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I am taking a break from writing about nursing…

The devastation Hurricane Sandy caused this past week on the east coast has reinforced my fear of trees. I have resurrected a column I wrote that appeared in the Chapel Hill News on June 27, 2007.

LIVING IN THE FOREST WITH MY FEAR OF TREES

My mother never trusted cats. “They’re sneaky,” she would say. “They’ll lie on a baby’s face and suffocate her. They’re not trustworthy.” If my mother had known trees, she would have warned me that they were sneaky too. She would have said that they could fall down on you, crush you to death. They are not trustworthy. But Mom lived her adult life in an apartment in the city. There was one tree in our backyard that Mr. Bruno, our landlord, cut down and then cemented over its roots when I was ten years old. I never missed that tree.

A few years back, when my husband and I lived in DC, a tree slammed on top of a woman’s car as she drove home from work amid a thunderstorm, and beheaded her. The woman was my age. I drove down the same street going to work. From then on I felt in awe of trees. They were powerful and intimidating and untrustworthy.

We lived in subdivision with Bradford Pear trees lining the roads. One spring, as I looked out of my living room window, I watched a Japanese couple taking photos of each other under the white blossoms of the pear tree in front of my townhouse. Why weren’t they down in the tidal basin under the Cherry Blossoms?

Even lovely, modestly tall trees were not to be trusted. The following winter the beautiful Bradford Pear trees were covered with ice from an untimely storm that left us without electricity for five days. Before the ice could melt, the pear trees began to self-destruct. The frosty branches snapped off. One fell on a parked car and totaled it. Other branches lay scatted on sidewalks and roads like so many land mines. The homeowners association voted to replace the dangerous Bradford Pear trees the following spring at an additional cost to each homeowner. Before we had to dip into our pockets, my husband and I moved to North Carolina.

We fell in love with a frame home surrounded by large oaks. I failed to remember my tree phobia. But the trees didn’t let me forget their mischievous alter egos.

In 2003, we came home from a wedding in California after Isabel blew in and out, delaying our arrival. As we steered the car up our driveway, a leafy bouquet lay over the top of our home. Luckily, the tree split in two so only half of the heavy eighty-foot oak crashed into the ceiling of our second floor bedroom.

After we moved our bedroom down to the first floor, the sinister oaks, pines and dogwoods began closing in on me. I worried that one evening, while I sat out on the deck reading a novel, a mild mannered maple would drop a branch on my head.

I suggested that we look for a condo in the city. Not enamored with the side effects of trees—raking leaves, cleaning gutters, and gathering fallen limbs from the driveway—my husband agreed to explore this. We trekked to each grand opening of a new condo building, and even bought two ten-dollar tickets to attend “Live in Downtown Day.”

Then late one afternoon in early spring, my husband and I sat out on the deck of our home. We sipped Merlot and discussed the merits of leaving our 2,000 square foot home for a cozy condo half that size loaded with a high monthly association fee. The tall oaks blocked the glare of the setting sun while the squirrels scampered up and down their trunks. Two hummingbirds buzzed over our heads, fighting over the rights of the feeder that hung from a branch of a birch tree.

Gradually, I began to realize that trees had a gentle side, too. I won’t deny when the winds pick up and the oaks sway overhead, I wish we had a root cellar to hide in but in the meantime, we’ll stay in our forest surround. And we’ll adopt a cat.

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