Sunday, February 22, 2009

Not For Amateurs

Aries grew up in a home heated with wood, up at Lake Tahoe. When he was eight, he was considered old enough to go out with his dad and grandfather cutting wood. When he was twelve, he was big enough to hold a chainsaw to cut downed trees into sections, his grandfather helping pick the saw up each time afterwards. By sixteen, they let him start felling trees. He knows what he's doing, and he likes it when he gets the chance to play with a chainsaw.

Last month, he had the chance to help out a couple friends of mine. We live just above the valley floor. Our native vegetation is desert chaparral - sagebrush and other shrubby plants. But the hills rise steeply just west of us, and the change in altitude is just enough that tall conifers thrive. My friends live just a couple of miles away, up a canyon, but it's enough to be a completely different environment.

One friend had some pines infected with some kind of root fungus. In order to save the surrounding trees, the infected ones were marked to be cut down. She doesn't burn wood, but her next door neighbor, another friend, has a wood stove and she needs the wood. So we headed up to do a bit of woodcutting (well, ok, Aries does the cutting - I'm there in case of emergency and as laborer after the tree is down).

He cut two then, and left one dead, broken, leaning one as too unsafe to cut - that one will have to be chained up and pulled with a tractor enough to drop. When we went back later to cut the last two, I remembered to bring my camera. For the first tree that day, the only place to drop it was right down the driveway towards the house. In the top photo (click on any photo to see better), I've got my back to the house, standing right about where the top of the tree should land. Next photo, you can see the tree bounced a bit left when it hit, but overall it pretty much went where it should. Of course, we then had to get it out of her driveway - Aries cutting, I dragging limbs away to slash piles, rolling cut sections over to another pile.

Then on to the last tree - probably the tallest one Aries had ever cut (Aries is 6'4" for scale). For this photo, I'm standing between the house and garage, a low wall in front of me - the tree would more than reach to where I'm standing. Aries wants the tree to fall to the left, and is just starting the throat cut on that side. There's no wind, the tree is growing straight on level ground, it's symmetrically shaped - it should be no problem, and then we're done for the day. Wrong!

The throat cut lined up perfectly, Aries moves over to the other side. I usually watch for the top of the tree start to sway. But this time I'm zoomed in, watching him through the camera lens, thinking I'll snap an action photo when it starts to fall. Suddenly, he raises his right arm out straight, pointing the opposite direction, signalling to me this tree is breaking backwards. I lower the camera, watching him back away with the saw, still pointing, and start backing up. Open-mouthed, I watch as the tree spins more than 180ยบ on its stump, and then falls away to the right. Amazingly, it landed completely in the clear - just not at all where it was supposed to.

Aires said he felt the saw suddenly go dull in the last couple seconds of cutting. Upon examination, he found wire inside the tree on the side where it spun instead of breaking. It turns out the previous owner, decades ago, had run an electric fence by just nailing the insulators to the trees. This tree, growing quickly next to the leach field, had engulfed the wire so he'd just cut the wire, leaving nail, insulator, and wire hidden inside. We were so lucky the tree didn't fall towards the house, didn't hang up in any of the surrounding trees, and Aries wasn't hurt.


Nancy M. said...

Wow! That was lucky! You had no way of knowing that, though. I don't like watching my husband cut trees, it makes me nervous. But, I don't want him out there all alone, either.

Annodear said...

Whoa... that story was a little *too* exciting! Very glad Aries wasn't hurt! Pretty freaky.