Michaela Merz

When trees break like matches

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This summer Zurich has been haunted by countless thunderstorms. It began on a Thursday in June with wind speeds of 130km per hour. The sun blinds were turn off and the tomato house blown away.

A friend of mine asked me to look after her flat. I took the car to check whether everything is okay at her place. After half a kilometre a large fallen fir tree blocked the road. A bus was standing there indecisively. I turned and again, countless smaller and larger branches on the street. At least in the flat everything was fine.

I started my way back. I knew that I had to take a different route than the one on the way out, as it could be problematic around the fir tree. But also this route was lined with broken branches. And there, the next fallen tree. It had fallen across the round on the roof of a 4×4. The car looked liked a squeezed lemon. But the fallen tree formed a small tunnel. What shall I do? I thought. Shall I drive under it? Is there even enough space? Or do I have to reverse and find again another route home?

I drove a bit closer to the tree and got off the car. Yes, there is enough space to drive through and there are even a few centimetres left. Slowly I drove through this tunnel. A funny feeling but it worked out well.

One week later there was a half-hour hail storm. Once the hail storm had finished I went to the garden in order to inspect the damage. Exactly at that moment, a house-high birch tree in the neighbourhood started to move and fell on the neighbouring house. The tree had been so close to the house that it only leaned on it. The damage to the roof was nevertheless substantial. But at least nobody had got hurt. Everything else can be repaired.

On Saturday we went with my little boy to the forest behind the house. We had to climb over fallen trees. These were definitely no hazel bushes, which would not withstand a thunderstorm but large, mighty trees. The more damage we saw, the more astonished we were.

Again one week later rain and storm took their turn with short sunny spells. During such a sunny spell I took my trainers and ran outside into the wood. It was a pleasant temperature for running, the wood smelt of soil and fresh moss. After half an hour running the sky darkened again. I was just at about the half of my planned route. Home, both ways just under 4 kilometres. I continued running and the first rain drops landed on my skin. It was not unpleasant. It was warm and the rain was cooling. It felt good to run and I continued running. The rain showers increased, by now it resembled more an intense shower. Thunder and flashes were not to be heard. Since the trees were huge, I was in sections pretty well protected on my path, just on the sections where there were less tress I got real water gush.

Various thoughts are crossing my mind and I ask myself whether I am behaving correctly. Would it be better to just walk? Or just stop and wait? I do not feel in danger. And if it started to flash, all trees would be considerably higher than me. But still no flashes to be seen.

Suddenly I hear a funny noise. Just as if someone would very very slowly tear out a tree. It has to be very close and feels scary. I stop and then I see it. A huge tree slowly bends; suddenly it increases its fall and crashed on the ground, almost parallel to the path where I am. All branches and leaves rise one last time and then fall for good. Then there is absolute silence, only the rain makes a light noise. All that happened in perhaps 60 seconds.

I am standing there like frozen, unable to continue running. I cannot understand what had caused the tree next to me to fall. No flash, no thunder. That fact that I do not understand it scares me. I shake and run home.

When huge trees fall to the ground like matches, I get frightened.

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