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NATURE’S AWESOME FURY
by Bill Stokes
(From Hi-Ho Silver, Anyway)
March is one of those months of great seasonal transition, or at least the anticipation of seasonal change. It is a long, unpredictable month when you keep thinking that things are going to get better. Usually they get worse. Remember the ice storm of several years ago when all of the tree branches and utility wires came crashing down?
It was hell with the fires gone out.
It was awesome and awful.
It was the night the trees broke, and it was if the bones of the earth were splintering one after another.
It was a night so savage that sleep lurked somewhere out in the wet darkness and refused to come except in restless fits.
You could feel the awful night coming in the late afternoon Thursday, and you knew it was going to be bad.
The rain had been falling for hours. It came down cold and steady. And it turned to ice on the trees. Limbs began to sag toward the ground, and some of the longer ones began to break.
Electric lights flickered off and on and then off again, and in the sudden silence of the dying afternoon there was something ominous and a little frightening.
Then it was dark, and the rain came down harder. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled and more tree limbs — bigger ones — began to crack and splinter and then fall in a whoosh of flying ice.
It was unbelievable. Its sheer savagery was hypnotic, and it made you stand before it and sometimes even out in it like some kind of dazed and helpless creature.
The thunder and lightning moved away, and the rain eased somewhat. Then, all about, there was a steady cracking and splintering and crashing of huge tree limbs.
It was a terrible sound. It was like nothing you had ever heard before. It went on and on . . . even when the rain stopped and it was very still, the trees broke and splintered. Hour after hour the destruction went on until it seemed there could be no more limbs to break.
In the strange flickering light from candles and lamps you could hear the cracking and thumping of the falling limbs, and it was as if the great natural harmony of the earth had suddenly faltered, and it was all falling apart.
The wail of sirens slipped through the icy night like off-key violins playing a dirge for the dying trees.
Then the air got very still, and the rain turned to a fine mist as the trees continued to break. Huge treetops unable to carry the weight of even one more drop of mist came cracking and thundering to the earth.
Then in the middle of the night, out of the darkness and the still air, the wind came suddenly. At first it just swayed the ice laden trees gently back and forth, breaking some of them, but then it came on with a powerful sweep that snapped more limbs and sent them crashing down in showers of flying ice.
The wind whistled and hissed at the houses, where the candles flickered and the furnaces were silent.
It tore at the trees with sudden gusts and wrenched off some of the thick ice so that it came hurtling down against shingles and siding.
Within the silent, shadowy houses, the people tried to sleep.
During the last dark hours of the vicious night, the temperature dropped, and the wind gained more strength.
Finally, daylight came, sliding in over the splintered landscape, and everywhere the jagged scars of the night showed in the trees. It was as if the trees had fought a long and horrible war with a mighty force that attacked in the night.
Scattered snowflakes blew in with the cold morning wind. And in the cold houses, the people were humbled and a little bit afraid.
The wicked night that shattered the trees had battered the spirit, and the world seemed to be covered with ice and full of slivers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in Barron, Wisconsin, on September 11, 1931, Bill Stokes grew up on a small dairy farm between Barron and Rice Lake. He began his official writing career as an outdoor writer and general reporter for the Stevens Point Daily Journal, where he served as columnist, reporter and outdoor writer. In 1961 he moved to the Wisconsin State Journal, in Madison, where he wrote outdoor and personal columns, some of which were collected in a book “Ship The Kids On Ahead.” (added by Bill Stokes). In 1969, the Milwaukee Journal became his venue and as a feature writer and columnist, and he found new ground to cover in 1982 at the Chicago Tribune. After 11 years there, Bill retired to pursue free-lance projects.
For information, and links to more of his work, please visit: http://www.billstok.es