The Saturday before Christmas started out beautifully. The air was crisp, with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark. Just cold enough to bring that rosy glow to your cheeks, the kind that makeup just can’t reproduce.
Local weather teams had been forecasting ‘the ice storm to end all ice storms’. Best estimates had it hitting the Toronto area sometime Saturday night.
With no sign of trouble that morning we decided to keep our plans for the annual pilgrimage to St. Lawrence Market, a 208 year old market complex in the heart of the city.
Since 1803 St. Lawrence Market has been a hub for fresh meat, produce, flowers, baked goods, seafood and cheeses.
It is our Christmas tradition to visit the market the last Saturday before Christmas to shop for our delicious holiday treats. The added bonus is that we get to wolf down our traditional market breakfast of peameal bacon sandwiches from Carousel Bakery.
No visit to Toronto is complete without a trip to St. Lawrence Market and a peameal sandwich. Trust me on this one.
The freezing rain started coming down during the drive home. By the time we parked the car the driveway was as slippery as a skating rink. I crept carefully alongside the truck to snap a picture of the Japanese maple near the front of my lawn. Its ice-encrusted branches gave it a magical presence.
If memory serves, I posted it to Facebook with a comment about how pretty but dangerous freezing rain can be.
The rain, as it turns out, would not stop falling for 36 hours.
We initially lost our power around 7pm Saturday night. It came back on about an hour later, flickering on and off for the next 2 hours. This made doing laundry, and other pre-Christmas chores, extra fun. By 9pm the power was out for what would end up being 3.5 days.
My family was lucky. We have a gas fireplace, which we used for warmth on the main floor. We also have that wonderful Wolf gas range which I almost killed a few weeks ago. We were able to prepare food and boil water on the stove-top by manually lighting the pilot. Other than that, though, we were basically Amish for the next few days.
The temperature, thankfully, stayed around the freezing mark throughout this whole ordeal. The inside of the house was around 5 degrees Celsius (41 Farenheit), but at least it wasn’t freezing. We were lucky, indeed. Those without gas or wood-burning fireplaces were not so fortunate.
That first night was the most frightening. I woke up around 3am to a jolt. At first I thought it was an earthquake. The loud crashing sound told me it was likely a large tree (or part of) hitting the ground. Since my property backs onto conservation land and sides onto a ravine, I am surrounded by large mature trees. I spent the next 2 hours fretting over whether one would come crashing through my roof.
I listened in terror as an eerie creaking noise would intermittently break the silence, followed by a solid thud.
Time after time I heard the crack and then the fall. And it was truly horrific.
In the morning I descended the staircase, pausing on the landing between 1st and 2nd floors to look out the side window. That’s when I noticed large portions of a tree sitting on my roof.
The ragged broken end you see sticking up on the right is about 8 inches in diameter. I went outside to see what else was happening on my property.
Apart from dozens of broken branches strewn throughout the backyard, the only significant fall-out seemed to be the sister limbs of the one resting on my roof. Two others crashed down to the side walkway.
I ventured out for a walk to assess the damage around the neighborhood, and also because I was already suffering from cabin fever. What I saw amazed, awed and horrified me.
Power lines hung precariously low, sagging under the weight of broken branches and heavy ice.
Massive tree branches were scattered all over the road, on front lawns, across sidewalks and dangerously close to homes and vehicles.
The more I took in, the worse it seemed to get. And then I saw a few neighbours huddled in front of one home. As I made my way over it became clear why they had stopped there.
One home, a tiny pre-war bungalow, had a massive tree across the entire length of its front lawn and resting across the roof.
Then I glanced at the house immediately to the left of it, and saw that it had a massive tree lying across the width of the front lawn and resting on top of a pickup truck.
As badly as I feel for the individuals impacted by this devastating damage, it did serve to remind me just how fortunate I was. My family was safe, and the damage and mess to my property was nothing compared to what it could have been.
And I was once again reminded that perspective is everything.
When I looked out my upper window to see the fallen limbs on my roof and all over the property, I felt anxious, worried about what damage we’d incurred, how much it might cost to repair. I worried about my landscaping, the costly ornamental trees that may be too damaged to salvage.
But then I saw what my neighbours had to contend with.
I quickly changed my tune, quietly thanked my lucky stars, and decided to stop griping about having no power 3 days before Christmas.
Instead of looking for destruction, I decided to look for the beauty inside the devastation.
I paused to reflect on the fact that it’s so easy to find the pain, the ugly, the strife, the hardship, and yet so much harder to find the beauty, the joy, the good.
We need only look as far as the daily news programs and the headlines screaming out from the front pages. Bad news, salacious stories and heartache abound. I can’t fall into those traps any more.
I need to take responsibility and choose a more beautiful and hopeful way.
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.” Helen Keller