Derecho

by

“Get back in the house!” Bruce yells at Ryan from the driveway. If the wind wasn’t howling so loudly, Bruce’s voice would be much louder and more forceful. Ryan hears his dad though, turns, pulls hard on the front storm door and opens it against the straight strength of the Derecho. He squeezes his lanky, sixteen year old frame through the opening, then the door slams shut behind him. I’ve never heard or seen such wind. Even when we had the tornado touch down near us, the storm was over almost before it began. This wind won’t stop, won’t even slow.

“What does he think, I’m five years old?”

“He just wants to keep you safe.” I answer in a shaky voice from the darkened hallway. Our lights died within ten seconds of the storm, no warning, no time to scavenge for candles or flashlights.

Ryan moves the curtain aside at the door and peers out, watching as the lightning flashes a second’s worth of brightness. I can see the tall oak trees shaking and bending, whipped back and forth, shuddering. I find myself shuddering along with them. I reach out to Ryan and wrap my arms around his shoulders. He’s as tall as I am.

“He and Ben are out there running around in the damn wind, and he wants to keep Me safe?” the youngest of my boys pouts.

“Watch your language,” I say. “Your dad and Ben were out there already, working in the garage. They’re trying to secure whatever they can,” I explain.

“I know what they’re doing. I could be helping,” Ryan says, trying to pull away from me. My grasp tightens and he relents, sighing. I imagine his eyes rolling.  “You think I’m five too,” he grumbles.

I feel my baby’s heart beating beneath my right hand and remember a time when he was pre-school age and easily corralled. When he was five, I could scope out most any situation and make the tallest tree in the yard off limits, lock the doors with deadbolts too high for little hands to reach, or secure the sharp knives in a special drawer. Now, the gate is harder to close, the tether looser, this sixteen year old wants to run free. I hold him back as best I can. His older brother and father are outside braving hurricane force winds, daring limbs not to crush them, shining lanterns and flashlights into the shaking trees. They hear the same strong two hundred year old oak crack, splinter and crash to the ground as I do.  I can’t see out the door. Their flashlights have disappeared, the lightning has stopped.

“I don’t see them anymore, Mom.”

“Me either, let’s go,” I say, pulling the front door open.

We step onto the porch, take off in a full run toward the steps to the driveway. Lightning flashes and the huge tree branches seem to grow straight out of the ground. Leaves and branches are everywhere and we fight our way through and around them. The wind is still blowing, pushing us backward, sending small pieces of wood stinging  into our faces and arms. My heart is racing. I hear its beat in my ears. The sound is louder than the roar of the derecho. I’ve heard people on the news say, “The wind sounds like a freight train.” This wind is louder than that.

Ryan is ahead of me, fighting through branches, yelling for his dad and brother. Another flash of lightning. I hear crashes in the woods. The ornamental grass across the driveway, waves like a giant cheerleader’s pom-pom.

“I said, get in the house,” Bruce yells from somewhere to our left.

“You’re alright,” I yell just as loudly, relieved but still worried. “Where’s Ben?”

“He’s right here with me. We’re coming. Run back to the house,” he growls, grabbing Ryan’s arm and turning him, pushing me afterwards. We run up the steps, all four of us trying to get to the safety of our cinderblock fortress. Ryan wrenches the storm door open, and holds it as the rest of us fall into the front hallway.  Ryan squeezes through and the wind slams the door shut behind him.

“Why would you leave the house when I told you to get inside,” Bruce yells at us from his bent position as he tries to catch his breath.

“We were worried that you were trapped under that damn tree,” I yell back.

“It almost got us,” Ben says from behind me. “Five seconds before, or five seconds after, we’d’ve been mashed flat.”

I take a deep breath and hug myself tight, trying to stop the shaking.

And the wind blows, and blows, and blows, with no reprieve for an hour and a half. We watch and listen to trees uproot and crash to the ground, feel the house shake from the force of impact, listen to the howl  and grimace at the pressure building in our ears. It eases, then builds again.

And as fast as the derecho came, it leaves. The air stills to a dead silence and the humidity rises. We step outside to witness the damage. The flashlight illuminates shadows and hulks all around us and unfamiliar. We walk the driveway, car to car, hoping, praying. Not one is flattened.  The tree that fell behind the garage, grazed the back wall with its very top branches. The yard and highway are a mess though, a massive cleanup that will take more than a week to complete, but nothing and no one is hurt.

Cars are lined up on the highway, just the other side of the driveway in front of the house. A huge white pine lays from guardrail to guardrail and beyond. People empty from cars to survey the damage and possibility of moving forward. Forward is not an option. Neither is backward. A heavy black power line, sparking on one end, lays across the road.

“Let’s go get the saws,” Bruce says to Ben. “We’ve got some clean up to do. May as well start now.  Don’t have enough beds to sleep all these folks.”

Ben turns and walks to the garage in search of his work gloves and McCullough chain saw.

Ryan and I turn and head toward the house.

“Where are you going Ryan?” Bruce asks.

“To bed I guess.”

“Oh no you don’t,” his father says. “We need your help. No time like the present to learn a trade. You might have a future as a lumberjack.”

Ryan turns back as the clouds lift from the face of a bright moon and I see a smile on my baby’s face.

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12 Responses to “Derecho”

  1. Southern Sea Muse Says:

    Wow, what a great description! Reminds me of the ear-popping hours of huddling in the hallway while the eye of a hurricane passed overhead at 130 mph. Wonderful pictures….

    • train-whistle Says:

      Scary time ssm. We’ve huddled in the dirt floor basement before as a tornado touched down near us, but that seemed like a small storm compared to this. Wow is right! Thanks for reading and for your comments.

  2. OldMack Says:

    “Wow” seems to fit perfectly. Very dramatic, suspenseful and concise. “Bruce the Boss” has just the right tone for Ryan, and you captured the lad’s smile. Fine story-telling. This is the first time I’ve seen the word “Derecho,” but it’s meaning is clear.

    • train-whistle Says:

      I hadn’t heard the word either until newscasters in our area began calling it Derecho. It certainly describes what happened. We do have some excitement in our lives Mack. Enough to last me the rest of this year anyway! =)

  3. societyred Says:

    So glad no-one was hurt. Your post really brings the reader into the storm and even if you never experienced an event like this you can feel the power of it. I’ve felt the ground shake during earthquakes and your writing reminds me of the feeling of being minuscule when they occurred. Great work! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Stephanie Says:

    LOVE it (the story not the storm)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Glad I was not home for this one!!!

  5. Jim Cantwell Says:

    Margaret,
    Last summer when hurricane Irene came through here in RI, trees snapped like toothpicks, I drove around after it was over and roads I have traveled on 100’s of times, seemed new to me it was so disorienting I went back the way I came. Your right we are not in control, I am glad you all got through this unscathed.

    • train-whistle Says:

      Hi Jim,
      Irene hit hard here as well. We traveled three hours east to help our sister facility nursing home post-evacuate (if that’s a word) their residents back to their home in Poquoson, VA. It looked as if an army had been through. We dodged downed trees, power lines and at one point had to leave the interstate to avoid debris. This storm was much like that one. I had more trouble getting through the loss of power for four days in over 100 degree heat. Whew was it ever hot! Thanks so much for stopping by to read me.

  6. allthingsboys Says:

    Holy Cow! Our power went out before the wind hit, and we were standing in the kitchen saying, “Why’d the power go out?” Then about 15 seconds later, we said, “Ohhhhh!” You got hit hard! So glad you are safe. How long were you without power? What a nightmare! Good thing you have that man power for the heavy lifting! Sounds like Ryan was glad for once to be including in said heavy lifting! Funny what makes them happy.

    • train-whistle Says:

      Yep, I was happy to trudge off to bed, even with the horrible heat. We were without power until Monday afternoon at 4:00. 4 long days and and 3 very long nights. Boys are an enigma, that’s for sure. Thanks for the read Arnel.

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