Thursday, March 27, 2008

Platitudes, vicissitudes and the blaming of Mother Nature

It was either the thirtieth branch dragged to the street or the fiftieth or somewhere in between that sparked the revelation.

By then my muscles were throbbing and I was rapidly losing the ability to grip with my right hand, or else the saw was dulling, which was also likely. No doubt a combination of the two. I’d cleared the field to the west and now focused on a small lot across the street from our house. Four bristling stacks of tree limbs, tree trunks and tree tops charted my progress. A fifth was forming as I methodically whittled down the fallen willow, but the farther down the trunk I worked the thicker it became, until finally I left the saw buried in the wood and sat down on its corpse for a drink of water and a few deep gulps of air.

My vantage gave me expansive views of the ridges rising to the south and, nearer to my location, the ring of trees separating our lot from the neighbor’s. The tallest, a magnificent locust, had several major limbs hanging broken, two of which draped on the ground like thorn-studded curtains. Since they were still connected I could not simply pull them down but instead had to find a way to saw them off. An extension ladder might reach but I wondered how safe it would be. Along the row of trees a good half showed signs of damage, and piled at their bases were twisted remnants of more. My task was far from complete but I was about done for.

I might have been a little snarly sitting there all sweaty and sore, mulling over the work ahead and the warm sunshine and the fact that my first sign of spring wasn’t flowers thrusting through damp soil or budding trees or even the song of a phoebe (which I still haven’t heard), but a brown recluse spider marching across the bathroom floor as if it owned the place. Coupled with this intrusion were hundreds of multi-colored lady beetles now seeking escape from our home after overwintering uninvited and unwelcome, a cockroach in the basement and the season’s first box elder bugs basking along the south-facing walls like miniature sunburned beach babes on the Riviera. So much for the arrival of spring!

As I sat there mulling over the injustice of our insectan vernal vanguard, the strangled gurgle of a brown-headed cowbird came to my ear. It was about as welcome as an insurance salesman. I looked around and saw it at the highest point of a gnarly locust, its iridescent blackness gleaming in the half-light with all the attraction of an oil spill. An easy shot with the Beretta 20-gauge, I thought, mentally lining up the front bead and vaporizing the beast with a load of magnums. The thought cheered me up somewhat but the bird kept gargling anyway.

It was almost too depressing seeing the trees in such ragtag shape, so I turned my back to them and faced the other way. The downed willow, now limbless and prone, made the ideal perch for sitting and stewing. The dirt road descended gradually into the two proper, where more prickly piles could be seen, ever growing as residents cleared more damage. Beyond the distant ridges the Georgia-Pacific plant rose like a pale fumarolic monolith with its perpetual plume of white steam wafting heavenward. The absence of trees opened the sky nicely, affording an unbroken expanse of clouds now slowly breaking apart to reveal patches of blue. The season’s first turkey vulture soared past, wings cocked in a glide. Great, I fumed, first bugs, then parasites and now the death-eaters.

If not for my wandering eye chancing upon the ragged outline of the woods mantling Juganine Creek, the day might have progressed into a long fever dream of cutting and dragging and stacking, all under the treacly notion espoused by many in the past months that it wasn’t a ravaging we’d endured, not devastation on a biblical scale, but a necessary pruning by a benevolent and wise Mother Nature.

All well and good, I silently asked—more a snarl actually—but what of the trees by the creek, splintered, sundered, their fractures glowing like bones against the darker shadows? Who will tend to them?

Come to think of it, why should I have to clean up this mess? Im not the one who thought it needed pruning. It looked perfectly fine to me!

If Mother Nature did this, she did a crappy job and selfishly left the cleanup to others. Some pruning job. Some mother.

It dawned on me that sayings people offered in the aftermath of the ice storm were nothing more than platitudes expressed in the hope of finding a reason for the wholesale thumping wed received. They can’t very well blame God and Satan seems an unlikely target, so they have to come up with another deity. And what better than a maternal goddess, who loves us and only wants the best for her children?

If only it were so. But like other myths stretching back to the dawn of time, perhaps it’s time we let this one go. For if we follow the line of reasoning that the ice storms were her way of pruning, then what do we tell the good folks of Greensburg—that the F5 tornado was Mother Nature’s way of urban revitalization? I don’t think so.

Mankind has always struggled with the concept of nature, and I suspect it will struggle until the sun goes supernova. Even as I struggle here on this patch of prairie earth. There is no Mother Nature, only the elements wild and untamed. The thought is oddly liberating. I wearily stand and stretch my aching muscles. I’ve done enough for one day. Now it’s time for a short nap, my way of dealing with nature gone bad.





Anonymous said...

My wife and I travel Kansas taking pictures and I know exactly what you are talking about here. I recently finished cleaning the limbs fallen about our trees. I do wonder what the new growth will look like.

You are a great writer. We sure enjoy reading your blog.

Jenni said...

Funny, I was just admiring those "death eaters". We've got a flock of about 40-50 that have been hanging around for the past week. The turkey vultures seem to like our rocky patch of ground and even like to perch on our garage and house. They aren't as pretty as the hawks that frequent my neighbor's pasture, but they have their place and their purpose. Can you imagine what it would be like without them? Then you'd have carcasses in addition to tree limbs to clean up:o)

The tree limbs, too, would eventually be taken care of by the bugs and gradual decay. My husband and his parents like to pick up all the dead wood, but I'm for leaving some behind in the wooded areas at least. I like to see nature take it's course, not Mother Nature as I don't believe in her, but nature as God designed it.

As for man's struggle with nature, that was not God's original design. However, I find some beauty in even the thorns and thistles. I guess I'm an optimist.