On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I learned a new word: derecho. I was driving home with my dear wife after enjoying lunch at a nice, lake-side restaurant when it looked like someone was suddenly plunging a dimmer switch. The clear blue sky turned an ominous dark purple. Then came wind, hail, and a deafening howl. A transformer exploded a cascade of white sparks behind us then another above us. No longer able to see the hood of my car, let alone the road, I inched to a stop. We felt the vehicle lift then fall. Leaves, small branches, water, and ice pounded us and then we felt the car lift again. We held hands and waited to be flung.
It was over as quickly as it had begun. The sky was again blue. But the devastation was stunning. A derecho is unlike a tornado or hurricane as they move in circles. A derecho, on the other hand, is a fast-moving, severe storm that screams ahead in a straight-line inflicting destructive hurricane-force winds and damaging rain to an area 5-10 km wide and hundreds of km long. Nature’s 138 km per hour pile driver left hundreds of towering trees broken and uprooted with dozens of hydro poles snapped like match sticks.
The drive home had us weaving around downed trees, poles, and lines. Our Village had been hammered. Power was out. Streets were blocked. Huge trees lay atop smashed cars, boats, and homes. There were reports of injuries and deaths. The emergency room was filled with people having had bones broken by falling trees and others bleeding from tree shrapnel wounds.
Upon our arrival home we saw that a large Maple in our yard had lost a branch that smashed part of our fence. A 20-meter tall spruce had been uprooted and taken down more. Blown shingles revealed a scar of sodden plywood on our roof. We felt lucky. We were safe. Our daughter and grandchildren were safe.
Love and community sometimes hide themselves. They hide behind the waste-land of social media, disillusioned protesters, and those who exploit fears, lies, and hatred to divide us for personal and political gain. Love and community hide behind our frantic activity, the sad urge of material consumption, and the vagaries of ego and ambition. But on that day, looking at the trees and fence, we heard love and community emerge from their hiding places. They announced their arrival with the roar of chain saws and generators.
A neighbour arrived with an extension cord and we tapped into his generator for several hours a day to keep our refrigerator cold for the four days it took to restore power. A neighbour knocked the next morning; she was going door to door with a pot of hot coffee. A friend arrived and helped cut up the maple. A brother arrived and helped me cut up the spruce. Another friend arrived and helped me rebuild the fence. A neighbour and I donned work gloves and over and over again we loaded his trailer with brush that others had piled on their lawns and took it to all to the landfill’s growing mountain of brush.
The storm was horrible. Many still grieve those who died. Many are still recovering from injuries. But the derecho reminded me of something that I need to recall more often. Through the noise of our every-day lives and the cacophony of all that is wrong we must more often pause to reflect upon the peace in quiet and all that’s right.
3 thoughts on “The Derecho’s Lesson”
John – what a story and what a harrowing experience. In spite of the trauma you must have experienced – your writing skills come through in this piece. Diane and I are thankful that you and your family came through this derecho experience without injury.
Thank you Keith
What an extraordinary experience. So many things to observe from that . . . how vulnerable and powerless we are . . . how strong and resilient and kind we are. Glad that you and yours got through this ordeal.