Gratitude

After The Storm (or, Navigating My First Tornado)

On September 21st a tornado hit our neighbourhood. It was a Friday, around 6PM.

It sucked.

For weeks I've been wanting to write about it here, but didn't know where to start. This morning I decided to just write, capturing miscellaneous thoughts and insights as I continue to navigate the storm's aftermath nearly eight weeks after it came through.

Writing usually helps.

.:.

Let me start by saying that we do not get tornadoes often up here. Snow storms? Yes. Floods? In the spring, yes. Devastating ice storms? Oh yeah. But tornadoes? Very rarely.

On September 21st the storm system that produced the tornado that hit our neighbourhood produced five others that touched down in the region. Houses were flattened, trees uprooted and because one of them hit a major electrical transmission station, thousands of people were without power for days. Thankfully, no lives were lost.

To the left is where the tornado touched down, in “our” woods. To the right the trees remain.

To the left is where the tornado touched down, in “our” woods. To the right the trees remain.

.:.

I live in a neighbourhood that was known for its 100-year old white pines. When the developer built our suburb in the 1970s he kept the trees and built the houses under a canopy of green. It made our little corner of the city special.

Today there is no more canopy. Within seconds the storm snapped our beloved pine trees like matchsticks and uprooted many of the other trees around them. D. and I lost seven trees in our front yard. Our neighbour counted 24 stumps in her back yard alone. These trees soothed, sheltered and protected us. I feel vulnerable without them.

The trees caused the majority of the damage as they came crashing down. I also suspect that if it weren't for them the neighbourhood would have suffered even more damage than it did. I'm no meteorologist nor am I an engineer, but I like to think that they buffered us from the wind, sheltering and protecting us to the very end.

Our front yard after the storm. None of those trees are there anymore. None of them touched the house.

Our front yard after the storm. None of those trees are there anymore. None of them touched the house.

.:.

Seeing trees felled breaks my heart. So does seeing their roots being torn out of the ground. It's like a sucker-punch to the gut. Every time.

.:.

Survivor's guilt is real. We were lucky, we only lost trees. There was no damage to the house. It hurts to see our neighbours hurt, to witness their losses and feel completely helpless. It wasn't our fault. It wasn't anybody's fault.

.:.

Though I knew it intellectually, it took a few validating conversations with professionals to convince me that even if our losses weren't as significant as others' we were still impacted by the tornado. Often when I mention that there was no damage to our house folks sigh a sigh of relief, say “Oh well at least you just lost trees, you must be grateful!” and then change the subject, giving me the sense that there is nothing more to say. I know they mean well and yes, I am VERY grateful. I know how lucky we are.

And I am sad. And angry. And tired.

I was told by medical and mental health professionals that these are normal, post-traumatic reactions. I cried as they gave me permission to feel what I was feeling.

I share this here should anyone need to hear it too.

.:.

There have been a lot of tears shed. Tears for the loss of majestic white pines that lined our streets. Tears for the seven trees we personally lost: four spruces, two birches and my beloved blossoming crab-apple tree. Tears for the loss of our neighbourhood woods and trails, where the twister first touched down.

Tears for lost roofs, windows and fences, for neighbours having to leave their homes. Tears at the sound of another f*cking chainsaw or at the sight of another logging truck loaded with tree trunks leaving the neighbourhood. Tears of relief. Tears of gratitude and surrender as I allowed myself to receive help, whether in the form of brown bag lunches distributed by strangers the day after the storm, a warm meal prepared by friends or financial aid from the Red Cross to help with cleanup expenses.

On some days the tears still come, but they come much less often than they did.

Progress.

.:.

In the weeks after the storm, self-care came in the form of simple pleasures.

In the weeks after the storm, self-care came in the form of simple pleasures.

.:.

I met more neighbours in the five days after the storm than I did in the five years I've lived here. For the first time I felt comfortable knocking on someone's door for help and felt comfortable offering help in return. If there's ever a silver lining this is one of them. A bright, shiny silver lining.

I hope this feeling stays.

.:.

I tried to approach the storm's aftermath with curiosity, observing my physical and mental reactions. This being my first tornado (!) I really didn't know how things would unfold. It was also interesting to navigate the event with D. We moved through it together, supporting each other yet discovering – and respecting – that we have different ways of coping.

The discovery process is ongoing.

.:.

“Remember to play after every storm.” - Mattie Stepanek

.:.

My neighbourhood woods was one of my sanctuaries. Losing it forced me to reflect on other places, practices or activities I can tap into that have the same grounding and calming effect. Enter: birdwatching.

Last Saturday I gifted myself a new bird feeder for the back yard, one of few remaining pockets of normalcy in my surroundings.

Best. Purchase. Ever.

A pair of cardinals and a friend. ♥

A pair of cardinals and a friend. ♥

.:.

Nearly eight weeks after the storm many neighbours still live in houses with tarps on their roofs or plywood in place of windows. Others are gone, their houses deemed uninhabitable until repaired or worse, slated to be demolished. Last Monday after hearing a chainsaw in the distance D. and I felt the ground shake. I can only guess that a remaining tree was felled, perhaps it was compromised or simply couldn't be saved.

I cannot get away from the aftermath unless I physically leave the area. Every day I am faced with visual reminders, which can make it hard to carry on.

But there is hope. The neighbourhood is rebuilding.

Repairs are being made to my neighbour's roof as I type. The city is offering free trees for city-owned road allowances in our front yards, some of them are already in the ground. Early Holiday decorations are popping up, adding sparkle to our streets.

One step and one day at a time, I navigate the tornado's aftermath individually and alongside my community. I grieve as I must and delight where I can – because there is still much delight to be had when one is open to it.

“Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them?” - Rose F. Kennedy

I move through and forward as gracefully as I can with gratitude, Love, care for my neighbours, care for my Self and a whole lot of patience.

Because that’s what I can do, after the storm.

Why fight it? (or, How I'm Trying to Embrace Winter)

A corner of my  vision board , created in August 2017. I bet it was sunny & warm outside.

A corner of my vision board, created in August 2017. I bet it was sunny & warm outside.

January is gone, February is here. Friends, family and colleagues are jetting south for their yearly pilgrimage to sunny climes for a week of warmth and sun, that wisp of hope that will keep them going during the winter months yet to come.

I have never travelled south during the winter. I've been told that if you go once you'll want to go every year. Maybe that's why I resist. I don't want to kickstart the habit.

Or maybe I don't really mind winter.

Let me be clear, I do not particularly like having to leave the house in freezing rain, a snowstorm or the descent of a polar vortex. In fact, I detest driving in crappy weather only marginally more than I detest scraping ice off of my car windows – the latter with a seething passion.

But it's part of the package that is winter and if I choose to live in Ottawa, it's what I've got, like it or not!

So why fight it?

"To see ice crystals hovering in perfectly blue air, to walk on a moonlit night through a field of freshly fallen snow, to mark the tracery of a snowflake, to slide or ski or skate or roll on ice and snow, to stand under a crow sending a dusting of snow down from a hemlock tree – there is glory there."
~ Gary Schmidt & Susan M. Felch, Winter, A Spiritual Biography of the Season

The sight of freshly fallen snow clinging to the branches of our cedar hedge, the rhythmic sound of snowshoes breaking a trail through the underbrush and yes, even the glistening branches that follow the ice storm. Goodness, what beauty.

And don't even get me started on cocooning, wool blankets and fairy lights. Bliss for this introvert!

“A mind of winter, a mind for winter, not sensing the season as a loss of warmth and light, and with them hope of life and divinity, but ready to respond to it as a positive, and even purifying, presence of something – the beautiful and peaceful, yes, but also the mysterious, the strange, the sublime...”
~ Adam Gopnik, Winter: Five Windows on the Season, CBC Massey Lectures

I cannot imagine living without it.

I can cope with the cold and the crappy weather easily enough; a good set of snow tires, a supply of salt for the driveway and a good parka can do wonders. A few strategically placed f-bombs help too ("EFF it's cold!"), as does a healthy dose of surrender (seriously, there is NOTHING I can do about the weather).

© 2018 Stephanie Guimond, iPhoneography piece

© 2018 Stephanie Guimond, iPhoneography piece

I read, I listen to music, I create. I try new recipes, I spruce up the house, I watch Little House on the Prairie. I dream of camping, I work out, I get outside. And though I enjoy the fresh air, I also appreciate that these winter months are conducive to pause and restoration. I slow down, I turn inward, I embrace my homebody-ness completely.

So far so good.

It's still early in the season mind you and my view may change between now and the end of March, but in the meantime I sure feel a lot less miserable. Besides, this week I heard a Cardinal sing so spring can't be THAT far can it?

But there's no rush. Because it's only February and I still have three seasons of Little House on the Prairie to watch, two jigsaw puzzles to finish and a giant Costco-size tub of hot chocolate to go through. Who wants to deal with that in May?

I sure as heck don't.

So just for today I'll take February. I'll take the cold and I'll take the snow. I'll take the slower pace. If you're looking for me chances are you'll find me curled up on the couch bawling at a moment between Pa and Laura Ingalls, feeling grateful for central heating and indoor plumbing.

And if you listen carefully across the miles, you might even hear me exclaim "EFF it's cold!"

If escaping to sunny climes means I would deprive you of that, well I just won't do it.