Posted by: Peadar Ban | September 5, 2010

Earl’s Last Trick

There is a scene in The Fellowship of the Ring where the members of the fellowship  are running from the Balrog in Moria.  They have crossed the bridge at Khazad-Dum, and Gandalf the wizard turns to prevent the balrog, a creature  terrible in aspect, from going further.  He succeeds, but is caught by a twisting whip of flame and falls from sight.

Never say never where balrogs are concerned, I suppose.  The same might be said about “Drizzlecanes”, a name I applied to the recent passing storm named Earl, whose slipping by New England late Friday night barely ruffled a feather.  Though not as fearsome as a balrog, a wholly imagined creature, Earl had a trick un-played up his own sleeve we have since found out.

Mass was over Saturday afternoon and we came back to the house thinking how nice it would be to sit outside in our little screen house on the deck with a bag of chips and a cool adult beverage and ease into the evening.  It had been a lovely day, clear and cool, the kind of day-after one might sing about.  I know that I was ready to enjoy the evening simply sitting with my wife and our friend Kathy, watch the shadows grow longer,  count the clouds going by and enjoy seeing the highest leaves in the tallest trees turn from green to gold in what I knew would be a fantastic sunset.

Nothing but a whisper of wind through the trees above us disturbed the quiet, that and the distant sounds of kids playing one street over, our neighbors talking quietly on their deck behind us and a finch or two at the feeders.  Mariellen and Kathy had seated themselves under the canopy of the screen house.  I had just poured something for Kathy and was closing the slider door, her drink in my hand, when I heard a familiar sound, a harsh sound, a crack, telling me somewhere nearby a limb was about to fall to the ground.

I was mildly surprised and looked around for the source of the noise, wanting to make sure that it wasn’t any one the trees in our own backyard.  I remember thinking it probably wasn’t one of ours in any event.  Hadn’t we taken four trees down just last year?  That made me feel better.  We were safe.

Well I was right about one thing and wrong about another.  It wasn’t a branch on one of my trees.  But, it was a tree, not one of mine, but my neighbor’s.  It was an oak about fifty feet tall, and, it was falling toward my house.  As a matter of fact, it was falling right on me, Mariellen and our friend Kathy!

Earl's Last Trick

I looked in the direction of the tree as it fell and thought, “It’s going to hit me.”  I thought that thought at the same time as it crashed into the flimsy little screen house on our deck in which sat Mariellen and Kathy crushing it, breaking the railing on the deck and giving me a good whack on the shoulder.  Then it was all over.

Mariellen was just on the other side of the post in the center of the photo

I looked over at Mariellen, covered in leaves in her chair, and Kathy sitting on the other side of the little table with screen house netting draped over her like a veil and wondered, “I’ve just been hit by a falling tree.  Why am I not unconscious?”  Then Mariellen answered my query about her safety by saying, “I’m fine,  How are you.  All the tree did was hit me on the head, but I’m fine.”  And Kathy said, “I wasn’t hit at all.  I’m fine.”  She did point out that bits of tree had fallen in our drinks and snacks.

And that was about that.  I looked at what could have been a real mess and  thanked God it wasn’t.  I’ve spent a lot of time doing that since.  Our neighbors came over, worry on their faces, concerned and offering help.  We smiled and tried to ease their fears.  Then we cleaned up as much as we could.

Within a half hour it was all over, I’d say.

Then we gathered in a little circle and prayed our thanks to God who is the Lord of trees and people.  Here is a picture of the chair Mariellen was sitting in.  We have just removed the trunk of the oak, about a foot in diameter from the upper left corner of the picture.  The branch at the bottom is the one that struck my shoulder.  You see if we shouldn’t have given thanks.

Mariellen Sat Here


  1. Nicely told, dear. Except the tree hit me in the back, not the head. And in any case not hard enough to leave a mark. Any number of horrible things could have happened, with poles bending and crushing above and on all sides of us. Yet we stood up from the glasstop table on which our libations rested untouched, walked aside to look at it all, and laughed aloud at the wonder of God’s goodness to us.

    I like your last whip of the balrog tail analogy — by no means the least amazing part of the event, to my way of thinking, is the fact that the tree waited to fall until about a minute after the deck became occupied for the first and only time that day. Can’t help thinking God intended to get across a point.

    Only a fool ever thinks he is safe. We are a hair’s breadth away from death absolutely ALL of the time.

  2. Nothing like being whacked on the back with a big stick to make you look up and pay attention!

  3. Your days of working at the chicken joint are finished. Please inform your neighbor that actually there is something to worry about and that is the lawsuit you have been encouraged to file. of course there is no reason that this cannot be settled out of court.


    • Dear TJK,

      I have regained full use of my shoulder, TBTG. I appreciate your concern, and your implied offer to help with an out of court settlement. I shall remember that when and if the need ever arises. My neighbor has been very solicitous and would, I am sure, have been more than generous with supporting any needs I had arising from this unfortunate result of the weather. I have been told to expect a call from Mr. Gore on the matter of my joining him on his crusade. That will more than cover my expenses in appearance fees. Look for me soon on Oprah.

      Climatologically yours,
      Peadar Banter

  4. As I sit here wondering about a cousin I can’t reach, and a child in his 20s who has yet to tell us he is ok, I have to say, quite simply, ‘Thank God’.

    Sometimes it is better to wary of the Earls in this world, since even their open faced placid nonchalance can hide a wealth of unseen harms, and rescue uncelebrated.

    I remember praying for fr Michael some years ago, when I was young, feeling desperate, and desperately silly. I asked if anything had happened, and felt still more silly when I was told that all manner of thing was well.

    He said, “Ah, but there is no telling what might have happened had you not prayed.”

    These days I tend to pray earnestly that I am wrong.. I would rather be a false prophet than to be justified by calamity.

    I am so glad for your safety, Kathy, and Mariellen, and Peadar..

    • Dear Alys,

      Thank you. Father Michael’s remarks are truth indeed. We pray for all of you down in the “Shaky Isles”.


  5. Good on you all for thanking the Lord that you escaped more injury than a sore shoulder! The climate has been much wetter than normal here in Boise the last two years, but nothing like the fringe of a “drizzlecane” I don’t suppose. Glad to hear you’re all doing well.

    • Michael, A Cara,

      Well is a mere shadow of the feeling. I, we, felt the hand of God sweeping away a great big tree. Others may call it mere coincidence, an accident, an act of nature. I know Whose is nature.


  6. Can’t i leave you guys for a short time to yourselves without you getting yourselves into trouble? God must have wanted you to know how much he protects you every moment of every day. You are so blessed! Can’t believe the pictures…it was such a kiss. Miss you….and praying for you always. joan

  7. what a close call,
    you are blessed.


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