First there was the threatening sky, always a panoramic sight from the 7th floor balcony of my apartment in Cedar Crest, a building on Mass Ave. Then there was the rain, a welcome respite from the week’s relentless humidity, with lightning at the horizon and thunder in my ears. My friend Gina Ogden, the fabulous sexologist and author, was visiting. “I’m leaving now,” she said suddenly, saving her car and maybe her life.
For just a few minutes later it got crazy. The rain pounded down ferociously causing instant flooding on my balcony and in the parking lot way below. Then the wind switched directions and became violently horizontal, shooting right through the screen doors. I hurried back inside, closing the sliding glass doors to the balcony with difficulty. I ran to the safer windowless kitchen, and back again to the doors, where I watched my light-weight balcony chairs and table levitating and tumbling in the air. Eventually they all settled in a haphazard pile in the corner, right after the electricity went off.
Was it a tornado? It felt like something on that scale, with the wind whipping the tree on the far side of my balcony like it was a feather duster on steroids. Later I found out it was a microburst, as intense as a tornado. In a microburst the air under a thunderstorm drills almost straight down and when it gets to the ground it spreads – the opposite of a tornado in which the twirling wind converges.
My cell phone rang. It was a call from ChiroCare, a block away, where my chiropractor Dr Robert Kum and his wife Michelle (who took all the storm photos) work. “Are you okay?” Michelle asked.
“Yes,” I answered, “my porch furniture is suffering more than I am.”
“Do you know what is happening in front of your building?” I don’t know, because my apartment is in the back of the building, overlooking Spy Pond. “A huge tree has been ripped out of the ground, taking down the wires and the telephone pole. It’s cutting off half of Mass Ave and traffic is stopped. Emergency vehicles are arriving.” Could it be our gorgeous blue spruce?
Michelle offered to help with anything I needed, and she and Dr. Kum soon turned up to take away all the meat in my freezer to store in theirs. Before they arrived, I heard voices outside my door. The maintenance men were climbing the back steps to secure the roof, which had been peeled back by the wind.
By the time I had checked on an elderly neighbor, the Kums had mounted the seven stories by foot in order to lug a bag of steaks and chops back down. I descended the stairs as well and made my way to the front of the building, joining a group of emergency services members talking to the managers of our building. Remarkably, town workers had already trimmed away all the stricken tree branches that extended from the Cedar Crest property line into the street, and traffic was moving more freely. Once they realized that this was a high-rise building with many elderly tenants, NStar ordered a generator – merely the size of one of those portable storage units – which by 1:00 a.m. would be running the whole building (elevator, air-conditioners, and all) for the next two days.
Everyone seemed to have done a brilliant job. Cedar Crest manager Sonia Hraiz told me later, “The fire department, the police, the town officials and NStar never left the area until it was safe. You would think we were the only ones with damage in the whole town. It makes us proud to be part of Arlington.”
“Tell me about the tree,” I asked of the fallen stately spruce, well over 40 feet tall.
“My father planted that tree in 1971, even before the building was finished, because he loved the shape and the scent of blue spruce trees,” Sonia Hraiz recalled. “He was sad to see it pulled out by its roots, but relieved that no one was hurt.” Mary Cooper, a long-time resident who has watched the spruce flourish over the years, added, “It’s served as a lovely landmark at the corner of Mass Ave and Pond Lane for over 40 years.”
By the next day we would realize that dozens and dozens of East Arlington residents had lost beloved trees.
On Friday afternoon we were taken off the generator and reconnected to the grid. My steaks are back in my freezer and I’m out on my balcony looking over towards Spy Pond (image: the old days when they harvested ice at the Pond). In the winter, I can see the whole pond through the bare trees. In the summer, my view is blocked by a row of leafy trees. Today, there is a gap where trees were ripped from the earth by the microburst, and while it is nice to see the water, it has been a painful price to pay. I’m only glad my friend Gina’s instinct to leave was so right: she had been parked right in front of the building, where the spruce fell on two other cars.
This piece first appeared in the Arlington Advocate.