Derecho! It’s a terrific new scary weather word, just entering our vocabulary, thanks to Climate Change and our meteorologists. It’s a straight line thunderstorm, the kind they speak of as showing a radar “bow echo.” The eastern seaboard recently experienced a knock-out punch from a big one. We here in south central PA took a sideswipe from the storm, the same one which disappeared the electricity from millions of people, in a swath which ran from the Alleghenies onto the coastal plain of Virginia.
I woke in the night to hear it coming. At first, I thought it was just Norfolk Southern, whose trains power up and down our valley all night, but I grew up in western Ohio, near Xenia, in fact, which blew away in the great tornado outbreak of 1974, so that kind of noise makes me anxious. When I got up, wind was roaring through the open windows, and the night sky looked thick, like a rushing wall of dirty water. Lightning came blasting in, then pouring rain—time to stop staring and run to see if Bob Cat was at the door, looking for sanctuary. Next, run to close windows. Then it was time to get the heck away from those windows, because, along with the lightning and roaring wind, limbs were crashing down, things were striking the siding and there was a series of huge cracks and house-shaking thuds. Someone’s trees—maybe mine—were going over.
Now, I’ll walk back a step. All summer we’ve been serenaded from the neighbor’s fine tall Norwegian maple by a catbird. IMHO the catbird is the true subject of the old song—sure, you know the one. “He rocks in the tree tops all the day long, huffin’ and puffin’ and a singin’ his song…” All members of the mockingbird family are genius jazz musicians, riffing on their own—and everybody else’s songs. I’ve even heard them do crows, as a sort of end of set caw-da-boom. They take the “catbird seat” to best show off their talents, which is the highest tree or pole or, in days of yore, TV antenna on the tallest house they can find.
Our storm came hard and fast and left the same way. At 5:30 a.m., the light was just coming up and the sky was clearing. The neighbors were already outside. When I came out to join them, I was shocked by the damage. Three large, beautiful maples on the street were ripped apart, looking as if a big hand had come down and yanked the limbs off. Only shattered trunks remained. Enormous branches, leaves, dead wood, siding and kid toys were everywhere. Across the street from me, where the shapely old Norwegian maple had been, was only the shattered stub of trunk. All the branches now lay on the roof of their house.
On the broken tip of the tree sat the cat bird, as he’d done since spring. He kept moving around on the raw wood, gazing at the leafy paradise in which he’d once lived, now on the ground below. He tried to sing once or twice, just a few grace notes, but his heart wasn’t in it. The green shade world in which he’d lived, loved and rejoiced was gone forever.