It has been over a month since Hurricane Sandy blew through, taking lives, destroying homes, and in my part of the east coast, knocking thousands of trees to the ground, either by uprooting or breaking in half. The noise that night was fearsomely loud, and I was frightened: of a tree falling on my home here in the woods, for the wildlife, the owls and the hawks, the chickadees and the cardinals, the fox and raccoons, that they had a safe place to hide out of harm's way. But there was no such place that night for any of us. Although my home came away miraculously unscathed, many others were damaged, some destroyed. There was no way to go further than a a few hundred yards from home in the following week due to fallen trees and power lines, and having no power or generator, little way to hear what had happened elsewhere. I walked up the road and spoke with my neighbors in front of their stone home, and we all were thankful that things weren't worse, not knowing that for many, including us, life would never be the same. Over the days that followed, we listened to our little crank up radio, and heard about the devastation to the Jersey shore, to Long Island, New York, & Connecticut, and our hearts sank.
For ten days we lived without electricity, but having a propane stove for cooking, a hot tub for water with which to bathe, rain barrels for flushing and six five-gallon water bottles for drinking, we were far better off than many of our neighbors. I cooked up soups and stews, trying to use up my freezer stock before I lost it, shared it with my friends and neighbors, baked for the comfort of the fragrance, and waited.
When finally we could drive safely, we went out. It was a terrible ride, one that shook me, and saddened me. The fearsome noise we heard in the night was a tornado, spawned by the hurricane, that cut a one hundred foot wide swath of destruction through a valley that orients east to west. Hundreds of tall stately pines, ash and oak trees, some broken and jagged, others with their roots and surrounding soil creating twenty foot high bases at the foot of the downed trees, all of these beautiful, wrecked woodland souls, lying like so many dead soldiers after a battle in the forest, their jagged stumps looking like broken bones. I heard in my heart the cries of the trees, their spirits lost, and I cried too. I kept saying I'm sorry, I'm sorry as we came upon yet another scene of seemingly impossible woodland destruction. On the ride home we did not speak and when we got to our truly miraculously undamaged home, I crawled into bed, too numb to think , too sad to function but unable to get the sorrow of the shattered forests out of my head. We caused this. We humans, warming and changing our planet without a thought or care for the consequences.
In the days that followed, I saw a multitude of similar scenes, but none quite as horrific as the tornado twisted valley. The world was noisy now with the roar of generators and chainsaws. We were able to venture further afield, and the shock and dismay pummeled me as I followed now unfamiliar roads with their guardrails topped by cut off remnants of the trees that had closed the roads, stumps that made me think of amputations, hundreds and hundreds. I cried for the trees that had stood for decades.
It has been over a month since this storm changed my little part of the world. I have wanted to write, but was not able to find the words. Seeing the images of the seaside destruction, the people's homes in splinters, the boards I walked in my childhood summers and not too long ago, scattered and strewn across the sand, seeing the sad faces of those who had lost everything, I again was struck by the uncomfortable feeling that we caused this. We brought this down upon ourselves, and it is up to us to try to turn the tide of our wasteful, wanton ways. We can, but will we?
Then came today, the day after one of the largest massacres in our country's history, one made all the more heinous because of the innocent little victims, the 20 children, and the 8 adults who lived the last moments of their short lives experiencing a terror inconceivable to the average person. Maybe a veteran of war can know that horror, but in our country the majority of [we] civilians walk through our lives innocent and free from fear. Hearing the news, watching our president choke back tears, I cried again. And, again, I said I'm sorry. I am sorry for the loss of these children (and adults) and their families, their town, our country, for these lives barely begun, ended in such a horrific manner. I am sorry for the violence in our culture, the ease by which unstable people can obtain lethal firearms. I am sorry for the lack of treatment options for those very people who use those firearms to blast their way into our consciousness, shattering lives in the process. We have brought this upon ourselves by limiting or closing mental health facilities, for not listening to the families of these mentally ill people when they ask for help, for letting the almighty dollar dictate who gets health care and who suffers in silence until their demons overtake them.
Houses can be rebuilt, stronger and better, and if we are wise, located out of harm's way. Trees will sprout through the aftermath of the storm and grow stately and tall, albeit not in my lifetime, but come back they will. We can change our habits to ones that require less burning of fossil fuel, less spewing of heated gases into the atmosphere, and perhaps slow down and eventually reverse the damage we have caused to our planet. But those 28 lives are gone forever, each of those individuals with their one life, gone, never to return. And the hole that is left by their untimely deaths unfill-able. Can we take this experience and finally learn from it ? I think we can, but will we?
I'm so very sorry.