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    Posted October 25, 2013 by
    Cleveland, Ohio
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    First Person: Your essays

    Jersey Shore to Cleveland Rock: The Long Shadow of Hurricane Sandy

    Like Charlie Brown, “I got a rock” for Halloween this year. But not from trick-or-treating with the Peanuts gang.

    It all started with Hurricane Sandy one year ago. Like millions of Americans, I watched in horror from afar as mind-bending images of devastation flooded our television and computer screens. May we never see another roller coaster in an ocean.

    I have fond memories of the Jersey shore, since I used to visit there during summers while a graduate student at Temple University in Philadelphia. Shortly after the hurricane, I surprised a friend in the region (who suffered only minimal damage) when I explained that Sandy’s winds reached as far west as where I now live in the Cleveland, Ohio area.

    In fact, during the nastiest night of that Halloween week, I watched out my front window as a large elm tree slowly bent to a sixty degree angle. Fortunately, it leaned away from the house and had nothing in its path. After some fretting, I figured there was little I could do and tried to sleep through a noisy night.

    The next morning, my family awoke to The Leaning Elm of Ohio: the diagonal tree had weathered the storm. Unfortunately, as I prepared to inspect the damage, my youngest daughter yelled: “Dad, there’s a tree down in the back yard!” A large spruce was horizontal out back.

    After checking for other damage, I considered the elm: Could it be saved? This tree shaded nearly the entire front of our house. It was also where we hung our beloved battery-powered bat that flew in a circle above unsuspecting trick-or-treaters every year, and here Halloween was so close.

    The next day, a tree company delivered the bad news: it was too big and bent to be salvaged. Halloween came and went, but it wasn’t the same with a leaning tree (and no circling bat). A few days later, the tree guys came with their cranes and straps, swung through the branches with tool belts and chainsaws, and shoved both trees into an enormous yellow chipper--much to the awe of the five-year-old twin boys next door.

    Enter an alien front yard. Without the elm, sunlight flooded our house. Usually a mood lifter, this light had the opposite effect: we missed our tree like a phantom limb. I also needed to deal with the stump. Luckily, the trunk was cut low, and bushes made it hard to notice from the street. This bought me time as I spent the winter months weighing whether to grind the stump or just leave it.

    In the spring, landscapers informed my wife and me that grinding such a huge stump would alter many other plants, so we decided it would stay. But how best to camouflage it? I immediately thought of my father-in-law, who covered a stump with what he proudly calls his “fake rock.” We had always mocked his solution, but now I had to admit his gray, hollow, boulder-shaped piece of plastic makes some sense.

    After a few more months of procrastination, I searched for a place that sells fake rocks. I struck out at home improvement stores, but one cashier asked, “Why not try a store that sells real rocks?” This led to a cashier at a rock-and-gravel store who asked, “Why not cover the stump with a real rock?” (Regarding landscaping, I was slowly realizing my brain has some rock-like qualities.)

    Boulder shopping began at once, since it was now late summer. I never knew so many beautiful rocks were for sale. Jewel-like stones included Turquoise Veneer Boulders, Lace Rock, Sponge Rock, Rose Quartz, and Zebra Boulders. The oxymoronic Feather Rock Boulders were indeed feather-light but also razor-sharp: I cut my finger on their “feathery” surface. Had my daughters been with me, they would have clamored for the pink Candy Rock Pastels or the flat, rounded, irresistibly named River Skips. The summer-loving boy in me gravitated to the Cottage Wall Tumbled Stones and Sunburst Pebbles, both containing hues of golden-copper sunsets.

    Ultimately, however, the high prices of all these stones grounded my rock reveries. Also, my father’s voice reverberated in my head, “You’re paying money for a rock?” So just this month, nearly one year after Hurricane Sandy, I finally decided to buy a few Seneca Tan Wall Stones, in part because they invoked the rebuilding spirit of Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall,” and in (larger) part because they were cheap.

    But given the warm, summer-at-the-shore quality of all those gorgeous rocks, I also splurged on a small chunk of Gold Cloud Turquoise Veneer. The stone serves as a type of memorial for our beloved elm tree, as well as all the lives and lodgings still left in Sandy’s shadow.

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