Imagine the devastation of a bomb.

Now imagine it as far as the eye can see.

Now try to envision that devastation for 100 miles. That was the unimaginable destruction left in northern Arkansas after the historic ice storm last week. 

I took one route to the house, another back. Everywhere it was the same: noble old trees blasted apart. The tops and sides of trees ripped away as if by a drunken chain-sawyer, their heartwood shockingly bright in the sunshine, mile after limitless mile. Houses caved in; well-loved plantings dismantled; power poles snapped off, one after another.

I’ve seen the aftermath of a deadly tornado. This was every bit as bad, and more widely spread. Utility crews worked like ant colonies, struggling against their insurmountable task of bringing the power back to many, many thousands of people. The natural skyline of Mountain Home was unsettlingly, irredeemably changed. For anyone who cares about trees as I do, the sight was indescribably painful.

And then, of course, there was the house on the river. The thing I love more than anything else on earth. Unable to get in touch with any of my neighbors, I had no idea what the storm had done…the huge hickory perilously close to one side of the house,  the unpredictable, limb-shedding sweetgum on the other, the moribund maple out back, my favorite plantings of sugar maple and pin oak, the old, survived-against-all-odds dogwood that my dad had planted for my mom so many years ago–were any of them left? Was the house spared? Had the pipes frozen?

An eagle had flown low over the car on the drive down, a welcome sight in an unexpected place that I had hoped was a favorable sign. But, like all signs, they’re only good if they turn your way. I had no way of knowing what was waiting for me. Night was near.

The river road–the stretch of road with nothing but mountain on one side and river on the other, the road that collapsed in so many places during last spring’s floods–was littered with fallen trees that had been perfunctorily chainsawed out of the way. A huge boulder had rolled down to one side of the road. Several large trees hung perilously overhead.

I always drive those last three miles under the speed limit…out of love and respect for the place, caution for the deer that cross the road with increasing frquency, fear that I’ll miss one change, one development, one moment. But I’ll admit that I had my foot down for that last mile and last half-hour of light, not sure what I’d see.

The trees were there. The house was there. As if a bubble of safety had hung over it all. A few limbs down; one near miss that would have done little damage. 46 degrees inside, but that was easily remedied. I’ll write more about camping out indoors for a couple of days. But for now, send good thoughts out for all those people, all those sad trees, that weren’t as licky as I turned out to be.

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