What was that? Just an oak tree and a general

On the morning of Thursday, July 2, 2020, I was sitting at our kitchen table. I know it was after 8 o’clock.

A blue sky, bright sunshine, and a stillness filled our backyard as I skimmed the newspaper.

And then, there was an indescribable sound. A sound so sudden and quick that my brain could not immediately identify it. My wife shouted down from upstairs—“What was that?”

Within those few seconds, I started to figure out what was taking place. 

First, we had lost power, and when I looked into our backyard I could still see utility lines wobbling. As my eyes scanned to the top of the power pole in the back northwest corner, I could see that the main transmission line was down as it headed west into our neighbor’s yard. 

I could hear voices of neighbors as we scrambled from our houses to figure out what had gone wrong.

Without warning, a massive, specimen oak tree decided— I’ve hung around here enough, I’m out of here. 

This towering giant was in a backyard on Hollins the street behind us.

 It fell following the path of the utility lines into two other yards. The force of its weight, size of its limbs, and slow motion speed of its fall damaged tool sheds, other trees, and assorted backyard  stuff, but thankfully no human beings were in the tree’s path. 

But, there was a close call. A neighbor who was in his backyard near his now smashed tool shed, heard the sound of the crashing monster, and instinctively dove to the ground. He was covered in mud, but still breathing.

Once back in the house, I called Dominion Energy our power supplier. I reported the outage and pinpointed the path of the downed lines from our pole to the West.

Luckily, it was not an unbearably hot July day. 

By late morning, Penn Line, a tree company with expertise in dealing with trees and power lines was working to clear a path through the tree debris. This would allow the linesmen from Dominion Energy to assess the damage and start repairs.

After dinner, we took a walk over to Hollins. Interestingly, the family where the tree once lived had just moved into the neighborhood. That fallen oak created quite a welcome for them.

The fallen oak by Bill Pike

I’m always a bit sad when a tree like this goes down. My sadness is that no one ever wants to even think about trying to make lumber out of the trunk. That trunk gets chopped up and ground up just like the limbs and hauled away.

Back home, we settled outside on our deck and watched the sun casted shadows start to fade away. The hues of blue in the sky began to darken to the droning of generators.

As we continued to watch the encroachment of the darkness, we scanned the sky for stars. Slowly, our eyes began to discover these tiny specks of light against a canvas that continued to lose its shades of blues.

At some point, we had a couple of intruders in our backyard. These were good intruders. Their LED headlamps and flashlights indicated they were Dominion employees. One of them was carrying a long, yellow, insulated pole called a “hot stick”.

These technicians were scoping out the transformer at the top of our backyard pole. With lots of skill and practice, one of the technicians used the “hot stick” to reset the tripped fuse on the transformer. We thanked them for their work, and they told us our power should be back on soon.

And they were correct, within twenty minutes, we had power again. We were back to normal.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know very little about 2020 has been normal. 

Normal has been disrupted by a mean unwanted virus COVID-19, and our country’s inability to grasp, understand, and work together to try and solve lots and lots of issues related to social injustice.

These issues have been festering for years and the death of George Floyd reopened those painful, non-healing sores.

In our community, Richmond, Virginia, where we have lived since the summer of 1979, the Civil War statues on beautiful Monument Avenue have been a part of that agitation.

 That agitation, once again served to illustrate the divide between us. We were divided during the Civil War, and we are divided now in a way that I could never have imagined.

I respect history, but I have never understood our inability to let go of the Civil War.

For some reason, I think my foe fear has something to do with that.

On the front page of the Thursday, July 2 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch the headline read:  STONEWALL FALLS.

Under the headline is a stunning photograph by Times-Dispatch photographer, Alexa Welch Edmunds, of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. His statue on the previous afternoon had been carefully removed by a demolition crew.

The photograph allows the reader to see every sculpted detail of his bearded face. But, the General’s bronzed eyes catch my attention.

I have stared into the General’s eyes on several occasions since July 2. 

I wonder what the General was thinking with straps, chains, and ropes garnered around him as he was removed from the massive pedestal?

I wonder what he thinks about all that has transpired within his view during the last several days?

I wonder if he saw Monument Avenue like a battle field?

I wonder if time could have changed this thinking?

While a student at Virginia Tech, our oldest daughter, Lauren,  took a class about the Civil War. The professor was James I. Robertson, Jr.

Dr. Robertson was known as an expert, a scholar on the Civil War.

One Christmas, Lauren gave me an autographed copy of Stonewall Jackson’s Book of Maxims. Dr. Robertson served as the editor of this book project.

On the top of page 86 is this maxim:

“You may be what ever you will resolve to be.”

So, I ask—America what do we resolve to be?

America—Do we resolve to continue down this same agitated, hurtful, divided path?

Or America, do we have the resolve to look deep into our hearts to find the courage to wrestle with the challenges that have wearied our living for too many years?

For the resolve that is left in my rapidly aging puny body, mind, and heart, I hope we find our courage. 

I hope we choose to wrestle with our challenges and our fears, and I pray we can rid ourselves of this hurtful division between us.

We can’t let fear and division consume us.

If fear and division win, then our failure will leave us like a fallen oak and general.

Empty pedestal Monument and Arthur Ashe Boulevard Richmond, VA by Bill Pike

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