Thursday, July 14, 2016

Adventures in tree cutting

I'm not a lumberjack, though I may have thought myself one in my youth. My friends and I would go out into the woods (someone else's woods) and just go crazy clearing paths, chopping down trees, and building bridges and dams. Building dams was one of our favorites, due mainly to the instant gratification. If you trekked far enough through the woods, you would come across a marshland full of bottomless mud pits and networks of streams. This was all along the shore line of a creek, so it was easy for us to scrounge up piles of wood that had drifted in. Dams were easier for us to build, because they didn't require us to raid my dad's hodge podge of nails and screws. It's not like he kept track of them, but he might notice if half a box of 16 penny nails suddenly disappeared.

So we would gather up all of the washed up scrap wood, and we would engineer these dams to block off certain streams. Sometimes we would leave gaps in the wood to allow small fish and minnows to get through, then we'd block them off, effectively trapping the wildlife on one side. Other times we would completely dam up a creek, and watch as the water level quickly rose up and above the sides of the channel. I'm still not sure why we did this, other than to say we could. 

I only bring this up, because it's the sort of thing that was going through my head when I decided to tackle the wildly growing tree in front of our house. 

I'm honestly not sure what kind of tree we have in front of our house. It's large and fast growing, with small berries between the leaves. When the tree blossoms in the spring, it positively hums from the thousands of bees and wasps collecting pollen from the flowers. For a couple of weeks, it almost sounds like we're living under high voltage power lines. It keeps the wasps occupied at least, because unlike the bees, we don't have a treaty in place. Wasps are like the tiny winged insurgents of my backyard. They don't need an excuse to attack. Thankfully, when the tree's a flowerin', they're too high on pollen to pay attention to me.

It's a great climbing tree, and with branches that overhang the roof, it would have proven irresistible to 8 year old me. Even if my mom specifically told me not to get on the roof, I know I would have. And that's where the problem was. The one feature that made it irresistible to the kid in me, is the very reason why I needed to tame the wooden beast. I was constantly having to clamber up our step ladder to clean leaves and dead berries out of the gutter, usually in the middle of a rainstorm. Because, of course that's the only time I noticed they're clogged. The branches were also blocking sunlight to parts of our roof, meaning we were starting to grow more grass where you really don't want more grass.  

A few Saturdays ago, I was standing in front of this tree, and I decided it was time. I gathered my tools, and prepped for surgery. I often hear professional tree cutters refer to themselves as surgeons, and now I can kind of see why. Once you start cutting, you just reveal more and more problems. If I had known what I was getting into, I probably would have considered calling someone that knew what they were doing, but only for a minute. Before you start, it's important to make sure you have the proper safety equipment. I had none. I did have my wife helping me, and there's an EMT that lives across the street. So, if I did manage to fall off the ladder, there would be someone there to administer first aid and/or laugh at me. I did have a long wooden ladder that can only be lifted by those that are proven worthy. It was left here by the house's previous owner, probably because he didn't want to have to move it anymore. It's size may make it a burden, but it's also tall enough to allow me to climb high enough to wave down small airplanes.Oh, did I mention I don't like heights anymore?

I've learned one more thing about cutting up trees over the years. Chainsaws will refuse to start until you get to the point where you're about to throw them across the yard. Say what you will about Leatherface's intelligence, but the man must have been a genius when it came to small engine maintenance. His chainsaw never hesitated, unless it was to heighten tension. I was halfway up a ladder that scraped the Gates of Valhalla, trying to start a chainsaw while also trying not to fall. Not my smartest moment. I eventually realized the stupidity of my situation, and switched out the chainsaw for the tree saw. It would mean more work, but at least I wasn't going to have an engine powered blade mere inches from my face. The man powered tree saw actually worked well, and it wasn't long before the branches started piling up beneath me. And the pile just kept getting higher and higher.

For once, I'd like to just be able to trim up one branch and be done. But, like I said before, once you start cutting, more problems keep showing up. It's like battling a Hydra. Cut off one head, and two more take its place. Except you're using a pocket knife, and the Hydra is 100 ft tall. Every branch I chopped off revealed another that was going to be a problem. And so it went for the next couple of hours. Believe me, I would have rather been any place but 35 ft up, holding a saw with one hand, and holding on to a tree with the other. It was even more thrilling when I needed to use the chainsaw on the larger branches. I don't know what's more exciting, trying to start a stubborn chainsaw 40 ft up, or having a blade flailing about above my face. 

Trust me, that is only a small sample of the limbs I took off. By the time I was done, it looked like I had cut down three or four trees. Chelsea and I were at a loss as to how we were going to get rid of the mess. In theory, we could add it to our burn pile. But since we weren't planning on hosting Burning Man in our backyard, we thought it might be a bit of overkill. Lucky for us, our neighbor was willing to take the wood off our hands. So, 10 truck loads later, the yard was clear, and there was a huge pile of tree limbs in someone else's yard. 

It was a ton of work, and I nearly died once or twice, but it was worth it to be able to see our whole house from the road again. Now I just have another 10 or 11 trees left to trim up. 

Oh joy..


  1. Lol!Sorry to laugh but I can picture you trying g to rev up a chainsaw that high up.I hate ladders but I'm pretty damn good at footing them.

    1. The only thing Chelsea told me was "Don't drop that thing!".

      It doesn't help to start it on the ground either. It always dies halfway up!

    2. Hi... that looks like fun! i love trees it's fun to climb and take naps in and just play house with my friends :D

  2. Lol!Sorry to laugh but I can picture you trying g to rev up a chainsaw that high up.I hate ladders but I'm pretty damn good at footing them.


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