LINKS
2018-08-09 / Voices

I Lost A Tree – Pine Ridge Lost Hundreds of Homes

MAKING A NOISE IN THIS WORLD
BY JIM KENT
FREELANCE WRITER & RADIO PRODUCER

“I don’t remember there being a large elm bush along the north fence line of the property,” I thought as I looked out the kitchen window on Saturday morning. And that would be because we don’t have a large elm bush there. But we did have a 10-foot high elm tree growing there, until, apparently, the previous night’s storm.

One week after 80 mph winds and massive hail destroyed more than 500 homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation, another storm crossed Fall River County.

No weather warnings had arrived via my email inbox. It was well after dark, maybe 11 o’clock. Some rain began to fall, but it was pretty light considering. I’d just gone into the bedroom to check that the windows were closed when I heard an odd sound. It took me a few seconds to realize it was the wind, but different than I’d ever heard it before. Not strong. Somewhat muffled and, thick, is the only word that comes to mind. But it was weird enough for me to immediately decide it was time to protect the cars.

When I went out to move them the wind had subsided, the rain with it, while the storm clouds and scattered lightning that filled the sky were already far to the East, headed toward the Badlands.

I drove the new car into our recently re-sided garage, the older one was placed under the large Japanese maple with its long protective branches. Since hail was my primary concern in any Spring or Summer storm (more on that later) I breathed a sigh of relief and headed for bed.

Sidetracked by some end-of-day electronic correspondence, I was still awake when the first “Significant Weather Advisory” came in at 12:48am.

“Nice timing,” I thought.

It reported the storm with dime-sized hail and 40 mph wind gusts in a line from Oral to Oelrichs, as if an entire weather front 20 miles long had just dropped down out of the sky to the East of us.

“Well,” I advised my assistant editor (the 60 pounds of furry husky lying at my feet), “we dodged that one.”

Then the morning came.

For a fleeting moment when realization dawned I thought, “Maybe the elm can be replanted, it’s not that big.”

Checking on line I found that I was right – but didn’t have the money or the equipment to accomplish that little gardener’s fantasy. Besides, upon closer inspection I discovered that the elm’s 2 narrow trunk lines had both cracked. That’s what caused it to drop to half its height.

I wouldn’t have minded that much, but for the fact that the downed tree had grown on the very spot where another 25- foot elm had once stood; out of that giant’s very trunk, in fact.

Still, trees come and go, like everything else in nature. Life’s cycles and nature’s impacts.

If what took that tree was the 40-mph wind gusts the weather alert had reported (albeit too late), weren’t we fortunate that’s all that was damaged.

It could have been a lot worse, and it has been.

In May 2010, golf ball-sized hail rained down upon us for 45 minutes. It was like having a gigantic freight train come right through your living room. Our Belgian Shepherd and I spent the time walking back and forth through the house, as I checked windows anticipating that one of them would burst. One did, but not until the very last. The bathroom skylight burst just as the storm subsided, like the closing cymbal crash in a Hollywood disaster film.

Besides totaling one of our cars, the storm destroyed our roof, half of our siding, several windows, our rear door and substantial sections of our garage. And still I realized the damage could have been much worse. Moreover, 2 tornadoes had been spotted just a few miles away.

Fortunately, we were covered by insurance and our home was eventually repaired – once I called State Farm corporate headquarters to get an adjuster on the scene.

But it’s impossible to afford insurance when you live in an area where the annual income averages just a few thousand dollars, so most Lakota people are at the mercy of the weather

What’s the answer?

Well, you certainly can’t move entire reservation villages like Oglala, which seems to be a regular target for storm activity.

Perhaps providing homes to tribal members that are more structurally sound might be a start, as we move on our way to “Make America Great Again”.

Or would that make too much sense, Donnie?

Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Hot Springs. He is a contributing columnist to the Lakota Country Times and former editor of The New Lakota Times. His stories can be heard on National Public Radio. Jim can be reached at kentvfte@gwtc.net.

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