Caught in the Good Sense, Caught in the Bad

I didn’t think my iron had a flashing light. You know, the kind that is meant to warn you it’s still on and you haven’t used it for a while and it’s about to automatically shut off. Anyway I was sure I had unplugged it. But as I got into bed last night, I saw the unmistakably repeating on-off-on-off of a small light in the far corner of my room.

Normally the iron lives in my closet in its own place. Telling this story forces me to admit that I didn’t put it away when I was finished with it yesterday. (I wasn’t feeling well, truth be told, and spent a good deal of the afternoon on the couch, blah, blah, blah…) Anyone who’s been here knows I am far from an OCD housekeeper, but I do like things in their place, and I do – 99% of the time – put the iron away. At the very least, I unplug it. You’ll have to take my word on that. Yes, it was still out (wet noodle!), but no way did I leave it plugged in.

What was the light then? I live in the woods and it’s pretty dark outside at night unless there’s a bright moon. No one sees well in the dark, and I see even less well on account of having no glasses on or contacts in at bedtime. But I can see a flashing light, even if it’s very small. My laptop flashes, visible only when the rest of the room is very dark. It’s so incessant and annoying that I will usually put a pillow over it if it’s in my room at night. But my laptop was not in my room last night.

An airplane, I fleetingly thought. Airplanes have small flashing lights, right? But they are not stationary. An airplane would be 1. Much higher in the sky and 2. Moving. Airplane idea quickly dismissed.

I was tired. It was after midnight and I needed to get some sleep. I closed my eyes and tried to forget about the light. But I saw it inside my head. And I saw it when I opened my eyes again to check if it was still there. On. Off. On. Off.

A silent cry for help? A tiny UFO?

I know: A fairy trying to get my attention! Yoo-hoo! Over here! (This is apparently what happens when you are not feeling well and end up on the couch a good part of the day watching a show that’s set in 18th century Scotland! Outlander, do you see what you are doing to me?!)

Finally I couldn’t stand it any more and got out of bed to investigate. I followed the weak but steady flashing light and my heart dropped when I got to it. Some might say it’s ridiculous to feel emotion at seeing a firefly caught in a spider web, still alive, still trying, but I confess – I felt emotion! I wanted to put the poor, struggling thing out of its misery. Alas, this was not in my power. The web was outside and I was inside. I would need a tall ladder and more energy than I had in me at that hour. I had to let it go. A silent cry for help indeed!

My phone camera has a time delay. It doesn’t take the photo the very moment you tap the white dot, so I knew my chances of catching the momentary light of the poor, trapped firefly were super slim. But somehow this worked! I caught it! You can see the light. I caught it on film, we used to say (when film was a thing) – the good sense of caught. The spider caught it in the bad sense.

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Funny how this happened the very day the men came to take down the truncated red oak. It stands about 40 feet up, stripped of all limbs, and has that gaping, splintery wound down its lower half on the side that faces the woods. The climber put on his cleats and used ropes to shimmy up the trunk, intending to buzz-buzz it piece by piece in log length from the top, and lower them one by one to the ground.

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The gaping wound we knew about, but it was not the only weakness. Higher up, he found holes filled with tree fluff, an indication of rot and disease. And the lean was not insignificant. The 140-pound climber with his gear was enough weight to cause considerable swaying. He made the decision that this work was too dangerous and came down.

Is the tree safe enough for now? I asked him. “For at least a year, maybe up to five,” he said. “Without branches, in its present state, it can’t catch wind and likely won’t fall on its own.”

It’s pathetic. Poor tree.

“But it will sprout branches,” he told me. “It wants to save itself and knows it needs the nourishment it gets from having leaves. It will do what it can to maintain its necessary internal circulation. Over time though, the new branches might form a kind of sail. By then the fungus that’s growing on the backside will have weakened it more. Between the sail that could take it down and the fungus that could eat it up, it’s going to die.”

Wouldn’t it be better to put it out of its misery? I asked.

“Yes, that would be better than a slow death.”

Taking the red oak the rest of the way down will require a bucket truck again, he said. This time, I knew, it would be on my nickel, a bigger nickel than the climber would have cost. I’ll have to think about this.

Twice yesterday I wanted to put a living thing out of its misery. Twice it was not within my power. Twice I was reminded that some things we can do, and some things we…just…can’t.

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