Cry of the Heartwood by Ruby Barnes

           February 12th 2014 on the island of Ireland. The January weather had battered the coasts and destroyed stretches of coastline enjoyed by countless previous generations. Unusually high tides, low pressure with rising sea levels and gale force winds resulted in crazed, crashing waves that ripped out miles of sandy beach, turning them to pebbles. Just before Valentine's Day the elements returned to attack the land. Storm Darwin brought hurricane force winds across the counties of Munster and Leinster.

         We had forty shades of green long before fifty shades of grey, and there's a reason why the Emerald Isle is so lush - it's mostly raining. And we're no strangers to high winds with many a tree, shrub and bush habitually leaning away from the prevailing storms. But no one was ready for Darwin. We're not familiar with hurricanes - this is a temperate island off the north west of Europe - but Storm Darwin evolved from a lineage that dashed the Spanish Armada to its destruction.

          I drove home in a zig-zag through the wind and rain that lunchtime in Kilkenny. The summer parasol - left in the middle of the patio table as I'm so bad at house husbandry - had been sheared off and lay on the grass. Lucky for me it didn't go through a window. Then there was a big bang and Alfie the dog went ape. I stepped outside, nearly lost the back door in the wind, and found some broken tiles around the side of the house. They had fallen from the neighbour's roof and bounced off my dining room window. Testament to the strength of modern glazing. Both Alfie and I realised it wasn't a good place to stand and went back inside, just as another four concrete tiles bounced off the window and smashed on the ground. I locked the back door, took the key out of the lock and put it in a drawer to prevent wife and children from having a bad experience. Then I got back in the car to return to work because an emergency weather conference had been called by my health service employer.

          The circular road to Kilkreene Hospital was blocked by fallen trees and a Garda car squatted across the road to prevent bravado. I turned tail on sight of the squad car - usually good enough to make the Gards give chase, but they weren't up for it. I took the country side road and then a lane, but the dip in the way was full of a good two feet of water. So I turned back up the other larger lane. A mile further and that was blocked too by fallen trees. In the end a major detour was necessary through town on the only remaining access road to the hospital and regional ambulance centre.

          My dramatic recounting of events on the teleconference was quickly squashed by the real misfortune of others. Fifty-two elderly occupants of a nursing home in Killarney were being evacuated as the roof was removed by the storm. Miraculously no one was killed or seriously injured. So I went home early, as you do. The fire engine which had been blocking the opposite end of the road to the Garda car had gone so I took the turn only to find two men hopelessly trying to wrestle another freshly toppled tree trunk off the road. Back through town and all my usual short cuts through the city were blocked by fallen trees.

          Eventually I made it home to find seven houses in the street missing tiles. Things had calmed down but a lot of places would never be the same. 215,000 people were without electricity for days and Kilkenny Golf Course lost one hundred and fifty trees in the storm.

          A week later and I was dropping my son at soccer practise out on the Bennettsbridge road when I saw another storm victim.

          This old oak had been sheared off at the base and a couple of others lay nearby. My first thought was heartwood. How could I salvage the magic heartwood of this old tree and make something wondrous of it? Then I realised - this tree died a terrible death and the twisted torture of the heartwood could only yield the worst kind of magic.

And a note from our Reb MacRath on a forthcoming treat for March: - 

How Elvis Murdered Princess Di

          Contents under Rock and key.

           The blue suede truth revealed on 12th March 2014

          And now handing you back to storm-force Ruby...


What a terrifying experience. Makes you feel very vulnerable when nature flexes its muscles. I do love high winds though,observed from a safe place, of course. Love Ted Hughes's poem, 'Wind'.
@Ruby_Barnes said…
Thanks, Pauline. When I moved to Switzerland for seven years the thing I missed most about Ireland and Britain was the wind, strangely enough. I know Storm Darwin wasn't exactly a Wizard of Oz hurricane, but it was so much more than Ireland is prepared for.
cally phillips said…
Good luck with getting your roof reparied! In the bad storms we had in 2011 we lost ridge tiles, got a botched (but quick) job to replace them because the insurers couldn't come out to assess for 3 weeks (by which time we would have had NO roof left) Botched (expensive cash only) job lasted a year and then it took another 12 months to get it fixed properly (an event which took the roofers a mere 2 hours!) Thus far it's held through the worst of this winters constant gales. We've had no snow and therefore no winter this year to my mind, just the mother of all storms going on for months on end.
As I say, good luck with getting the roof repaired and back to writing.

For anyone out there considering a career as a writer I say - become a roofer. You'll be in much more demand and you can charge the earth. AND since you don't work in bad weather you'll have plenty of time to write as well!!! This advice holds true also for plumbers, electricians and tradesmen in general (though some of them DO have to work in bad weather)
Chris Longmuir said…
And I thought Scotland was the place renowned for bad weather. We've been fortunate this winter and missed most of the extreme stuff, so my heart goes out to everyone who has suffered at the hands of the weather (does weather have hands?) this winter. Look on the bright side, Ruby. Stay at home and read!
Lydia Bennet said…
we've had it easier than usual here in the north east of England. my snow tyres have been redundant! more rain than usual but flood water just runs into the sea from where I am so far anyway. it's sad when trees fall.
julia jones said…
So what's the end of the story? Are you writing about that tree? I feel that I need to know!

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