I lay awake in bed at three o’clock this morning and listened to the wind gusts that left many of my northern friends and family without power today. I could feel a draft swirling through the apartment and hoped the old pecan tree outside wouldn’t disrobe its branches on my frightened little car below.
As a young child, I was convinced the dead tree outside my window would fall onto my room with the slightest provocation of nighttime wind. When I got older and upgraded to the bedroom on the second floor, I dreaded the same thing, but with the ash tree on the other side of the house. In every scenario, the trees, violated by the wind, would crush me in my bed. Sometimes I would die, although more often I would be trapped or my legs would be broken, but the trees never missed. Sometimes I would pull the covers over my head for protection from these scenarios, sometimes for protection from the draft.
I didn’t fear the wind nearly as much during the day. A tall pine that lived behind the stone wall would creak and visibly sway in the wind, but I felt more interested in it than afraid. That’s because the daytime wind has a friendlier sort of wildness, especially when it’s warm and wet and dampens the hair at the base of your head into humid ringlets. Cold wind makes the top layer of snow dance and blows it in your eyes. Though rough, it’s playful. But the wind at night has a wildness that filled me with dread.
Nighttime wind sneaks into the edges of your house, slides under your door, seeps through your window panes. It’s inky and violent. It doesn’t want to play. It wants to fell trees and crush you (and your car) in your sleep.
The weeping willow, which loomed over the back yard, shook wildly in the wind, dropping leaves, whips, and catkins in its wake. When daytime gusts would become too strong for me to continue playing outside, I would race back towards the house, in playful earnest, until I determined I was out of range of the willow tree, were it to get blown over. I knew the day I didn’t make this hustle would be the day the tree crushed me, and I wasn’t about to let my guard down.
However, I was wrong. We were all inside the day the willow tree fell.
In this story, weeping willow is an apt name. When you have a dear friend who is a tree, it is okay to cry when it dies, even if you are fourteen years old and in high school. It had likely been dying for years, as evinced by the shelf mushrooms and spongy wood we found running all the way through its massive trunk; but a tree as anthropomorphized as Grandmother Willow dies the day she falls.
We heard a loud crack, and then a thud. That word thud conjures not only the sound she made on impact, but also a feeling in the pit of my stomach, whenever I remember. Thud has come to mean a dull, heavy sound, but it’s related to an old word that meant “violent wind”. That afternoon the wind had a violent, nighttime streak and knocked down the best tree I ever had the honor of knowing. With a thud, the wind performed a sacrifice that was not its to make.
I still fear the destruction of body and property that a strong wind can bring. At night it still sounds occult, like a wandering poltergeist with a thirst for havoc. The wind in its chaos makes the things you most fear happen when you least expect them to: All those nights of expecting to be crushed by a tree could not prepare me for the thud of Grandmother Willow, bowing under the pressure of the wind one last time.