Running, walking and driving round the roads of Sussex at the moment reveals an impressive tally of downed trees. It truly is amazing no one was killed by any of them.
Before the storm, there would have been no way of predicting the vulnerable ones. Some are giant, mature trees that have stood for decades; others are saplings, no more than a few years old and hardly taller than a person. Some are evergreens, whose canopy of leaves made a sail for the wind to catch; others are bare-branched deciduous ones. Some are lone trees that might have looked more obviously vulnerable, but many more are in the heart of dense woodland, where some fell and some stood, in apparently random patterns of destruction. Some were planted in lines in managed forests of larch and pine; others are self-sown jobbies that grew where it suited them and are now no more.
The most impressive victim yet spotted is a giant oak that stood beside the picturesque ruins of Knepp Castle, an old hunting lodge just off the A24 in West Sussex. Going by its size, this particular oak had been there centuries – an arm span around an oak apparently represents about 100 years of life. It’s now slumped horizontally in its flooded field, revealing a rotten core. (Lesson: the fact that something’s been standing for centuries doesn’t mean it’s not rotting and dangerous!)
On a windswept run this morning, a new admiration started growing in me for the trees still standing. Whether isolated or surrounded, they have withstood wind, wet and water-logging. They are the survivors. They made it through the “hurricane” of ’87, through the pre-Christmas storm, and through the ongoing sodden battering ever since.
Admiring these survivors has made me think about the people still standing amid the storms of life. The survivors. I have friends who have battled (or are battling) bereavement, depression, neglect, abuse, unemployment, mistreatment at work or home, and mental health issues – or are simply coming to terms with their lives not unfolding the way they had hoped or dreamed.
You can’t spot them in a crowd. They’re living their lives and quite simply have been strong enough to make it through every storm that has assailed them thus far. Some are isolated, some are surrounded by people; some are people of faith and others are not. But they’re all still here, enriching my life and other people’s. Some don’t particularly feel resilient or robust, but the point is, they are, by definition.
I once wrote a song that started “You got through yesterday, you’ll make it through tomorrow.” As I write, the wind is howling down the cottage chimney and torrential diagonal rain is lashing the windows. The thunder storms are not far away. But here’s to the survivors, and to all of us still standing in the storms.