Timber!

January 17, 2005
I’ve attached my story. This story is an enhanced account of what happened to my sister and I in April of 2002. The enhanced part deals with the tree’s presupposed back story – but all of the other events are completely true. I’d like to do more stories based on presupposition – which I’ll guess you have to read later to understand. Okay – so here’s the story that was critiqued on Saturday. Got some good feedback and it was an overall positive experience.

Timber: A True Story About a hundred and seventy three years ago, a little elm seed was planted. How or why it was planted, is not necessarily important, only that it found its own blanket of soil to germinate under. The elm would grow and develop, thrusting towards the sun as a little seedling which would soon stand a few feet above the earth; a twig the length of a yardstick. Its branches would grow outward, upward and buds would form. From these buds, leaves would sprout, its bark would thicken, the trunk would widen and time would pass. As decades slipped by, as homes were built in its backdrop and roads were carved around it, it would stretch its green crown proudly toward the heavens and reach far above power lines. Its roots would finger through the soil and deepen; stretch, like veins throughout the earth. It would become the home of birds and squirrels and all sorts of creatures, which, to the naked eye, would be almost impossible to see. It would live through dozens of seasons and storms. And one day, it would almost be the death of us.

As my sister’s little hunter green car wound it’s way through the lonely two-lane roads of an unfamiliar town, the puppy dozed on my lap, a beautiful little bundle of red fur. A dachshund. We had just picked her out of a small litter (she only had one other sister left when we’d arrived). We hadn’t chosen a name yet.

She slept curled in a tiny ball, her breathing rapid. I gently placed my finger against her chest and could feel her tiny heart thumping. The tip of her little pink tongue peeked out from the front of her snout. I gazed lovingly at her tiny features, the little whiskers barely visible; the paw pads as soft as a baby’s skin, not yet scratched and scuffed by cement. Her tail had a black tip, as if dipped in paint.

She barely stirred as the car raced down the curvy unfamiliar streets. We were unsure of the area, my sister and I, but the puppy needed her shots and so we were off to the nearest vet clinic on the directions of our baby’s former owner. She told us that there was a relatively inexpensive one not far from where she lived and we knew the area where it was. We’d never tried to get to it from such a location, but we gave it a go.

We were lost.

We must have gone 15 miles the wrong way on one road. Finally, exasperated at our lack of progress, my sister sighed angrily, and swerved off of the road into a little truck stop. She turned around in the parking lot, spraying gravel behind her, and then we were back on the same road, backtracking.

There wasn’t any particular feeling of doom, although, at some moments, I worried about something happening to the dog. My sister and I argue constantly over her driving and her position on the road. Sometimes I think she’s too far over to the right. She doesn’t seem to notice. I make a comment. We argue. She swerves angrily, purposefully, hoping to shock me. Things quiet down for a while. Then the cycle begins again.

After what seemed to be an eternity, the road began to look familiar. We began to get our bearings, but then lost them again. Another wrong turn into a subdivision. No, this wasn’t the street. Was it further up the other road? We couldn’t remember. Another exasperated U-turn and more backtracking.

And then we saw the right road. A long straight residential street, canopied with trees. Everything was very familiar at that point. The houses, we had driven past a dozen times before. The vet clinic was at the very end of this road. We were minutes from it.

I remember her saying something about the wind. It did seem quite forceful for such a clear sunny day.

The elm, shivered with the breeze. Although it looked the same at a distance, things had changed. In fact, things hadn’t been the same for almost a year now. Inside its grand trunk, thousands of tiny elm bark beetles scrambled throughout its once soft tissue. Nine months ago, several beetles had entered through a branch near the crown, where they spread their fungus and bred like mad. The tree, which had always welcomed all types of creatures to its boughs, had no way of knowing. No one in the outside world noticed.

For about a month, the beetles had been slowly making their way out of the elm, for their bustling population exceeded the nourishment that the old elm once gave them. They had utilized the tree to its fullest extent. And so, as they crawled out through the soil and flew to other trees with more to offer, the old elm weakened with each passing day. It creaked with disease.

And suddenly, a gale, a little stronger than before, gusted it’s way through the branches; it’s windy fingers, shaking the elm until it could stand no more. A slow creaking began at the bottom and then gravity took over. It leaned a little and then as the wind rushed around it, it began to take its final bow. The elm was coming down. Its life was ending.

I remember the gasp. The frantic panicky way she began to say, “Oh God, Oh God.” I was still so enraptured with the pup that I hadn’t been paying attention. I looked up to the right and didn’t believe my eyes.

A tree, one of the biggest I’d ever seen was leaning, no, falling toward us. It all seemed to happen in slow motion.

“It’s going to hit us! It’s going to hit us!”

A white sedan was passing us in the other lane. If we tried to swerve we would hit it head-on and so we could not swerve to miss the giant tree, which was approaching us at full force. It was going to hit my side first. It was coming right for me! My eyelids robotically squeezed shut and my teeth clenched as my entire body tensed and prepared itself. My heart felt as if were bursting inside my chest and heat began to rise up from my spine and race to the back of my neck making every hair stand on end. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind at once.

“The end is this the end oh god oh god we’re going to die but I have so much left and what I but my mother and my dad and my love and my brother and my job . . . oh no and the puppy the new little baby and time is what if . . ..crushed oh god we’ll be crushed¼what a horrible way to die¼ but I can’t because because because it’s too soon so young so much to live for”

I’d never heard anything so loud. So many sounds all at once, the deafening crunch of thousands of pounds of wood and greenery colliding with thousands of pounds of metal and glass and then her screams, tires squealing, the creaking and settling of the tree and then the sound of a strange voice; a man’s voice, screaming in the distance. His words were warbled at first. Then I understood,

“Stay in the car! Don’t move! The power lines!”

I opened my eyes to a sea of green. The safety glass of the windshield, crackled, missing in some places, was the color of old green Coca-Cola bottles. There were green leaves all around us and twigs scraped at our skin. The green of her car blended with the foliage. Pieces of my side of the car dangled next to my face like a bizarre mobile. Was that a light? A handle? My lap was full of tiny shards of green glass. And the puppy, to my amazement, still dozed. Not a single shard of glass was on her fur, only a tiny branch, near her neck. She was perfect.

And then, I realized that I hadn’t breathed in what seemed like ages. I exhaled with a long sobbing gasp. I smelled the tree; the freshness of its leaves; the familiar scent of freshly chopped wood. And then I smelled smoke. Was it smoke? Something seemed to be burning. Ah! The engine was still running. I saw the key in the ignition. With one swift movement, without a single thought, I reached over and turned the car off. Then, my thoughts slowly caught up to my actions “Oh yes, oh yes. That was the good thing to do. That was the right thing to do. Good girl.” My sister, next to me, frantically clawed at her door. My door was crushed and opening it was impossible.

“Wehavetogetout . . .havetogetout,” she said through sobs. “Oh God! You’re bleeding!”

I looked to my left and saw a small puddle of blood collecting on the leg of my pants. The sight of blood made my stomach turn. Oh no! Blood! I was bleeding.

The man’s screams were louder. “Stay where you are! Stay where you are!”

Suddenly, my sister opened her door. She pushed it with all the force she could muster through a tangled web of foliage and made an opening that was enough for her to slip through. Whimpering and crying with each movement, she scrambled through the small opening and into the thickness of branches and leaves then onto the street.

“Come on! Climb over!,” she screamed from the outside.

The man screamed in protest. But I was so afraid. What if the car blew up? A thousand pictures that I had seen on TV and in movies flashed through my mind.

“Take the puppy!” I screamed to my sister. I saw a hand coming back through the door and I thrust the sleepy dog into it. Then, taking a deep breath, and hoping for the best, I shimmied my way across to the driver’s seat and then to the door. Sliding through the opening, I used my hands to wade through the thousands of branches and leaves. It was like a tunnel. A strange forest tunnel. Sharp twigs scratched and poked at my clothes and exposed skin. I covered my face with my hands. And then, the light at the other end, the sight of black pavement, and I was free!

People were already flooding out of their houses. They ran toward us. The man who had been screaming came toward us too. I matched the voice with his face. People were everywhere. Someone shoved a cell phone into my hand. “Dial 911” a voice said. I stared at the young man who had handed it to me in horror. “I can’t! I can’t. . . you do it.”

I took a few more steps into someone’s front yard where my sister had already collapsed. My knees buckled as well and I dropped into a heap on the grass next to her. The puppy stumbled around in the grass near us, sniffing aimlessly. I couldn’t believe she had made it!

I was in shock. My entire body felt numb and tingly. I felt as though I were floating. I saw tiny fuzzy little imaginary lighting bugs all around me. My heart throbbed inside my head. Suddenly, hands were on me. “Are you okay?” It was a woman’s voice. People crouched around us in the grass. “What’s your name? Are you bleeding? Are you hurt? Can we call an ambulance?”

All we could do was cry. At first the tears felt almost forced. Like, it was something I was supposed to do. Then they rushed forth in a downpour. I sobbed without shame in front of a crowd of bewildered strangers. Someone wrapped a damp towel around my arm. A single tree branch crashing in through the back windshield had whipped against my elbow and taken a bite out of my flesh. It would need stitches.

“Look at my CAR!,” my sister cried, dumbfounded; hysterical. “Would you just look at my car!”

It had taken her months and months to save her money. I remember the day she bought it. Memorial Day. She was so proud of that car. It was the only thing that really belonged to her, fully.

From the yard, it looked as though we had driven into the already fallen tree. Only the tail lights were visible. The car and the tree were one.

The old elm lay stretched across the road and our car; broken at it’s base about 70 feet from the street. It covered the entire width of the road and stretched the tip of its dead crown into the yard it used to face.

A woman I’d never met before put her arms around my sister and I as we sobbed. It was so peculiar how no one was a stranger when calamity struck. As we combed our bodies for scratches, scrapes, or blood, we found only my elbow wound between the two of us. My sister shook her long, wild naturally curly red hair and shards of glass flew in all directions.

Then the man who’d been yelling for us not to leave the vehicle approached us and crouched to speak with us. It turned out that he was a firefighter from Atlanta that just happened to be in town for a friend’s wedding. By some twist of fate, he was right behind us and followed his instincts about the car.

“You girls are certainly lucky.... yeah... good thing the power lines weren’t touching it. Most people don’t just walk away from something like this.”

His words struck me. Most people don’t just walk away from something like this. The words repeated in my mind. It was as though something hit me all over again, some small truth about everything, and I began to sob. The reality of it came in fragments, like puzzle pieces of realization.

A young girl had been puppy sitting for us as we talked with police and ambulance workers and called all of the people that meant the most to us, crying each time we had to retell the story.

“What’s her name?” the little girl asked and she handed the dog back to my sister.

“Angel”, I replied.

My sister nodded as our eyes met. We smiled. We both knew there could be no other name. We were mercifully spared.

As dozens of flashing red, white and blue lights surrounded the old elm, a chainsaw sputtered, then roared and several firefighters began to dismember the tree. They cut away years; ages really. The dead elm was carried away in pieces. It’s once grand trunk split. The trunk that led to all its beautiful branches and that one distinctive fork. The fork that would spread itself wider as decades passed. The fork that served as a little nook for hundreds of nestfulls of baby birds. The one fork, that, by some chance, had grown exactly wide enough to hold in it’s open center the entire front seat and the passengers of a little green car.

8:04 p.m. ::
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