As I write this, it’s about three weeks since Hurricane Matthew hit our little corner of the world.
I understand that clean up and recovery are going to take quite some time, and I expected that, given the damage I’ve seen.
I expected that neighbors would pull together to help one another through the rough spots, and they have.
I expected that people would show up from seemingly nowhere and offer to help, and they did.
I expected that those hardest hit would learn a lot about filing insurance claims and registering with FEMA for additional help, and they did. Some still are.
What I didn’t expect was how long it’s taking me to get used to the new landscape. Things look so different now.
I’m so relieved that no one in Beaufort County died as a result of the storm. No one suffered major injuries that we know of.
Now, my heart hurts for our trees.
I’ve long been a tree hugger. Not literally, but I do have a fondness for trees. I appreciate our symbiotic relationship with trees and oxygen and breathing and all that, but I really just like trees.
Upon my return after evacuation, I recall driving through Bluffton, down May River Road, and being startled at the number of massive trees that were down, along the sides of the roadway, with power lines intertwined among the branches.
I could only guess how strong the wind must have been that these beautiful old trees were unmercifully yanked from the ground, bent or twisted and strewn about.
As I drove onto Hilton Head, the sight of broken trees along Hwy. 278 brought tears to my eyes. How could this be, I wondered.
I’ve been driving past those woods and forests 10 times a week for decades, and now it’s all so different.
I could see daylight through a stand of pines, because they were snapped like pencils, bent at odd angles, leaning this way and that.
Waking up the first morning I was back, I had an odd awareness when I looked out my bedroom window. It was very bright in a way I hadn’t seen in the 20 years we’ve lived in our house.
Still groggy, I finally realized that our neighbor had lost several very large pines – the ones that had blocked the sun from our backyard in the mornings.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched the leaves on the downed trees turn brown. As the leaves fall away, we can see more of the damage, more splintered and broken trees. We can see into yards and neighborhoods that were formerly hidden by buffers of greenery.
The sight of the shattered and fallen trees still chokes me up, every morning on my way to work and home again in the afternoon. Tears fill my eyes if I don’t look away.
Though I’m glad our local iconic trees – the Liberty Oak at Harbour Town and the Secession Oak in Bluffton – weathered the storm, I am pained by those regular, normal, everyday oaks and pines and sycamores that didn’t make it.
I’m confident we’ll get used to the new landscape eventually, and small trees will grow where others fell. Nature will take care of itself.
The sun shines a little differently on our world now, and I’m trying hard to see that as a good thing.