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The Big Storm

I still call it the Big Storm. It threw deck chairs into the tussock as I pulled on my jacket and ran to feed the chooks. As I passed the pear tree, I felt its roots straining from the ground.

If the pear tree went down, it would destroy the gate into the vegetable garden: a major failure of my infrastructure. I threw my weight against the tree; the wind pushed back like the scrum of a stronger team.

In the next lull, I grabbed some old rope from the tractor shed. I wrapped it madly around the tree, pulled it dead upwind and weighed it down with rocks. It didn’t help. I loaded concrete blocks with rocks and ran a rope from the blocks to the tree to pull from a different angle. That didn’t help either.

Japanese Story. Toni Collette and a Japanese businessman are stranded when their vehicle gets stuck in the soft sand of the Australian desert. “We’ll make a deadman,” she says. Their deadman is a sack filled with sand, wrapped in the line from the winch mounted on the front of the vehicle, and buried in the sand. They use the winch to pull the car free. Maybe a deadman could save my pear tree. I found a garden bag, filled it with rocks and dug it in, but when the wind pushed against the tree, it pulled the deadman too.

“Are you freaking kidding me?” I yelled it into the storm so it knew exactly who I was talking to. You! Yes, you!

The old tractor battery. I could hardly lift it. I placed it with ropes pulling from yet another angle to the pear tree. I dragged an old tractor axle in a deep gouge across the driveway and tied it to the deadman, but it was pointless: the deadman had moved with the wind and the rope from the deadman to the tree was slack. I needed to make it tight.

Mid-Pacific, 20 years ago. We crashed off a wave and broke the yacht’s rigging. The guys ran loops of rope from the broken wire to the deck and took up the slack by poking a big screwdriver through the loops and twisting it around and around to make it tight. They called it a Spanish windlass. I used a strong stick instead of a screwdriver and twisted the rope bar-tight. The deadman, finally, played dead.

The pear tree was saved but I found my hens huddled outside in the storm; the door to their house had crashed inwards and they couldn’t trust the safety of their home. I fixed the door as the rain hurled down on my apologies: I’m so sorry. Please go back inside. It’s safer in there.

When I checked later, the hens and their chicks were inside. The rooster, Romeo, stood behind the hen house watching the trees crashing overhead. He was worried but there was nothing more I could do. Ever since that day, I’ve felt a special bond with Romeo.

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