Nothing is too big to fall – Empty Nest by Curt Swarm


There was an explosion, followed by a crackling. The hair on the back of my head stood up. I was in the basement, working on my laptop computer. My son, in the next room, hollered, “What was that?!”
We went upstairs, where my family was gathering, and looked out into the front yard. Tree bark littered the ground.
The year was 1995. It was an overcast Sunday afternoon, the air heavy with humidity. Lightening had struck the 110′ tall Norway Spruce that was in our front yard on North White Street in Mt. Pleasant. It was a registered tree, the second tallest Norway Spruce in Iowa. We called Bill Maddy of Maddy’s Tree Service. Mr. Maddy came right over. He inspected the mammoth tree. There was an ugly lightening gash that swirled around the trunk of the tree from top to bottom. All the pine cones were blown off.
Mr. Maddy said the Norway Spruce appeared to be structurally sound. It was our call if we wanted it taken down or not. If it ever fell, as tall as it was, it could do a lot of damage to nearby homes, not to mention people. We decided to leave it alone. I hate cutting down beautiful trees.
The laptop computer I had been working on was fried, even though it had been plugged into a surge protector. Also wiped out was our garage door opener and stereo.
Over the years, the stately tree was somewhat of a worry, as tall as it was. Sort of as a joke, knowing that magnificent trees were sent to Washington DC for Christmas trees, I queried then Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, also from Mt. Pleasant, to see if our tree might be considered for the prestigious honor of being the country’s Christmas symbol. (It would be a way for the tree to be removed without expense to us.) Amazingly, Governor Vilsack took interest. When the state found out how tall the tree was, however, interest was dropped. It would be too tall to transport. Dang!
One of my projects was widening the driveway. While digging out a trench, I struck a huge tree root from the Norway Spruce. It was as big around as my thigh. I had to cut the root out with a chainsaw, and it gave me a hernia lifting it out of the trench. I worried that removing that huge root might affect the tree. It didn’t seem to hurt it.
Life goes on. Over the years, we moved, and the house on North White Street was bought and sold several times. The tree remained, a proud symbol of strength and vitality.
That is, until May 14th of this year. At 9:30 p.m., Mario Carapia Ruiz was getting ready for bed. It had been a rainy day. There was a loud explosion that rocked the house. His wife, Viridiana, and two sons, gathered in the living room, wondering what happened. There was a knock at the front door. It was a neighbor. “Hey, your tree has been hit by lightening! There are branches all over the street. The explosion knocked pictures off the wall at our house.”
The police were called and, once again, Bill Maddy of Maddy’s tree service was summoned. He informed Mario that the tree had to come down. Mario agreed. They were lucky to be alive. Maddy’s Tree Service was awarded the job.
A stump that measures 9′ across is now the only remnant of the once stately tree. A hollow trunk revealed its weakness.
I have a pine cone from that tree. It sits on our windowsill, a reminder that nothing is too big to fall.
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at or visit his website at

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