So, a tree falls in the woods or, in this particular situation, across a dirt road. Whether it made a sound is somewhat irrelevant when the road across which it has fallen is the road to one’s house. Silent or cacophonous, the result of the arboreal capitulation is the same — impeded access.
We have had quite a few downed trees in our corner of the county this year. Several have fallen on power lines leaving us waiting, perhaps not so patiently, while the folks from Excelsior Electric made their way slowly through arteries to arterioles to capillaries. Most of them, however, have landed, without any interference, to very neatly bisect the road and divide the world into those at home and those away.
The unusual number of collapses is due, I think, to several reasons. The heavy equipment of loggers who have been harvesting the forests along the road have weakened the trees’ root systems. County road maintenance includes dragging the ditches for debris, a practice that results in the trees closest to the road balancing on smaller and smaller pedestals. And, of course, some of the trees are just old. They hit the ground and, instead of splintering, dissolve into the finest of sawdust.
Whatever the reason, we’ve all learned to be watchful this summer, to pay closer attention to what lies ahead in the rocky gray dust.
Or, at least I thought I had.
Driving home the other afternoon, not just daydreaming, but completely lost in somber contemplation, I topped the hill and was jolted back into reality by the sight of a tree stretched across the road as though it had simply gotten tired and decided to lie down. It was a scrub oak, gray and gnarly, bare of any foliage, its branches thin and bent at odd sharp angles. It covered about three quarters of the road, leaving just enough room on the far side to ease a car by without sliding into the ditch.
Having hit the brakes at first sight, I maneuvered the car slowly between the topmost branches and the slanted face of the ditch with inches to spare on either side. I drove the remaining half mile to home and promptly forgot about the tree.
Until the next morning when it startled me coming from the other direction. And then that afternoon when it surprised me again. After a couple of days it occurred to me that no one was going to move the tree.
The tree was not a sapling. It could not be dragged out of the road by one or even two people. It would have to be cut up or pulled away by a tractor pulling a heavy chain. I, having neither a chain saw nor a tractor, had no responsibility for the removal. But because I traveled that way every day, I had to be aware of its presence, had to circumnavigate its substantial self, had to avoid the dangers that it offered simply by being.
After about a week of making a loop around the poor dead tree twice a day, it occurred to me that I was probably supposed to be learning something, something beyond the idea that it would be handy to have my own chain saw. Something along the lines of: There are things in life over which I have no control, whether minor annoyances or life-changing events, and if I’m going to be able to keep moving, not be wrecked on the rocks or stuck on the sandbar, I can’t just wait for someone else to come along and remove the obstacle. I, on my own and for myself, have to find a way around.
I have to be honest. That doesn’t necessarily appeal to me. Not the thought of having to find my own way. I’m really good at that. No, the part that makes my fur stand up is the necessity of acknowledging that my own way will sometimes have to be around, not through. That more often than not I’ll be hugging the edge of the ditch rather than straddling the centerline. And that getting home will take more effort than I thought.
I guess it’s a good thing that getting home will be worth it.