The Trees Have Had It: Some Utterly Useless Reflections During a Pandemic

Exactly 48 hours ago, a massive weather event known as a derecho (pronounced de-ray-cho) ripped through my little corner of the world, in the northern most point of Chicago. That was exactly 12 hours after hundreds of folks looted stores in and around Chicago’s tony Magnificent Mile.

Mondays in the year of our Lordt 2020 are hard, but this past Monday in Chicago was excrutiatingly, wrenchingly, brutally, achingly hard. Next level stuff, folks.

This morning was bright, sunny and unscheduled, so I convinced the kids to check out Rogers Park with me, a sprawling city park full of soccer fields, tennis courts, a playground, baseball fields, and a perimeter of massive mature trees. After I learned yesterday on Twitter that there was an honest to goodness tornado smack dab in the middle of that derecho that clocked in with 110 mph winds and touched down in the park just three blocks from our home, we walked over to survey the damage. I was not prepared for what I saw.

There is something visceral and profound when seeing what was once a collection of stately, dignified trees that, in a matter of minutes (seconds?) of devastating wind, have become uprooted and felled, no match for the cyclone that whipped through the neighborhood before circling out over Lake Michigan.

A hundred plus years of roots and growth are gone, violently, in an instant. It looked like arboreal hari kari writ large.

Walking through the fields, I had to watch carefully where I put my feet because the grass is strewn with roofing shingles, random pieces of what looks like dried insulation, metal remnants of street lights, and jagged branches that will smack you in the face if you step on them just so. A hurt and sadness grew in me in that grass, with my ginger steps working to avoid the botanic debris in every direction.

My older boy was satisfied to peer from across the street, but he reluctantly, at my request, joined his brother and I as we crossed into the devastation. He left within minutes. He was out, he’d had enough, just like the trees. I get it.

Looking around me as we walked through what can only be described as a tree cemetery, I couldn’t stop thinking of the glaring metaphors those unmoored trees presented in the midst of the chaos of 2020. It’s twee and maudlin and every other Victorian era word used to describe overwhelming self-involved sentiment, but gotdamm, self-involved sentiment is what I’ve got right now. I blame too much time alone, away from other humans whose socks I do not launder.

I feel those trees deeply. I relate to those roots, upturned and homeless, crying out for dirt and dark, just epically out of their element, left to languish and be gawked at, reduced to being the latest neighborhood selfie station in our Instagram world.

These young mothers popped their babies on the fallen limbs to snap their photos and remarked how “cool” the scene was.

2020 is hard. So freaking hard.

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