At 4:29 p.m. on Sunday, May 29, 2011, 110 mph straight line winds sent two old oaks through our house and knocked down thousands of trees in our neighborhood. When 4:30 p.m. passed us a little bit ago, even with threatening skies overhead, my husband and I released a glad sigh for surviving one year since the storm.
We chose this house, and this particular neighborhood, because we’ve been campers and hikers all our lives. We love the woodlands and the privacy it provides. Eight years ago when we bought it, our yard looked like a shaded park along with wooded lots on two of our four borders. The lawn was 1/3 moss because grass was so difficult to grow under the trees. If we wanted to see sky, we had to drive to find it. Since there was only one little patch of sunlight which moved across our backyard through the summer day, I had a sun-garden plot a mile away in a church community lot. Sunday, May 29, 2011, all that changed. Today is the anniversary date of the storm which changed our lives. This Tuesday is the anniversary date of the storm. I will write reflections of that event and aftermath over the next three days.
My husband heard the siren go off. Usually it’s me who hears it first. It’s not that I didn’t believe him, but I paused at the top of the basement steps just to listen for the confirmation. It was very soft. Once down the steps, coming through our chimney opening, we heard what sounded like a host of screaming banshees — or what I imagine they would sound like. Our house shook. Two huge thuds rocked the walls. The power went off. Then, three or four minutes later, silence. All we could do was stare at each other for a while.
We finally ventured up the stairs, not knowing if it was safe, nor what we would find there. A gentle rain fell outside. Leaves plastered our windows — BETWEEN the screens and the windows. I still don’t know how they got there. Two ancient oaks had smashed through either side of our house, one through our garage and one through our master bedroom. In a matter of minutes, we went from a 90% shaded yard to 90% open-skied yard, with no way in or out of our neighborhood because of the thousands of downed trees across the roadways.
I no longer tremble when there are dark clouds overhead. I also don’t keep my purse and a change of clothes in the basement overnight any more. But I have not passed through the “alert stage.” I am ever-mindful of winds and weather. Two blocks away, people experienced only some downed branches or tree litter in their yards. That Memorial Weekend, friends were camping just ten miles away at Fort Custer; they hardly experienced a breeze. Others who have lived in Battle Creek their whole lives say it is still a shock of unrecognition when passing into this once-wooded neighborhood.
In less than five minutes, our lives were changed forever. We’ve learned that life is fragile, and that things in this world are temporary. But life still goes on.