We have not had a dull moment since we moved to Blacksburg two weeks ago. It’s summer vacation and we are living it up. Already we have been to free concerts on the lawn at Virginia Tech, a free children’s theater production of Go Dog Go (also on campus), eaten homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream with a neighbor, gone blueberry picking, made blueberry crisps and blueberry muffins, eaten frozen yogurt for lunch at the Frosty Parrot, crepes and pastries at Our Daily Bread, and had a three day slumber party with my childhood girlfriends and their kids. I have run while the kids rode their bikes on the endless network of bike paths in our neighborhood, where we saw horses, and stopped at a duck pond lined with weeping willows (my favorite tree), and pointed giddily when the trees would open up and we’d see the Appalachians right there. We’ve gone swimming, biking, walking, flower sniffing, taken swimming lessons, gotten a library card, looked at the elementary schools, grilled out, caught fireflies…
And yesterday, we were going to explore the Farmer’s Market, except that instead, we cleaned up the wreckage from the 80 mph winds that ripped through town Friday night. Soon after dark on Friday, after the kids and I got home from the bluegrass concert on the lawn, I heard a roar outside that sounded like a torrential downpour, so I ran out on the back deck to grab the beach towel I had left out there to dry. Only it wasn’t wet out there, it was more like a dust storm. And it wasn’t violent rain I heard – it was howling wind, rushing through the dense, leafy canopy of the trees towering over the house. And I mean towering. I looked up and saw the wind ripping through the tree tops waaay up there, and I thought, “These trees are too big for this wind,” and I got scared. When it comes to strong winds, I’m used to palm trees at roof level, with their tidy, compact crowns, and trunks that bend with the gales of hurricanes. I am not used to sixty-foot oaks and hickories with inelastic trunks and lush, branching, leaf-laden limbs that whip and snap and pelt you with nuts while you collect your son’s soccer goal, and crank the patio umbrella down, and frantically try to snatch up any other objects that could blow away in winds like that.
The storm didn’t last long, and our lights flickered but didn’t go out. It was dark when it finished, so since I couldn’t see the wreckage (and we didn’t have a tree through the roof), I kind of forgot about it until morning. I got up and worked out – lots of arm and shoulder work, of course – fixed some coffee, and looked out the window. And thought, Oh Crap. We’re not going to the farmer’s market today.
There was no damage to the house, thankfully, but the top 20 feet of an 80 foot tree had popped off and landed in the corner of the back yard, and you could barely see the ground for all the leaves, twigs, branches, and limbs that littered both the front and back yards, deck, walkways, and driveway. My shoulders wept for all the raking they’d have to do after my workout.
The funny thing was that when we finally went outside (I avoided it as long as possible, sipping my coffee slowly and with leisure), all the neighbors were out and in good spirits, making sure everyone was okay, cleaning up, assessing damages, and talking about the storm. Despite the trees that did come down – one on top of a neighbor’s car – nobody was hurt, and in general there was a fun and friendly air about it all. It reminded me of how it felt in Minnesota whenever a blizzard would come through. Once everything quieted down, the neighbors would make their way out, one by one, with their hats and mittens and snow shovels, their voices carrying over the snow drifts about how much snow came down and how quickly, spinning yarns about blizzards of old, reminiscing about the Halloween blizzard of ’91, and whether this blizzard compared to it.
This time, we were out in shorts and sun hats, but I marveled at the similarity in attitudes. I felt comforted that in general, we are all the same. Whether Georgia after a hurricane, or Minnesota after a blizzard, or Virginia after a freak wind storm, neighbors pull together and share stories while they sweep, and shovel, and clean things up.
The kids and I raked and picked up, drank iced Gatorade in the heat, pushed wheelbarrows full of sticks down to the street and back up into the yard again to collect more. They collected hickory nuts, found branches with nuts we had been trying to identify, and made fans out of broad leaves they found on the ground. After a while, a neighbor came over and asked if we’d like to take a break and go cool off in the pool.
Yes, we said. Yes we would.