Archive for Wednesday, June 5, 2002

Carving from danger an angel

June 5, 2002

Two years ago, on May 11, 2000, when a tornado tore through Tonganoxie, I took refuge at my parents' house. Even from the basement we could hear the splintering of tree limbs and the shattering of glass. I didn't know until later that the din included the sound of my car's rear window shattering when struck by the top half of a tree.

Meanwhile at the house across town where I then lived, the wind took out the top half of a century-old Siberian elm a tree with a trunk large enough for a chainsaw carving. I called Russell Ehart and he and his chainsaw arrived the next day. By the end of the week, Ehart had completed his work a six-foot-tall Indian chief.

My parents, Phil and Betty Stevens, followed suit. They contacted Ehart, asking him to carve a bear from the trunk of the tree that had totaled my car. But because the trunk was too small, they opted for a Daniel Boone-type of frontiersman.

Throughout Tonganoxie, even the trees that survived the tornado took a beating. For months, leaves on limbs would shrivel and brown as the limb would slowly dip groundward. Over time, the falling of limbs stopped.

Then early in the morning two weeks ago today, my cell phone rang. It was my mother, who said I should drive by their house to see the tree limb that fell on Dad.

By that time, Dad had brushed himself off and gone to work. But clearly, his escape from serious injury, or death, was no minor feat. The limb measured 28 inches across and was larger than the trunks of most of the trees in their yard.

As Dad and Mom had walked toward the driveway that morning Mom to pick up The Mirror from the street and Dad to feed the birds they heard a loud popping sound. Dad, who was standing beneath a large limb of the old elm tree knew immediately the limb was falling. He just had time to make three lifesaving steps. Crash. One of the limbs struck him on the head and threw him to the ground.

Terrified, Mom, who had narrowly escaped injury herself, searched for Dad, and found him pinned beneath the limb. Within minutes he was free bruised and battered, grass stained but alive.

Later that week one of my brothers held a long-planned family picnic. I think the thought crossed all our minds that we were fortunate the occasion was celebratory, when it could so easily have been the other way.

Brushes with death so often leave questions.

Dad has wondered why it was that he, who has had a hip replacement and doesn't walk as fast as he used to, was able to run so fast. He has wondered why he didn't waste precious seconds to look upward to see what caused the noise. He has wondered why the limb fell at the exact moment he was under the tree. He has wondered why, seconds before the limb fell, their dog made a loud whining sound they'd never heard him make before. He has wondered what it was that saved him and why was he saved.

"I guess it wasn't my day to die," Dad said.

As for the tree, a part of it may remain. The next day all the limbs were cut away, leaving a trunk about 10 feet tall and four feet across.

As they did two years ago after the tornado, my parents plan to call Russell Ehart to see if the trunk is solid enough for a chainsaw carving. At first, Dad said, he wanted the bear he and Mom had talked about before. But then he paused for a moment or two, and as grateful tears welled in his eyes, he smiled and said: "I think I'll have him carve an angel, instead."

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