Trickster Trees and Nature Deficit Disorder

pexels-photo-38136 (2)When you buy a cottage this becomes a great opportunity to deposit old things or buy new things. And, if I may generalize for a moment, the first thing that a guy wants includes a gas-powered chain saw to deal with deadfall. Or at least this guy anyway.


Our cottage property and the crown land on the water side contains a couple hundred trees. Some birch, oak, and a lot of ash and poplars. The poplars grow at an amazing rate. We have dozens of poplars leaning haphazardly either towards or away from the cottage. Some of the leaning away ones lean bravely against some of the nasty and sometimes larger leaning towards the cottage ones. The nasty ones generally have a diameter of 18 inches or so, with shallow roots. These trees contain an amazing amount of water and then become exceedingly heavy.


When cutting trees, I use all of the necessary safety gear. Safety glasses, steel toed boots and that ‘nothing can hurt me fool-hearty immortality’ that some of us carry around. I should have lost this in high school, but some remnants stuck.


We can get some very heavy winds off of Lake Winnipeg. One morning I stepped out and saw that one poplar partially broke and hung up on another tree. I am somewhat pleased since this would be, should have been, a no risk situation. At that angle, the tree can only fall in one direction. The tree surrounded by forest at the edge of our property cannot damage anything. Or so it appeared.


The tree broke partially off about three feet off the ground, fell a few feet and a major branch from another tree stopped it. So I started cutting the broken tree four feet off the ground. It’s already at a 45 degree angle, so there is now a top and a bottom part of the trunk. I cut a little bit from the top side of the trunk, but no so much that it binds the saw. Then I cut the rest from the underneath part of the trunk as the wedge starts to open from the weight of the tree.


Then the most amazing thing happened.


You know how a tire on a rope swings from a branch? Sort of like a pendulum effect. If you really shove the tire hard, it gets to the far side of its pendulum and comes swinging back to you. And you have to watch your face depending on hard you pushed.


Here the tree I just finished cutting swung like a pendulum as it was hinged at the top by another branch. The bottom of the tree managed to clear the ground and swing to the far side. Again managing to miss every other tree. But by the time it swung to the far side, the branch acting as the pivot point swung far enough to suddenly let go. Without the pivot at the top to bring the bottom of the tree back to where I was, the entire tree entered what I would call a free fall state. I entered a mesmerized state. The top of the tree was now falling directly on top of me.


All the books, ok book, ok ok operating manual, I read on chainsaws said of course to know which way the tree should fall and to stay out of this line. The manual said nothing about a duplicitous tree that did a complete 180 degree change in the way it was falling. The book did say never turn your back on a falling tree.  Trees are tricky that way.


According to the insurance industry, a 50 foot tree with a 12 inch diameter weighs 2000 pounds. I dropped the saw. It would have to cope on its own.  This still seems stupid even on reflection, but I put both hands up and used the falling tree trunk to push myself out of the way. I would like to think that my karate skills deflected the tree, but no amount of stupid can deflect a 2000 pound tree.


So I did manage to learn something without getting one of those Darwin awards for being naturally selected out of the gene pool. Too late for that anyway. My stupid genes infiltrate the gene pool. But I do have a mild aversion to swing sets. And when I walk through the forest I constantly check for any trickster trees that may be following me.


However, I believe the trees do talk to one another. I encountered one other tree that had it in for me. One monster poplar started leaning even more precariously towards the cottage. This was a good 18 inch thick one, so it had a great deal of height and weight. The overall fall would be more towards the front of the cottage and our newly constructed deck.


But I have fallen a few dangerous poplars by this time. Never something quite this large or quite this heavy. But if you play the stock market during a rising economy, then every trade makes you look brilliant. So it all works out. Till suddenly it doesn’t.


My normal practice became to tie a rope several feet up and attach it to a come-along pulley system. Normally I can get enough tension on the pulley to angle the tree just to where I want it if the tree leans in a direction that I do not want it to fall.


I do like trees. Some of the elms we have on our city property are 100 years old and three feet in diameter. I think of them as sentient type creatures similar to whales. Well, back at the cottage, I lined up my Moby Dick poplar tree and got the tension nice and tight. I am quite good, I thought, of cutting the proper wedges in a tree to create a hinge that directs how the tree might fall. With some of the base cut out, I can then pulley the tree even further in the direction I wanted.


However, Moby had other plans. After cutting out a portion of the base, the pulley system tightened and some of the ropes started springing a few threads from the increased strain. Moby pulled ever so slightly in the opposite direction I wanted. Moby definitely wanted to see what it would be like to have a coffee on the cottage deck.


I tried cranking the pulley even more but nothing was going to straighten this guy out any further. I needed a way of this situation that had a delicate line between the ‘everything went fine honey’ and the ‘I am so fucked’ result. A fat gray line did not exist here.


Fortunately, we have a Rob. Everyone needs a Rob. Rob owns an auto body shop and knows just about everything mechanical, electrical and basic woodworking. I sauntered over to get some ideas. It may have been faster than that. But fortunately, he’s next door and came by to appraise the situation.


He goes back to his place and comes back with even more rope and his all-terrain vehicle. This time he tells to take my ladder and rope the tree as high up as I can reach.


Now Moby hasn’t moved for several minutes, but neither has he relaxed into this position. He looks ready for destruction. Climbing up the side of this would not be my first option, but I had no other options. After a bit, I managed to wrap the rope a good 12 feet off the ground snag a major branch to keep if from slipping down.


Rob ties the rope on the back of his ATV. By experience, he knows to have an extra 20 feet on the rope than what the top of the tree can reach when it falls.


I cut the last bit of the wedge, call to him and he takes off in the ATV. He manages to pull the tree in the exact opposite direction from the cottage. No coffee on the deck for Moby this time round. I thank Rob profusely.


Asking others for help has never come very easy for me. Not sure why. It might be the entire awkward social interaction thing perhaps. I have now gotten myself to the point that if there is a possibility I may destroy the entire cabin, I will call on someone to help avert that.






Photo by veeterzy from Pexels

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