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VOL. 37 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 18, 2013

Yes, a tree falling in your yard makes a loud noise

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Last week’s column concluded with Susan and me in a hotel room in a neighboring city, to which we’d journeyed in a roundabout way to escape a cold, dark house on my birthday. We and 200,000 others were without electricity.

We started the story with the loss of power a minute after midnight on December 26. Arguably, the story started 90 minutes earlier. I now know the answer to an age-old question. If a tree falls in your yard and you’re there to hear it fall, it makes a loud, scary noise. Especially if it’s a 90-foot pine and it hits your house.

This towering tree had stood in the center of the yard across the street since memory runneth not. Which is to say it was there when we moved in 27 years ago. “KA-BOOM!” onomatopoeically understates the sound that caused us to jump from our chairs in the living room, which was still spottily cluttered with wrapping paper from 12 hours earlier.

From the front door, the immediate visual I got was that this tree, with its 18-inch trunk, had landed exactly in the middle of a 12-foot gap between my house and the house immediately east of it. I pulled on my boots and went out for a closer look.

Slipping and sliding out into the snow-covered street, I saw that the giant pine had literally fallen over. A large chunk of root-splayed sod had dislodged from the ground and turned 90 degrees from horizontal. Snow had collected in the tree’s upper reaches, so that it had gotten top-heavy and, at a certain point, simply yielded to gravity.

The tree hit a glancing blow to the corner of my house, damaging the gutter and spraying pine needles over a small area. This blow was cushioned somewhat by northern-stretching limbs of an oak tree positioned between my next-door neighbor’s house and mine.

Had the pine fallen at a vector of five degrees closer to due south, it would have wound up in my bedroom or living room, or both. After hitting the corner of the roof, the pine crushed a 12-foot Viburnum, an 8-foot dogwood (both of which were laced with white Christmas lights) and my neighbor’s late-model BMW.

The elevation of my across-the-street neighbor’s yard, combined with the height of the Bimmer, cast an eerie bridge-like effect on the scene. Curious neighbors were appearing from up and down the street, where the obvious question was whether to contact the neighbors from whose yard the tree had fallen. They were out of state for the holidays and were not due back to town for a couple more days.

“Let ’em sleep,” I muttered through my shivering teeth. “There’s nothing they can do about it now, and this’ll be all over Facebook by dawn.” Sure enough, I awoke the next morning to a text: “I’m so sorry our tree fell on your house and Jim’s car. We saw the pictures on Facebook …”

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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