April 16, 2007

River Birch

River birch at dawn

The sky was still deep blue, the colour of dawn, when I woke up. One glance out the window, and I could see that we'd gotten snow, the kind of heavy, wet snow that comes in April. It was the kind of snow that packs easy. It's fantastic for snowball fights: you can just reach down and grab a handful. It's very effective for closing elementary schools and making roads hazardous.

I pulled on my winter coat and boots and wandered into the yard. The river birches, the trees closest to the house, were bent all the way to the ground, branches and trunks weighed down by heavy snow. How strange they looked, the tops of the branches, the tips that usually touch sky, buried now under several inches of wet snow. The branches were bent but not broken. I planted these trees myself, and I knew they would survive the storm. They are native to this area, with branches so flexible that they can withstand high winds and heavy snow and ice.

The woods behind my house, on the other hand, are filled with all kinds of trees, and the scotch pines, planted in the 1930s by the CCC, are not native. Many are dying, and their trunks are rigid. On windy days, you can hear them creak. This morning as I stood in the yard and listened, I could hear a tree falling. First a crack, then a whoosh, and a thump. I know when I go for my next walk in the woods, I'll find all kinds of branches and trees down.

In class, my students were talking about the weather, the snowball fights they'd had walking to campus. Student From Southern State kept saying, "Is this what y'all meant by spring snow? I thought you were kidding!" We all knew the snow wouldn't last very long, and everyone seemed to be enjoying this one last snowstorm.

It wasn't until I had driven home early afternoon and opened my laptop that I read about the shootings at Virginia Tech.

It was hard to comprehend. Almost twenty years ago at Snowstorm University, where I used to teach, 35 of our students were killed in a terrorist attack, their plane blown up on their way home from the study abroad program that my daughter is currently attending. I can not imagine a tragedy on that scale happening in our classrooms and residence halls, the places where we work so hard to create a safe and nurturing community.

I walked into the living room to find my college-age son, who was sitting safely on my couch with his own laptop computer. "Boy in Black. Did you see –"

"Yeah," he said. "Virginia Tech."

We looked at each other. He's only eighteen, but he's the generation that remembers clearly the day the World Trade Center came down. Sadly, his generation is not even shocked or disbelieving when these things happen.

We didn't talk much about it. Every once in a while, Boy in Black would click to a news story and speak up with a number: the newest death toll.

Shaggy Hair went to the piano and played the songs he has been practicing. With-a-Why cuddled onto the couch next to his brother. My husband called home to talk and make plans for the evening. I made hot tea, and we ate the homemade apple pie my mother had sent over earlier in the day.

Outside the snow was melting. Big chunks of snow slid off the roof and to the ground. The river birches, their branches freed as the snow melted, straightened up like a group weary people rising to stretch their limbs at the end of a long day.

18 comments:

shrinkykitten said...

They are likely too somewhat inured to school violence - columbine, etc., are just a part of the violence landscape. But for those of us who remember further back, it is still so shocking.

That picture is so incredible. I can't help thinking it would be one of the best (read: trickiest) puzzles ever. Maybe you could sell it and make a fortune!

liz said...

What a beautiful picture.

My family had 4 friends on that plane. I don't know anyone at Virginia Tech, but I'm grieving for them all.

Piece of Work said...

I just can't wrap my head around it. I traveled to VTech several times in college: our club lacross team played them in various tournaments. Surreal. Horrifying.

Gannet Girl said...

You lost 35 students to the the Lockerbie flight? My dh had a colleague on that plane -- en route home from making plans to move to London with his soon-to-be-bride.

jar said...

Our oldest son is a freshman at Tech and spent the morning locked in his room with the blinds drawn. We are so lucky and I am still so in shock.

Anonymous said...

That was the right choice: This time it just seems better to let the trees be the ones to say it directly. Sometimes that weight just comes down on you, and it's better for just a bit to not use your voice. Speak again later, but not just yet. To be a student means to live in hope, and that's why this hurts.

jo(e) said...

Jar: What a terrible experience for your son. Thank goodness he is safe.

I just keep thinking about those parents and what it must feel like to get that kind of news.

Gannet Girl: Yes, there were 35 students from Snowstorm University on Pan Am Flight 103. They were on their way home from a semester abroad.

Liz: I imagine that is grief you still feel even after all these years. I too am grieving with those families. I didn't know anyone at Tech, but I do know what it's like to be the parent of a college student.

Ampersand said...

I was thinking of you today as I watched the news. It hits hard for us all, but I can only think that working at a college and makes it all the more real for you.

Kathryn said...

The news broke slowly here...I had to go looking after a line here and there on US blogs made me realise something awful was happening. Like ampersand I've had you much in my thoughts and prayers...wondered if any of your kids know kids at Virginia Tech...wished there was something I could do. What a wretched thing.

Amelie said...

This is so terrible I cannot find words to express my shock, sadness, fear...
Your photo is beautiful, jo(e). Even soothing, somehow.

Ianqui said...

Amazing photo, jo(e). I love the falling flakes--it makes this photo that much more interesting than just any old snow photo. Just fantastic.

Yankee T said...

Beautiful photo. I remember the Pan Am 103 nightmare as if it were yesterday. Every time I hear my sweet daughter's tiny voice on the phone from college, my heart leaps. I cannot imagine what these families are going through.
Older Daughter and her friends had a candle-light vigil for the VTech students last night in the quadrangle outside their dorm.

julieunplugged said...

We who have kids that age feel it especially.

BeachMama said...

Such a sad day yesterday. My heart goes out to all the parents and students, just so awful.

landismom said...

So moving, Jo(e). I had a friend from high school on that flight too--we were both college freshman that year. I've often thought about him, as I pass milestones in life. I'm saddened that a whole new group of friends and family have to have those memories every year now, too.

YourFireAnt said...

River Birches Bowing to the Inevitable.

FA

Lilian said...

Lovely lovely photo. And no words about the tragedy, I just don't know what to say, it's just too sad. I think if I were still on campus I'd be much more shaken. Thinking it could have been me or my students.

Thanks for commenting on my latest post :) I know you're out there and I'm also aware of the people who read through feeds, but thanks for reminding me! ;) And you're right, it's very sad when someone quits and we don't even know their name!

DaniGirl said...

I'm choked up all over again just reading this post...