Just look at the part in front of you; the whole is overwhelming.
That’s what I repeatedly tell myself, overwhelmed as I am. I survey the twelve acres of publicly accessible Timberview Lodge property, amid the hundreds of acres not observable from here: The roofless Guest House, the damaged Main Lodge, the holes in the roof of the Ridge House, and my own home, steel roofing missing from one side, the hole busted through the roof on one of the upstairs bedrooms, the damaged siding and fascia, the broken windows. And past all the the visible building damage are the acres of trees: formerly tall and majestic White Oaks, Southern Yellow Pine, twisted, bent and broken, Sawtooth Oaks planted by my late stepfather that had grown so that they offered a welcome shade in the summer, beautiful color in the fall, and bushel after bushel of large acorns for the deer and squirrels They were mixed with Black Gum, Sweet Gum, Pin Oak, Post Oak, Red Oak, Beech, Sycamore, Shagbark Hickory, Smooth Bark Hickory, Cherry, Poplar, Cedar, Loblolly Pine, Southern Yellow Pine, White Pine, the occasional out of place Longleaf Pine, all now a twisted, snarling mass of confusion, scattered willy-nilly throughout the property visible from my front porch.
And the property not visible? An impenetrable mass of interlocking limbs, trunks, and rootballs. It is all a total, withering mess. It overwhelms. It particularly overwhelms the one charged with restoring things to order. The one mostly overwhelmed is me.
I stared at the pine tree, broken and fallen in front of my studio, interlocked with large oak limbs blown in from who knows where, blocking my access. I looked around for a brief moment and sighed.
“Too much,” I bemoaned to myself, and cranked up the chainsaw. It, too, seemed to sigh a time or two before it fired up.
I cut the tree trunk and limbs into manageable sections so I could load the remains into the bucket on the backhoe. I walked to the barn and cranked up the John Deere 310 backhoe and drove it past all the other fallen timber, dodging a tree here and there, dodging trees that would need attention later, sighing at each one as each one contributed to the whole, and the whole was overwhelming.
“Too much,” I again whined.
No one was listening. The trees did not clear themselves up at my whine. It was going to take diesel fuel, two-cycle mix gas, bar and chain oil, a saw chain file, the backhoe, sweat, and muscles that would likely be overextended before I was through. I pulled the backhoe up to the pile of cut pine and oak, tilted the bucket back, and shut it off. I climbed down from the operator’s seat and stood between the bucket and the limbs all laying on the ground. Sighs came easily and frequently. I decided that I would place some debris in the bucket for each sigh, knowing that if I could keep that pace, the limbs would quickly be transported to the burn pile.
“Just look at the part in front of you,” I said to myself. “The whole is overwhelming, but the part is manageable.” I would tell myself this a lot. It would become my mantra. It will likely be my mantra for six months or more.
It was four bucket loads of limbs. I dumped them out in a pile adjacent to my broken flag pole, the rope stripped of the flags which had likely come to rest somewhere in Alabama, my USA flag and the Gadsden Flag that flew beneath it, the coiled snake warning “Don’t Tread on Me.” The flag so familiar to me was likely being trodden upon by strangers. This saddened me a bit, but I did not have time for sentimental distractions. I was determined to burn up all of this tree and its entwined paramours it held so dearly, and burn them today, even after sunset, but certainly before I went to bed.
I dumped a few small limbs into the bun pit which would be over flowing with ashes in just a short while with the fire spilling out into the yard. I got out my rosebud propane torch. I set the mass alight. As the fire grew, I added more and and more limbs to the pit, placing them so that they would overhang the pit on both sides, leaving the limbs to burn into in their middles, allowing me to place the two burnt off ends back onto the fire when the time came. Soon enough, the hot fire reached upwards, drawing in the air it needed to make itself hotter and hotter. I could feel the radiant heat fifty feet away.
As I let it burn, I looked over the property from my burn-pit-broke-flagpole hilltop. All I could see across the acres were downed trees, everywhere. I sighed again and put another limb on the fire. I put a second limb on the fire, then a third, the limbs heaped up eight feet high and the fire raged. I backed away quickly because it was too hot to stand close to the fire. I felt the surface of the jacket I was wearing, thinking that if it was much hotter, it might spontaneously combust, but I liked the new ratio of three limbs to one sigh.
I watched the pile of limbs get smaller and smaller as the day turned to twilight, then to darkness, except for the blaze of the fire, popping and crackling as the trees gave up their carbon and turned into ash. I heard the chainsaw fire up and soon Canaan, working in the light of the the bright LED fixture over the studio roll-up door brought up another bucket load of limbs, then another. I was thankful for the help. Debbie and Maggie dragged small limbs from wherever they could find them and placed them on the fire.
As the evening wore on, the fire burned steadily until the pile of limbs was gone. I’d pick up burned ends of limbs and place them back on the fire. Occasionally, in the shadows of the limbs on the ground, I’d grab the wrong end, but when one grabs the wrong end of a burning limb, one lets it go pretty fast. It does not take much time to determine that one had grabbed the wrong end.
I had no more sighs, but I had no more limbs for the evening either, and it was too dark to see the whole. I could only see the part in front of me and it was no longer only manageable, it was gone. In the darkness, the whole looked pretty good. It was the daylight that showed what was really there. For now, I was satisfied with the comforting illusion brought forth by the darkness.
I sighed again, but it was a different sort of sigh. It was the sigh of one who is tired after accomplishing something. I had triumphed over the part. I had focused on the part and defeated it, made it yield to my will. I knew the whole was still out there, but like someone in a famous movie once said, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
Then I turned, smelling of wood smoke, and went into the house and collapsed into bed, dreaming of nothing but the memory of the radiant heat from the fire, feeling it in my sleep like the warm hug of a loved one long longed for, and then I drifted into an unconscious bliss and was no more until the morning and the morning light that banished the illusion and illuminated the overwhelming whole. That vision draws sighs like spoiled milk draws flies. But the sight of the front of my studio brought a smile, since the part had been vanquished. The part brought a briefly lingering smile just before the whole brought out one more loud, long sigh.
“I need a shower,” I thought to myself. I sniffed around. All I could smell was wood smoke. Since I was returning to the fire, I put on the same wood smoke scented clothes, fixed a cup of coffee, drank it down piping hot, nearly as hot as the previous night’s fire it seemed, but not so, really. It was good just the same. I marched out the door, and the overwhelming whole captured my attention. Rather than succumb to the despair it belligerently waved just like my my lost flags, the coiled snake shouting out, “Don’t Tread on Me,” I spied the next part. I focused on that part. I channeled all my energy on the next part, and soon the whole disappeared from my vision, leaving only the part in front of me. I smiled at that.
“I can manage this,” I said out loud, to myself, but still out loud, as if my words might intimidate the part into submission. Then with one turn of the key, the chainsaw in the bucket that would soon be filled with limbs, the diesel engine on the backhoe roared to life, and I drove down the drive, through other parts making up the bewildering whole, and was soon right in the middle of the part I was after, only seeing the part, and as I worked, watched the part yield to my effort, not yielding easily, for even the part seemed determined to enjoy the embrace of its own broken limbs and the limbs of other trees, woven tightly like the fibers in a Persian rug; but they yielded just the same.
Eventually, I’ll get around to telling about the particular circumstances the tornado thrust upon us, but right now, the part has drained me. I best go to bed while the night still obscures the whole, and dream of the next part, and perhaps, like this morning, be awakened by the sound of a tractor, and look out and see friends, unasked but knowing they were needed, attacking parts that they saw that needed attention they could give. I don’t expect they sighed at all. They just got busy doing hat they could do wherever they could do it.
In all of this I am thankful, thankful on so many levels. I will begin and end each day with a prayer of thanksgiving, not deliverance. It is the next part that must pray for deliverance, and I expect each unsalvageable tree, no longer reaching towards the sky, with roots formerly anchoring it to the nourishing earth now drying out exposed to the air prays to meet the burn pile. The trees that can be salvaged will be turned into lumber or pulp, perhaps a part of some future furnishings in your own home, or paper in your printer, or a useful absorbent softness in your bathroom, an ignoble but useful end.
Thankful, but exhausted, I am now going to rest…if I can.
©2019 Mississippi Chris Sharp