winds sending debris bouncing off the house, and watching the power flickering on and off, I sat up at 5 a.m. to check the weather down the coast in anticipation of continuing my drive. No sooner had I accessed my phone when The Noise occurred.

It was like a speeding locomotive had passed me a mere six feet away in two seconds. I had no clue what it was.

I’ve heard planes crashes, car crashes, a recording of a submarine imploding on the bottom of the sea, but nothing compares to the sound that morning.

I sensed something very serious had occurred but with only an unrecognizable soundtrack, I was completely baffled.

Heading out to investigate, I no sooner grabbed the doorknob when the power went out, leaving me in total darkness. The door wouldn’t budge, adding to the absurdity.

Sensing danger, I heard my family yelling for me in the kitchen at the other end of the house, from where they could see down the hall into their master bedroom, now in complete shambles.

Collapsed roof rafters, shattered drywall and ceiling insulation filled the room. I was trapped right next to it.

They ran down the hall, calling for me, not knowing my condition. I assured them I was OK but the door was jammed. Advising me to stand back, they kicked the door in.

We escaped to the opposite end of the house, away from the disaster. Standing in disbelief, the carnage in full view at the end of the hall, we watched and listened as the house continued creaking and cracking loudly as though whatever it was wasn’t through with us yet.

We still didn’t know what had caused such horrendous damage. We couldn’t see the tree. Did an airplane hit the house? Was there an explosion next door? What could possibly cause such massive damage to a home?

The unknown presented a sinister, ominous feeling. I opened the front door to investigate and faced a dense wall of leaves and large branches. With just enough room to squeeze through the mass, I headed outside and discovered the tree, its huge trunk lying across the roof of the house, its canopy covering the front of the home.

The experience becomes even more incredible considering that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a person has a better chance of being killed by lightning than being killed by a falling tree and yet, we came close that night. Only early work schedules caused the master bedroom to be unoccupied when the tree forced the roof down into the room, driving the ceiling structure onto the bed.

A peculiar statistic claims that Georgia is the fourth most dangerous state for falling tree eaths. Glad I didn’t know that. Supporting this bizarre reputation, three people were killed by falling trees in the Atlanta area during this particular storm.

Though still in shock, my daughter, in one of those moments that makes a parent proud, grabbed the phone and began making calls to Atlanta’s emergency services personnel, her insurance company, and local tree contractors. By the end of the day, the tree was off the home and the roof covered, but the extensive damage had rendered her homeless.

As the house shifted on its foundation, interior walls had detached, doorways were askew, the master bath destroyed.

A sense of shock lingered upon us from the sheer insanity, the absurdity, of the moment. Now, five months later, the house is still under repair as my daughter and her spouse live a nomadic life in hotels, rental homes, and lodging provided by friends.

The tree capped a string of serious problems we faced last year. Along with Covid, we faced life-threatening health issues among both family and friends.

We gave our daughter a tree ornament last Christmas featuring an image of The Grinch, with the words “2020: Stink Stank Stunk.” A perfect commentary for us all.

John Steward lives in Waterford. He can be reached at


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