Wednesday, December 3, 2008

We got no trees!

Thanksgiving at my house turned out to be a much smaller affair than we'd anticipated. We had my in-laws, Ma, Pa and Nan as our guests for the weekend instead of them plus ten or so other relatives from distant lands as far away as Georgia, who we initially expected.

So we stuffed ourselves senseless, drank the occasional Yuengling and alternated between watching the coverage of the attacks in Mumbai, good movies on AMC and bad movies on SciFi. In the early afternoon, I called Mississippi to talk to my folks and told them of our afternoon's activities. Dad seemed to fixate on the drinking of the beer part.

"Well, just don't go cutting down any trees, today," my dad said.

"Funny you should mention that," I said.

See, the last time Ma & Pa visited, Pa had noticed a dead tree in our yard. This is not exactly a strange thing, as there are quite a few dead trees on our property, not to mention a number of stumps of dead trees past. However, the one he had his eye on was actually a double-trunked tree split out of a single base, located within twenty feet of our house. Were one or more sides of it to fall, it would likely land ON our house. Last time Pa didn't have the necessary equipment to cut it down safely, but he'd brought that sort of thing this time.

So, on Friday morning, after we'd NOT been drinking, Pa and I went out to accomplish this, armed with rope, chain, a come-along, a tall ladder and Pa's chainsaw. And even though I've never cut down a tree before--at least not one much taller than me--I wasn't too nervous because Pa's been sawing down trees and building things out of them for decades.

The felling of the first half of the tree went fairly quickly. I shinnied up the ladder, trying not to think about the twenty or so feet I was off the ground, nor how rickety my perch felt, then tied the rope as high up as I could. Then we hooked the rope to the come-along (a kind of portable, crank-based winch), which was anchored to another tree. I tightened it up and Pa started sawing with the chainsaw. My job was to keep cranking the come-along as needed, to keep the tension on the rope and help persuade that half of the tree to come my way when at last it broke free. Once the tree began to fall, my job was to get the hell out of the way very quickly. This I did and the tree fell exactly where we wanted it.

The other half of the tree was leaning in the opposite direction, kind of toward my next door neighbor's house. Pa thought this would be a trickier job. It was.

We roped up the tree much as we had the first one and started the job as before. A little way into the chain-sawing, though, there was a sudden snap as the rope broke where it was hooked to the come-along. We both braced to see what the tree would do, but it held firm. Pa came over and retied the rope to the come-along and we started anew. Then there was another snap as the rope broke again. Pa decided that the rope was being cut by the come-along's hook. It was kind of old cotton rope to begin with and not nylon as you'd usually want for a job like this. Pa's solution was to tie the rope to the ball hitch on his truck and use the truck to pull the tree over. I suggested we also bend the rope around another tree that lay in the direction we wanted our falling tree to fall, using it as a pulley of sorts. This we tried, with Pa returning to saw while I drove the truck, stepping on the gas at his command.

Then the rope broke again. The tree held, but was swaying mightily for a moment.

Pa tied the rope together again, but this time leading directly from the soon-to-be-falling-tree to the truck with no middle-man tree in between. From the back window of the truck, I could see the rope leading essentially from me to the tree and I asked Pa if this was wise. My fear was that the tree would fall on the truck, crushing the cab with me inside. Pa said not to worry, that the direction the tree was leaning in (i.e. away from us) would compensate to put the tree down near enough to where we wanted it (i.e. beside the first half of the tree).

Trees N TruckWe started again, with me gradually pulling on the rope with the truck's weight until Pa could get it sawed through enough. Then I heard a great cracking sound and Pa waved at me to drive faster. I kept my head turned back to gauge the tree's progress in case I needed to gun it for the driveway and get out of its path (which I thought would be kind of tricky, being as how I was TIED TO THE TREE). Just as Pa predicted, though, when the tree started to fall, it was falling in the direction we wanted it and, in fact, fell so perfectly that it lined up right beside the first one. I was quite relieved.

Pa Sawin'After taking a coffee break, we returned to our fallen trees to begin the real work of sawing them up. Pa broke out his chainsaw and started cutting, while I hauled the chunks he cut into the back of the truck. The wife soon came out with our saws-all and began carving off limbs to help.

We very soon had quite a bit of loggage, but there was still part of the first tree and the rest of the second tree to go. That's when Pa passed me his chainsaw and told me I could take out the rest, if I wanted. He then went in the house, leaving me and the wife standing there.

I've never used a chainsaw before. The closest I've come is when Pa was trying to show me how to use his old one during his last visit and got as far as teaching me how to take the chain on and off, do the oil/gas mixture and then had given me the non-practical portion of showing me how to operate one when the chainsaw coughed up blood and died right in front of us, never to be cranked again. So while I "knew" how to run one, I'd never actually done so. However, the wife is not exactly a stranger to them, having been around them most of her life in various Pa-built log cabins in Alaska, and was able to give me a quick refresher and stood by to supervise my first few stabs at cutting.

I have to say, I took to it pretty well, though the process is not without its discomfort. For one thing, the vibration of the saw when you're sawing tickles unbearably at first, but by the time you feel it you're already committed to sawing through a section of tree. Eventually, you just man up and get over it.

The next day, after we'd moved all the wood, Pa and I went to saw up the stump. He cut a long horizontal slice into the base of the stump, then my job was to saw down vertically from the middle of the top. The first half broke away and looked like a nice solid piece of oak. I even contemplated doing something with it, like building a table, it was that pretty. The second half of the stump seemed a little tougher at first, so we decided to saw it in half, too. A little way into the downward cut the stump suddenly sliced like butter. When half of it came away, a whole mound of black dirt fell out of what had been a massive ant colony that took up most of its interior. The ants had fled in the night, leaving behind their dung (the black dirt). That was one rotten tree. Thanks to Pa, we now have a much safer house.

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