One of the most defining moments of my life took place on August 2, 2015. During the late afternoon hours of that sultry summer afternoon, Mother Nature unleashed one of her most powerful storms upon the inhabitants of the Grand Traverse region in northern Michigan.
In truth, we never saw the storm coming until it was too late. Weather bulletins issued that day only spoke of scattered thunderstorms and high winds. No warning sirens were sounded. No tornado warnings were issued. Yet, even if we had been warned, nothing could have prepared us for this particular storm's sudden and crippling impact and devastating effects.
Countless homes and habitats were irreparably damaged, and thousands of trees were uprooted and destroyed that day from what was later described as a "bow echo," a bow-shaped storm that brought with it 100 mph straight-line winds that wreaked havoc from Manistee to as far away as Kalkaska, a distance of nearly 100 miles. The National Weather Service reported that the widespread wind damage and large hail during the nearly ten-hour event was estimated to have caused roughly $82 million in total losses, making it the costliest severe thunderstorm event in northern Michigan recorded history.
Our home was directly in its path.
In a matter of moments, my husband and I watched with stunned horror and disbelief as over forty mature oaks, maples, birch, and beech were uprooted, ripped apart, and with deafening crashes, fell to their deaths onto our property and our home.
In the storm's aftermath, we did what Kenels and Trueloves always do: we counted our blessings, we assessed the damage, and we vowed to rebuild.
During the past four years, we have succeeded in rebuilding and replacing much of what we lost that Sunday. We repaired our home's damaged roof where three massive maple trees fell onto it, and we replaced two destroyed garden arbors, along with an assortment of broken birdbaths and bird feeders. Our 85ft deck sustained considerable damage during the storm as well, and it required repair from the maple and oak trees that crashed down upon it. Although the deck is now stable, if one suffers from vertigo or is afraid of heights, it is best not to venture too close to its east side as the foundation shifted during the storm's wrath, presenting quite a sensation to the novice visitor.
But it is the land that we held in reverence then, and it is the land we hold in reverence today.
Our front yard miraculously sustained minimal damage. But the once pristine wooded half-acre that comprises our backyard, situated high on a bluff nestled between West and East Grand Traverse Bays, was demolished beyond recognition. When the storm subsided, we mourned the passing of the grand and magnificent century-old hardwoods that had graced our property long before we ever became their stewards. Numerous shrubs, ornamental trees, and perennials that we had planted and lovingly nurtured for over twenty-seven years were reduced to massive heaps of uprooted and tangled debris.
We also mourned the absence of our wildlife visitors. For weeks after the storm, we never spotted or heard them although they had been a constant in the fabric of our everyday lives and landscape.
Other than the daily never-ending drone of chainsaws grappling with broken branches, and bulldozers chewing away at the fallen debris on the roads throughout our subdivision and in our neighbors' yards, an eerie silence fell upon our property and its environs. Missing was the raucous sound of our neighborhood's children playing basketball next door or gleefully racing up and down our road on their bikes as they made their way to our subdivision's beach on East Grand Traverse Bay. Neighbors occasionally ventured outside their homes following the storm, but for the most part, we saw very few of them. It was as if the shock of what had occurred was far too much for them to digest. Safety was to be found behind closed doors within the security of their homes.
Inside our home was the last place I wanted to be. Every fiber of my being needed to be outside for as many hours of each day that I was able, clearing, tidying, and staking fallen flowers and bruised bushes and trees.
I do not remember crying at any time during or after the storm, even when we were without electricity for over a week, and the tree-clogged roads prevented us from driving into town for nearly the same time period. But an emptiness filled our spirits as my husband and I attempted to comprehend the immense task of rebuilding that lay before us. There were many moments of shock, coupled with fear and apprehension, as my husband and I walked our property and assessed the damage.
And there was plenty of damage.
In order for the tree repair crew to eventually gain access to our fractured roof, additional land, trees, and shrubs were gouged and decimated as the crew's equipment and bulldozers made their laborious and deafening way through the woods to the back of our home. Numerous trees and bushes we thought had survived the mechanical onslaught were too damaged once they were uncovered from the massive debris left by the bulldozers; there was nothing we could do but remove them from our property.
And yet, Mother Nature had other plans for us and our yard as we gathered our wits about us. I should never have doubted her, although we were not on speaking terms for a number of weeks.
You see, in uprooting and destroying nearly three decades of our lives and labor, Mother Nature created new vistas as well as new areas of gardening possibilities. We now have a clear four-season view of East Grand Traverse Bay where once we only enjoyed passing glimpses of its beauty during the winter months. And the valley below us is in clear view from our deck where once it also was shrouded during the spring and summer months.
But what has truly amazed us throughout the past four years, is the tenacity and resiliency of our land and its gifts. The trees are rejuvenating and healing, and many of our land's treasures have refused to succumb when the odds were definitely not in their favor.
Of particular import is a Chinese Dogwood, a Cornus Kousa, that stood over thirty feet tall as it shaded a small pond my family and I constructed years ago in our backyard. I had rescued this magnificent tree over twenty years ago from certain death at Meijer when it was only a scrawny sapling hiding in the back end of the nursery. Once established, it graced our backyard nearly every spring with stunning star-like blossoms. Nothing in our backyard compared to its beauty.
On August 2, 2015, it was reduced to a 3ft. jagged stump.
My husband and I both agreed that the first purchase for our backyard the following spring would be a replacement for the dogwood.
I did, indeed, find a gorgeous specimen at a local nursery. And in June of 2016, my husband, daughter, and son-in-law helped me to bring it home.
But when the time came to plant the new tree, we simply couldn't uproot the old one. There it stood, still a stump, but covered with an abundance of new growth ever so gallantly reaching up to the sun. It had clung to life throughout the winter and simply refused to die. In fact, it has flourished and thrived this summer so much so that it is triple its height and width and just keeps growing. It may never bloom again, but it will remain where I planted it all those years ago as a testimony to its will to endure.
As for the new dogwood, we found a perfect place for it: right outside our bedroom - in the new sun garden that would never have existed had the storm never occurred.
And in that new area, my husband - with a great deal of exactness, laughter, sweat equity, and of course, my supervision - has erected a 60ft split rail fence to soften the drop off where the bulldozers paid their visit. Behind it, we have planted a 25ft tall Mountain Ash. And we have softened the area with numerous hydrangeas.
Less than a week after the storm, my sister-in-law phoned to share with me that come July she would gladly share from her own gardens hosta, climbing roses, hollyhocks, daylilies, phlox, and lily of the valley. She made good on her promise by driving three hours from her home in Midland, Michigan with an entire truckload of perennials carefully encased in buckets of water and enriched soil. All of her gifts were planted and are now thriving in their new home.
To that new garden, I added bugbane, Japanese spikenard, Japanese anemone, toad lilies, columbine, coreopsis, delphinium, honeysuckle vine, Cranesbill geranium, and lavender. All have flourished in four years' time. This garden is at its height of beauty during late July and early August, a fitting tribute to that fateful summer's day.
While the landscape of our lives, as we once knew it, has irrevocably changed, an oasis of constant beauty greets me every morning. The peacefulness of our backyard is palatable, and its serenity is real. Oftentimes, as I walk this area, it is a source of delightful surprises, for I will come upon perennials that I never planted. I always smile when I spot an errant cluster of phlox, Japanese anemones, forget-me-nots, or daylilies. I like to think that had it not been for the storm, these precious beauties would not be found growing and thriving along the pathways of my world. I would never think of disturbing them or moving them to another garden. They are vibrant, yet gentle reminders of what was, what is, and the ever-reverent symbiotic relationship my husband and I both share with our land.
I am seldom alone, however, when I venture outside: our beloved wildlife has returned. Tree toads, chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, crows, woodpeckers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, purple finches, robins, ground squirrels, raccoons, foxes, deer, and a barred owl come and go across the still scarred landscape. An incredibly bold brown bunny has taken up residence, gleefully sampling - far too often - from the new smorgasbord of edible plants. And yesterday evening, while my husband and I were enjoying the quiet of day's end on our deck, a hummingbird hovered so close to me that I dared not breathe.
Today dawned rainy and somewhat cold. But the early morning rains gave way to sunshine, blue skies, and mild temperatures. As I sat on our deck, enjoying a cup of freshly brewed coffee, I watched with delighted amusement as three black-capped chickadees and a ground squirrel took turns enjoying the "squirrel-proof" birdseed I had just placed in one of the deck's two bird feeders. A delicate breeze arose from the west, and I inhaled the fragrant perfume of purple phlox. In the valley below, a cherry spreader's distinct whine droned, and a blue jay called to its mate. I tilted my face to feel the warmth of the sun, and as I did so, I closed my eyes and smiled. Four years ago, Mother Nature demonstrated the strength of her might. In doing so, she taught me, once again, lessons in humility, courage, and perseverance. While the storm of August 2, 2015, may seem insignificant compared to many devastating natural disasters experienced throughout our world, it instilled within me an even greater respect and love for the land and the transient nature of life itself.
My world was forever altered that August day. And I remain forever grateful.