When Hurricane Irma was closing in on coastal Georgia, it never occurred to us that the Rondarosa, located over an hour’s drive north of Atlanta, would be vulnerable to its viciousness.
Oh, but frail and vulnerable we proved to be.
As weather forecasters put us under a tropical storm warning – the first in the history of Atlanta – I began to pray, beseeching God Almighty to spare the trees of the Rondarosa. An ice storm three years ago laid to waste so many trees that it looked like a tornado had proclaimed its mightiness.
The high force winds, predicted to begin at 2 p.m., began calling at noon. Tink was on location, shooting, so I was left alone to fret and pray. I paced the floors. I wrung my hands. I cleaned the pantry, trying to distract myself. I walked the house, singing, “Jesus, Hold My Hand”, trying to sing louder than the horrifying winds. At 3 p.m., I heard a shuttering, thunderous blow.
Upset and mindlessly stupid, I put on Wellies, a rain coat and hat and headed outside where I discovered that a majestic, hundred-year oak had uprooted and brought down a portion of the boarded pasture fence. The root bulb of the tree that fell is 15 feet tall.
I took a video – mildly hysterical at this point – to send to Tink who was in the serene countryside of Toronto. I checked the horses and decided to put them in stalls lest they, too, mindlessly stupidly wandered out. Later, this would prove to have been a good dose of common sense when three tall oaks, near the barn, also fell while they were tucked away safely.
I fought the winds and driving rain to get back to the house where I continued to pace, fret and pray. I stood at the windows, watching, stunned, as the winds whipped strong trees around in a circle until I expected them to pop and fly out of the ground. A maple in front of the house looked like a corkscrew. The winds would subside then it returned to normal form. A bit later, it was corkscrewed again.
The ever knowledgeable forecasters had promised the wind to calm at 9 p.m. but at 11 p.m., the maple was being as viciously twisted as it had been at 5. By this point, I was tearing through the medicine cabinet trying to find nerve medicine. I was shaking all over. All I could find was a mason jar of moonshine that is seven years old and used for gargling away sore throats. I took a deep breath and a huge gulp. It was like drinking gasoline.
At midnight, I dragged pillows, a comforter and Dew Drop into my closet, made a pallet and spent the night. It was so quiet and dark that it was the best night’s sleep in a long time. The next morning, I awoke – the sun was shining beautifully – and ran outdoors, barefooted, with my gown tail flying. The damage broke my heart. Twelve big trees were down and boarded fences broken in several places. The yard was strewn hither and yon with limbs and debris.
Next, I grabbed my shoes, jumped in the truck and headed to Mama’s. Enormous tops of trees had fallen but were standing otherwise. Without explanation, two dead pines stood proud and defiant while an apple tree, leaning 30 degrees toward the ground, seemed to be smiling triumphantly. It had not moved an inch further.
We expect it to take a year to restore the Rondarosa to its pre-storm condition but the lesson I learned will remain forever. I have always felt concern and compassion when I heard that hurricanes were headed toward places like Biloxi, Georgia’s Golden Isles, Myrtle Beach and McComb, Mississippi. But, in the future, I will feel much more deeply than that.
I’ll be empathetic and I’ll pray much harder for all of you.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]