July 2005
Writers on the Range

Rooting for Mother Nature
Gary Wockner

Gary Wockner The hailstones came down like meteorites. They crashed against the house and whistled through the trees, ripping and shredding as if their icy edges were honed razor-sharp.

I stood behind the screen door and watched as the clear fiberglass roofing on the front porch was torn, twisted and obliterated, bits and pieces of fiberglass flying through the air like shredded lettuce in a food processor.

It went on and on — 10 minutes, then 15, maybe 20 in all. When it was over, a two-inch thick layer of leaves had been ripped from the trees and littered the front yard, intermingling with another three inches of white, crystalline hail. Splintered fiberglass lay in a 15-foot circle around the porch.

I walked to the backyard. My wife’s just-blooming garden was mere stalks and spindles. Broccoli gone, lettuce gone, the rhubarb looked like asparagus — leafless green bones jutting into the air. I peered at the backyard greenhouse — its south-facing wall also made of clear fiberglass — and it looked like I’d stood in front of it with a sledge hammer and pounded.

I felt quiet, peaceful. Subdued. The truth? It was awesome. I was rooting for nature.

I find myself doing this at other times, too. Earthquakes, mudslides, wildfires, volcanoes — I watch them all on TV, quietly rooting. Honestly, global warming’s got me thinking.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not an anti-humanist, a misanthrope. I have a family, kids in school — wonderful kids who I love dearly. I have great friends and neighbors who I invite over for parties. I volunteer, donate and even opine in the local newspaper about our fair city’s humanistic struggles. I love people, and get terribly lonely when they’re not around. And when natural disaster strikes — even across the globe — I donate. And, of course, I don’t want anyone to get hurt, and I especially don’t want anyone I know to get hurt.

I just don’t love people more than everything else, at the cost of everything else, which seems to be the cost, nowadays. And so I find myself rooting for the underdog.

When the insurance adjuster came a week later to see my porch roof and greenhouse, he was looking a little tired and stressed. He lived in Montana, and had been called down here to Fort Collins, Colo., to deal with this hailstorm. He’d been in town for a week, working 16-hour days, staying in hotels, climbing on roofs, taking pictures, punching numbers into his computer and rendering financial verdicts.

The south end of town got hit the hardest. "Golf-ball sized," he said. Wood-shingled houses took a big hit, cars were dented. In one case, a three-hour-old Mercedes Benz was bombarded as its owner stood crying at the picture window, afraid for her life to run outside and drive the car into the garage.

We surveyed the damage and talked about the carnage. His tired eyes lit up as we talked. Adjectives flowed, arms pointed and swept. "Look at that tree," I said, its spindly branches completely shredded of leaves.

We found fiberglass 30 feet away from the porch. On the roof, he pointed out dents in the aluminum vents. He showed me how hail beats the sand coating off of asphalt shingles. He told stories of hail damage around his district in the Western United States. He talked of tornadoes and windstorms and destruction I had only seen on television. Surveying devastation was his job. I was mesmerized.

As we neared the backyard greenhouse, our eyes jumped over to its splintered fiberglass wall. My youngest daughter had planted dozens of sunflowers inside the greenhouse earlier in the spring, and several had poked their heads out the hail-holes and were searching the southern sky. It was as if the sunflowers had caused the damage, broken through the fiberglass, free. Is this what nature is up to – freeing itself?

I looked at the insurance adjuster. He was poised, tape measure in hand, notebook waiting. I caught his eye. "The storm," I said, "was awesome."

He paused, and with the slightest of smiles, said, "I know."

Gary Wockner is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.