At first it all seemed like a big adventure: stepping into Hurricane Isabel at one am with two pajama-clad teenage daughters and one dog in tow, basking in mini-celebrity the following morning when neighbors gathered in small clusters to gasp at the damage, and moving in with my ex, which surely interrupted whatever sameness had existed in my day-to-day life.

The forecast had been known for days, so it was no surprise Friday night when the power went out and the house went dark at ten o’clock.

“We might as well go to sleep,” I said to my kids, Sabrina and Emily, whose older sister Eliza was safely away at college. “I want you girls to stay in my room tonight just in case.”

They knew what I meant, as it was not the first time I had expressed concern about the monster poplar tree outside of Emily’s bedroom. Sabrina arranged a pile of blankets on the floor at the foot of my bed and Emily climbed in next to me, where her father used to sleep before our divorce five years earlier. Casey, our beagle-basset, wedged himself between us.

We fell asleep to the crackling sounds of falling trees that had been going on all evening. At one point I woke up to a loud bang and thought, That must’ve been a big one. Casey and the girls were in sound slumber and I fell right back to sleep.

Within what must have been a minute, I awoke to the siren-like whine of our smoke detector. Too drowsy to fully digest the potential danger, I stumbled into the hallway and saw it was all smoky. Although at some level I was aware the scent of smoke was oddly absent, I /media-credit]calmly said to the girls, “Get up. We have to leave. There’s a fire.”

Casey got up too and when he arrived at the bottom of the stairs and noticed me reaching for his leash, he did what he always did: he ran in circles around the dining room table with me chasing behind until finally I caught him.

Then, due to a lifetime of having it branded on my brain that when there is a fire, you leave everything and get out, I knew to leave my purse. So it did not occur to me to actually take my purse rather than what I did, which was to spend precious seconds rooting around in it for my cell phone.

I guess my urge to communicate trumped my instinct to save myself from what, for all I knew, was a house in flames.

The moment we ventured outside, I looked to the right and up, where that ancient tree had towered for a century, maybe two; now, only dark sky and a huge yawn of open space glared back. A strange feeling of amputation washed over me. Something that had been such a presence was simply gone.

Don’t get me wrong. I was not sorry to see it go. Two days earlier, knowing the storm was headed our way, I had spent a half hour on the phone with my mom, discussing the anxiety I’d had ever since moving in six years earlier that the tree would fall and, in particular, that it would fall and crash into Emily’s bedroom.

I concluded that, even though I would miss its shade and proud, broad, leafy branches, I would overcome my resistance to paying the price of a small car to end up with less rather than more; I would have the tree cut down the following week. I had written “tree” in my day planner.

Why hadn’t it occur to me to do something about that tree before the most destructive hurricane ever to hit D.C. arrived? Would I really have followed through if the tree had withstood the storm? Aside from the thousands it would have cost, it gave me a grumbly stomach to imagine anyone traveling up that high to take it down.

Fortunately, my friends Lorraine and Joel lived around the corner, and I knew that I could rely on Lorraine, who was always sending emails in the wee hours, to come to the door when I rang.

Given that there was no choice about being out, I did not fret at the level of which I am capable about the dangers of sagging power wires and falling trees as we trudged against the fierce winds.

Rather, there was something enchanting about the debris swirling around us, and the sense we might get lifted up and blown to the Land of Oz, like Dorothy and Toto.

ARE YOU PREPARED IF A TREE HITS YOUR HOME?, my post on Home Goes Strong.

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