29 April, 2008

I Hope Lightning Doesn't Strike the Same Place Twice

Okay, I do know lightning can, and often does, strike the same spot more than once. Years ago, when I lived in Iowa City, I worked with a girl whose house was struck by lightning every few years. And not just the house, it always seemed to target one bedroom in particular--even coming into the room through a window once. It was crazy, because it certainly wasn't the tallest house on the block. We used to tease her that it was the wrath of God or something. Needless to say, I never visited her on a rainy night.

Anyway, we just found out that The Box House had suffered a lightning strike sometime in the past.

Last week, UPS delivered a package to the house that wasn't for any of us, and we didn't recognize the name as belonging to anyone who lived in the house before us. We tucked it to the side, planning to follow up on it (or keep it, I'm not sure), but ended up getting sidetracked by a billion other things.

Turns out the package was for the son-in-law of the previous owner. We should have recognized his name from the closing papers, as there were four siblings who had inherited the house and they each received a check at close. Their agent represented them, so they weren't there in person and we'd never seen any of them face to face before.

So the son-in-law shows up at the door, and we talked for a few minutes. He told us how happy they were that this building that had been in the family for forty years now belonged to another family. So I asked him if he had any photos of what The Box House might have looked like before. (I didn't expect much of a difference--I was mostly curious about landscaping, etc.) The son-in-law didn't think he had any photos to share, but he did indicate that our parapet was now nearly two feet shorter than it was originally.

What? Really? That thing is already pretty high, and kinda looks like some fake facade as it is. I posted about it a while back. We were all a bit flabbergasted to hear it was actually higher at one point.

So why the change?

Well, the southeast corner, right above the kitchen (currently obscured by the lurching cedar), was hit by lightning sometime in the last forty years--son-in-law couldn't remember exactly when, but it was a long time ago. The lightning did quite a bit of damage, and knocked out a bunch of brick. (Although it's tall, The Box House is not the tallest house on the block, and there are elms on our street that are even taller.)

When they rebuilt the parapet, they lowered it all the way around. We're not entirely sure why, and the son-in-law wasn't really clear. It's possible that rather than buy new brick, they had dismantled the parapet, salvaged the brick they could, and rebuilt the section. (This might explain why I'm finding brick all over the yard; wherever I dig to reclaim garden space, I'm finding bricks and brick fragments that might have been used as edging at one time.)

But this does explain some oddities:

  1. It does look like there should be more space between the top two decorative squares of limestone and the limestone caps at the top--like a couple of rows of brick are missing, maybe.
  2. This limestone square on the front is not proportionally centered (making it the only unboxlike thing on The Box House). A few more layers of brick between this and the capstones would correct this perspective.
  3. Okay, this bullet has nothing to do with the facade; I'm just so psyched this overgrown bush found a new home.
So wow. We learned a new bit of house history. But go back to the first picture a second:

All but one of those bushes along the front have moved to different homes (I'm taking out the last one myself), but we'd still like to remove the two-story tall cedar. It's planted about 18 inches from the foundation, and is leaning at a 22-degree (or so) angle. Aesthetically, it does not please any of us. Morally, we feel terrible about taking out such a large tree. So what do y'all think. Should it stay or should it go?


Anonymous said...

When I bought my place, it had two tall, tall trees in the back yard. They were at least five stories high. How I grew to hate them! Turns out they were Chinese elms, junk trees. Grew like weeds, and planted demon spawn all over the yard, and my neighbors'.

Plus, they were weak. My neighbors had a yard sale and one large, enormous branch came sailing down right in the middle of their sale. No wind or provocation. Thank God no one was hurt.

That sealed the trees' fate. Last summer I had them removed. I haven't regretted it for a moment, even though neighbors acted like I torture small children as entertainment. I'm the reverse Johnny Appleseed of the neighborhood.

But here's the thing. One tree ended up being completely hollow. Clearly it was diseased and weak. Then, a couple weeks after I had the trees taken down, the North Side of Chicago had that freak storm that everyone thinks was a tornado. It blew down brick buildings and nearly leveled the parks. I know my trees would have toppled over and taken out my house and several of the neighbors' homes as well.

So, no, I do not regret getting rid of them. I'm still yanking out their demon offspring from the yard.

Long way of saying, if trees don't bring you joy, and have the potential to hurt your house, their job is done. Now I have room to plant trees I like, trees that make me happy and won't be a threat to my home. I think you can look at it that way. Clear the space and plant a tree that makes you happy.

Anonymous said...

I tend to feel bad about killing plants too, but I agree with Tonia. I heard or read somewhere that "any plant is a weed if it's unwanted", so I try to look at it that way.

Besides, a large tree planted that close to your foundation could be doing damage. You could always use the tree chips as mulch as a way to benefit your garden and make the tree more useful.

nkjvcjs said...

Try contacting Horigan Urban Forset Products

They use trees form the "urban forest" (trees in the Chicago area that need to be taken down for whatever reason)to make lumber, thus saving some actual forest trees from being cut down. I don't know if they work with homeowners, but it is worth a try to solve your moral dilemma.

I forgot to call them for our 2 trees that we had to take down because they were causing foundation damage, and I feel bad that I forgot.

Andy said...

I was going to suggest that instead of offering it up as a free tree, why not chop it down in pieces and offer it up as free firewood, or something? That would require serious work on your part, but at least maybe you'd feel better about it. I don't know! :)

Marilyn said...

Joanne, we had a tree issue here, too, but space consideration really made the decision for us. You're telling great stories - always do, but especially lately. Keep it up!

Joanne said...

Tonia--We were house hunting last year during that freak storm, and a tree fell very close to where we were waiting out the weather in our car.

nkjvcjs--Thanks for the tip about Horigan; I'll have to look into that.

Denise and Andy--I like the idea of mulch or firewood; we are considering putting in a fire pit this summer.

And Marilyn, your comment just made me smile. I can float along happily on that for days.