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An Epic Battle In The Dark

I’m no tree-hugger, but I was deeply affected by the recent Nor’easter that disfigured our Pennsylvania landscape in late October. I have never seen anything like it.

If you don’t live in the Northeast, here’s the situation: For some reason, our trees were just beginning to lose their leaves. Some had barely started to wear their world-famous autumn foliage. Add a sudden, severe snow fall to the mix, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Unable to support the weight, millions of trees lost huge branches. Sheltered in an OR, doing surgery all day, I didn’t appreciate the severity of the situation.


pear tree
Dr. Zeltzman's 30-year-old pear tree, in the fall...
broken tree
...and after the Nor'easter.

When I left the clinic, I swept one foot of heavy wet snow off my car. Along the drive home, I realized the extent of the devastation.

Thousands of broken off branches, deformed trees, and entire, mature, beautiful trees… fallen.

When I got home, I was horrified to see that my trees were not spared. Despite the darkness, multiple branches were visible on the ground. I wondered what I could do to save the others. Could I beat Mother Nature at its own game?

In a desperate attempt at relieving some branches of their deadly burden, I grabbed a broom, ran to the front yard, and started hitting the lowest branches like a madman. It worked.

Initially, they were hanging so low, you could touch them. Once the snow fell off (on my head), they slowly regained their natural position. That’s when I realized that in my attempt at saving a few branches, I could get hurt by a fallen branch.

I changed my strategy: shake, shake, shake, and run away. Shake, shake, shake, and run away.

Anyone peeking through their windows would have been convinced that their neighbor had finally lost it. Here I was, sort of a modern, broom-armed Don Quixote, grunting, panting, hitting tree branches, in the dark.
By the time I got done with the trees in the backyard, I sensed that something was very wrong. Through the heavy snow fall, I realized that an entire tree was missing. I had lost my favorite tree! A huge, 30-year-old ornamental pear tree.

There is was, resting on the ground—dead.

I stopped, heart pounding, feet soaked and cold, hands tingly and ice-cold. The silence was eerie.

“Nothing I can do for this one,” I thought.

As I headed inside to warm up, I wondered if what I had just done mattered. It reminded me of the story of the little boy throwing starfish back into the ocean after thousands of them had been washed up during a storm.

An observer told him: “You can’t possibly save them all, there are too many. Saving one more won’t matter.”
To which the boy replied: “Well, it mattered to this one.”

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, Pa. His website is www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound: How You and Your Dog Can Lose Weight, Stay Fit, and Have Fun Together (www.WalkaHound.com).”


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