Here we are in early November, signs of change are all around. Where I am, the leaves are in full red and gold. The air is getting crisp at night and the days are getting cooler. Some parts of the country are well past this point now. The leaves are already on the ground. Each night brings a new frost. The thought of snow will be creeping in very soon. In other areas, the oppressive heat of summer gives way to milder more comfortable temperatures. Everywhere we look, it is Autumn. The sporting world has changed over for another year. Baseball gave us another great fall classic and handed the baton to Football. Tailgating, the art form that it has become, is the pregame ritual for millions this time of year. There are still many harvest and craft fairs to be celebrated and long fall foliage drives to be taken.
I do enjoy all of these things. But I am a summer kind of guy. I always have been. Growing up, summer meant endless baseball games. What inning is it? It’s not dark yet, keep playing! That’s what inning it is. It was swimming with my friends. It always meant a family vacation. (Not the Griswold family kind.) It was snow cones and cookouts. I loved it. As I became an adult and no longer had the free time I used to have, summer was still my favorite time. I was an umpire for baseball and softball from the Little League level through high school and college. I became pretty good at it and I was even recruited to work a top level wooden bat league for college players. Now that I had a yard of my own, I found myself enjoying what used to be a chore. Mowing and landscaping became an enjoyable getaway for me. I would make time to get to the golf course and backyard barbeques were still an important part of the season.
This is my time of year. Just not this past summer. For the first year in my life, I was looking forward to summer ending. This one started off like most other ones. Spring came and the weather warmed. Sweatshirts and jeans gave way to tee shirts and shorts. I began to spend more time outside. I cleaned up the remnants of winter that littered the yard. I began to mow and trim the grass. I took time to carefully prune the shrubs by my front porch. It all seemed like the start of a very normal summer. Then just before the official start of summer, June 16th happened.
It started out like any other Thursday. I woke up early. I went to work for a completely uneventful, unmemorable day. I came home and ate dinner and settled in for an evening with my wife and dog. I thought a little television and pleasant conversation was all that was in my immediate future. Then as the evening progressed, we each received a buzz on our phones. We looked to see we had thunderstorm warnings. Okay, we are inside. We are dry, the air conditioning was keeping the heat at bay. I expected nothing more than a light show and some noise. In fact, I rather enjoy a nice thunderstorm. I know that seems odd, but I always have.
Little did I know, this one would be different. This was not a hurricane. It had no name. We were not watching it approach for days. But it did bring a new word to my vocabulary.
When it hit, it came all at once. Within minutes, we had a torrential downpour and a very active storm. Lightning flashes were only seconds apart followed by the accompanying thunderclap. Then we heard it. A cacophony of sound. There were multiple flashes and a continuous roar of thunder to the point the house shook. Almost at the same instant, the power went out. With the violence of what had just happened, I began to go to windows on each side of the house checking for damage. The only thing I saw in the glow of another lightning flash was one very large branch that had been ripped from the top of one of our back-yard trees. In a few more minutes, the storm would be just like any other. So, we sat, waiting for the lights to come back on, entertaining ourselves with the remaining batteries in our phones. When the power did not come back on, we went to bed, hoping by morning it would be back.
The next morning started at my usual 5:15 AM. It was still dark when I looked out the front window. With no light in the neighborhood, I became annoyed as to why we were still in the dark. I readied myself for work, skipping the cold-water shave. I figured, it was Friday, my boss won’t mind. I walked out our side door around 6:15. The sun was just beginning to rise and I could now see around our yard. Oh, my God!!! I looked into the back yard and the largest tree we had was torn out by the roots. This was a tree forty to fifty feet high. One of the tallest in the neighborhood. I would come to discover the diameter of the trunk at its base was nearly five feet. This was a huge tree. When it came down, it also took out five or six other trees as if they were bowling pins. This would explain the house shaking thunder. It was more than that.
I immediately woke my wife and briefed her on the situation and headed into work. As I began to leave my block, I realized, this was not just my yard. This was much larger. The more I had to weave through debris the more I knew this was serious. A few blocks from my house, it hit me how truly lucky we were. A tree, about the size of the one in my yard, had split a home in two. I took a moment to hope the family who lived there was safe and I continued to work.
When I got there, I found the generators working properly. Maybe I could find out what the hell happened. As people arrived, I heard the stories of downed trees and powerlines. I pulled up the website for the power company and the magnitude of the storm hit. Tens of thousands of people were in the dark, the same as us. I spoke with my boss and decided I would leave for the day to try to deal with the situation.
The situation was the after effect of what I came to find out was a weather phenomenon known as a derecho. Maybe you have heard about this, but up until now, I had not. I won’t get into meteorological creation and mechanics that I would come to learn. That is for another time. For now, my concern was the damage. By the time I arrived back home, the sun was up and I could see the true damage. Along with the other smaller trees that a knew about, this tree completely crushed a garden shed like a beer can. It had also taken out a fence and the power lines behind us. I also knew how lucky we were. After seeing the devastated house that morning, I realized, it could have been much worse. This tree stood near four houses and fell in a way that it did not damage any of them.
As fate would have it, the week after the storm was a scheduled vacation week for me. Unfortunately, we sat without power for a full five days. So much for the relaxing time off. We lost all of our perishable food. We had to go out to eat for every meal. Then there was the cleanup. First there was the insurance adjusters, then the experts for the estimates, finally the actual work. By mid-July, the tree itself was gone. The stump had been ground down leaving an enormous mound of dirt and mulched wood. This work was mine to do.
I spent a few days working on it and had apparently gotten into some poison ivy. I have never had too much of an issue with that before. A few days of itchy skin, a little Benadryl and it would be gone. Not this time. This time it would not clear up. It only seemed to get worse. By the time I finally went to the doctor, I was beginning to wonder if this was something much worse. No, it was poison ivy. It was eating into my right forearm to the point that the doctor said it had penetrated through to my muscle. I was now on a three-week steroid course and some antibiotics. Slowly, I got this under control. By early August, I was feeling better and back out on the lawn. Time for the weekly mow. Think again. Eleven hornet stings later, I was back inside. I had ice packs on my legs and using language that made my dog blush. More time to heal. I was tired of this summer now. I want it to end. For the first time.
Here we are in early November, signs of change are all around. My stings are gone. I still have scars from the poison ivy visible on my arm. I also still have a small mound of dirt left to move. Now that it is cooler, it will be less taxing to finish. I have leaves falling that will need to be cleaned up. Far fewer this fall than last. Winter will be here soon. Winter is the time when the earth heals itself. Spring is the time of renewal. I know by the time the grass begins to grow again my wife will give me that look, the one I get when spring training starts. It is the time I begin to look forward to summer. Although I am now happy that the summer of 2016 has ended, I know I will look forward to next summer.
For now, I will start planning a new Thanksgiving dinner with my family. Christmas and New Year will come and go. February rolls in next with three wonderful events; my wife’s birthday, our anniversary, and the look. Then it is only a blink of an eye until the grill is fired up, and evenings are spent on the back patio enjoying a glass of iced tea and a summer breeze. I think next summer will be better.