Where I liveThe phrase "ivy covered cottage under ancient oak tree's broad branches" might look nice in a for-rent ad... but "under" took on new meaning for me at the start of the summer. This was my path through the ivy and azalea lined garden after one short, intense thunderstorm.
Climbing over a few branches you can begin to see the rear wall of the house.
The next door neighbor, who owned the tree, estimated its age at 200 years or more. It looked like an oak Merlin might live in, or something out of Tolkein, beautiful long twisted branches snaking across the sky high overhead, holding up acres of leaves, home to generations of acorn-fattened squirrels. The trunk must have been six feet thick at the base -- a base that looked solid, but was rotten inside and snapped when the storm winds whipped those leafy branches. I've never seen a tall ship do an accidental gybe under full sail; the effect might be similar. The trunk knocked the neighbor's studio-outbuilding off its foundation and crushed its roof, while three branches, each the size of good sized shade tree, pitchforked around my little cottage. The biggest branch broke seven boards in the roof, opening my kitchen to the sky and storm, and cracking the seams between the back and side walls.
Visitors stepping through the branches the next morning had this view of the cottage itself. Yes, I was inside at the time.
Pardon me for not inviting you in, but things are still a mess a month later. While you're here on the Web, please take a look at my resume  -- coping with the tree damage put something of a dent in my time for job-hunting, and I can use all the help I can get.
When it comes to bad luck, I seem to have the "it could have been worse" kind: a 10 degree difference in the falling tree's angle and I might have been killed. (And I have plenty of wood to knock on when saying things like that.) The three sides of the house not visible in these photos all have a lot of glass in them, and I was within flying-shards distance when the oak fell. As it was, the only exterior glass breakage happened later, during removal of the branches. The interior  glass breakage was confined to picture frames and contents of the kitchen cabinets that are on the other side of the wall shown in the photos.
Perhaps I have the neighbor's studio to thank. By taking the weight of the tree on its roof it probably reduced the impact on my little house; perhaps more weight would have collapsed a wall. In any case, I'm happy that a solid oak branch didn't crash through the sliding glass door I was standing behind.
And I'm happy that the rain stopped shortly after the tree and roof broke, so most of my books and this old computer were undamaged, and I can go on writing, albeit with more excuses for procrastination. And the bookcases and cabinets were in need of reorganizing anyway. And instead of eating at home alone, I've had a month of dining with friends and in some of Chapel Hill's more economical restaurants.
Now I just have to make sure the house's contents survive the paint and plaster dust from the workers installing a new kitchen ceiling, and then maybe I'll have time to watch the bamboo shoot up to replace the ivy and holly while I reshelve books, restock the kitchen, and meditate on living with nature and change and a little less shade.
First posted: June 9, 1996; revised July 13, 1996.