We cling like ticks to our neuroses. While outside the wind howled and raged, foaming through the trees like heavy surf and battering the windows and eaves, inside my nerves became evermore frayed and tattered, and no amount of tossing or turning or burying my head beneath the pillow could alleviate the tension. I tried imagining the gale as white noise, musical therapy to combat the ringing in my ears, but ultimately its tone was too erratic, too staccato with the slapping of loose shingles and the irregular clatter of sticks skittering over the roof to be anything more than an endless sonic nightmare. And anyway there was an underlying anxiety that a tree would fall on the house and crush us in our beds.
Laugh if you will, but it’s been known to happen. Depending on the size of the tree, the angle of trajectory, mitigating factors such as ice or heavy snow adding ancillary force to the impact zone, the strength of building construction, placement of the bed, karma, Murphy’s Law and a host of other intangibles, it’s entirely possible to be safely sleeping one moment and squished like a cockroach the next.
This is something that crosses my mind with distressing frequency when we’re upstairs, but it’s certainly not restricted to the master bedroom. If we’re sleeping on the first floor, itself an irregular habit dependent on the severity of the weather, my latent phobia shifts from trees falling through the roof to trees falling through the window. This was never a consideration before the ice storm two winters ago, but that changed in the space of a few hours as a succession of trees crumpled with sounds like glass breaking, only strangely muffled, almost distant. If it seemed prudent at the time to shy away from the windows, it seems doubly prudent to follow suit when winds clock fifty per or better.
Though not specifically addressed to my particular psychosis, a new experimental bed called the Quantum Sleeper could be all the therapy I need. According to the product brochure, it’s an all-inclusive safe room, replete with metal bed frame, bullet-proof polycarbonate barrier impervious to burglars, terrorists and biological and chemical agents, with amenities including air recycler, toilet, stereo, refrigerator, computer hookup and microwave. Because it’s geared toward a post-911 world, additional enhancements in the form of robotic arms capable of firing tear gas or bullets can be fitted to provide lethal comeuppance. And for an additional fee, structural improvements impart extensive protection against tornadoes, hurricanes and other acts of God, though how this is accomplished isn’t adequately explained. If not for the $100,000 price tag, it would be the answer to my fears. I might even get some sleep at night.
I wonder sometimes how trees do it, how they manage to stay upright day after day, year after year, with Kansas winds clawing at them, tearing at their hair and twisting their arms, with ice and snow bearing down on them, and hail shredding their leaves and stripping their bark. How they don’t succumb to the relentless struggle. Some do, I know; I’ve seen their remains splayed across duff-carpeted forests, mossy, encrusted with lichens and fungi, rotting into the soil.
I suppose my thinking is influenced by an unwitting transference. But I am mobile and trees are not, tethered as they to the earth, entwined with the stones and minerals, dirt, earthworms, nematodes and slugs, millipedes and meadow mice and moles, reaching forever downward in a mirror image of upward thrust. More of earth than air.
Maybe the real question should be directed toward our house, or even ourselves, why the wind doesn’t bear us away, what roots us not just to this place but to any place.
The next evening a restlessness fell over me, and I told Lori I was stepping outside for a while. This was after a series of storms had passed through and my nerves were slowly uncoiling. There was no trace of a predicted storm in the western sky, only a thin cloudbank off to the northeast and a half-moon nearing zenith. The wind still tore at the house and buffeted me, but the temperature was warm even if a chill promised bitter changes. My eyes caught movement, a rabbit darting into the thicket and another stopping to watch me. A shape and no more, already disappearing and the moon though ascendant powerless.
Our yard looked different somehow, more barren, the larger trees scarred and splintered from the ice storm, thick limbs still dangling by tendons, their upper branches snapped off or missing entirely. A sad and sorry spectacle. But they were still standing, as was I. As were the rabbits. And behind the rabbits a wild tangle of saplings and junipers blurring the horizon, a new generation of transformation and rebirth.
The house was a little worse for wear. Missing shingles, cracked storm windows, peeling paint, it had reached its prime and then some. An extensive overhang fed my fear of high winds for I could vividly imagine a straight-line gust peeling back the roof like a can opener, and yet the roofer we’d hired said the overhang was sound. I recalled taking a Sawzall to the upstairs closet, how difficult it was cutting through the studs, real two-by-fours, solid oak, hard as iron. And the time the wind shear slammed the house, exploding against the windows and taking down the hackberry, how the roof held, how the house stood its ground.
Our fears are never so irrational as when based on speculation. The house, like the trees, is rooted to the earth. And though I alone am weightless, able to drift like windblown leaves, my roots to this place are as unseen as the wind, and far stronger. I shall not blow away.