Monday, July 5, 2010

Funeral For A Tree



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This is the tree Peg and I took down back in 2006 or so. Because our spirits are stronger than our bodies, and because our equipment is based on not ever having to tackle a dead tree this size, we left twenty feet or so if it still standing. When I first moved out here in 2001 there was a dead oak that had broken in two, and about twenty feet of it still stood for years. I called it The Monolith, and I left it there for the skinks and the woodpeckers, and they loved it. I left the tree Peg and I took down for the same reasons, that and we really were too tired to tackle it with our puny chainsaws.  When The Monolith fell, well, actually I pulled it down when it began to lean, I left it on the ground for years and watched it slowly turn into soil.
The Peg stump, well, damn, it wasn’t actually stump because it was twenty feet tall, okay, let’s agree to call it The Peg Tree, okay, thanks, anyway, the Peg Tree or what was left of it, started to lean, and I was going to pull it down, but it fell on its own. Even when it was alive the tree had a massive wound on one side, and it was never really healthy. The years had not been kind to it, and most of the wood around the wound was total mush, but this was at one time a massive Oak. It would take quite a few weekends to get it all moved out of the yard and into the Firepit, which is still too damp to burn anything in right now.

I decided from the beginning not to use the chainsaw. I’m tired of noise. I’ve been working on the Interstate for a couple of months and I’m always on edge out there. You have to be, it’s a self defense mechanism, but it gets so old. Using a chainsaw is the same way in you always have to be on guard against the very tool that is making your work easier. No, I would use an axe, a maul, two wedges and sweat. I would take it down to smaller pieces, and even though it would take time out of quite a few weekends, I would slowly but surely whittle this monster down.
It’s been cool lately, and Friday morning the temperature was still in the mid-seventies at dawn. There were parts of the tree that just fell apart when I hit it, but there were still some Oakish pieces that were tough. I took my shirt off to get a little sun, and began.
I started at the small end, where there was once three massive limbs reaching out for the sky, and I found a seam. I didn’t expect it to run very far, but it traveled a good ten feet when I started wedging it. The piece broke off, and it was ten feet long, and fairly massive. It was too big for me to pick up and carry so I put it on the wheel barrow, balancing it long ways, and toted it to the firepit. The next piece mirrored the first, and again, it was toted off. The heat stayed down, the humidity didn’t rise either, and by lunch the tree was reduced by about half of what it had been when I started. But I was truly tired by that time, and already had all the easy stuff done. The lower end was bigger, and more solid.
Sunday afternoon the weather was still nice. It was only ninety or so, which is extremely mild for July in South Georgia, and I stood on the massive part of the tree with the maul. BOOM ! I hit the broadest part as hard as I could, and it woulded like a heartbeat. BOOM! Only an Oak could be so dead for so long and still hold so much hearty resistance to steel and muscle. BOOM! And a crack appeared. BOOM! The hollow parts of the tree sent out a signal that the end had begun, but far too many trees have fallen for one already dead to be heard. BOOM! The crack received a wedge and I turned to the blunt side of the maul’s head. TINK! The wedge sunk ever so slightly into the tree’s dead flesh, a stake into the heart of the undead, and the crack widened. TINK! The sound was like the sound of a railroad spike being driven into the tracks, driving a wedge between those who lived there for thousands of years, and their land. TINK! And the crack fissure both ways and I realize the tree is going to split nearly in two. TINK! And the tree falls into pieces. The largest still holds solid wood, but the smaller half comes apart, spilling the debris of squirrel’s nests and boring beetles. Toads dig themselves out of this mess and glare at me. A massive red head skink slithers away and I have to call Loki away from him.
I haul pieces to the pit, toss some into the woods, and finally, the last big piece is gone. In just two days the tree is no more. I scoop up the debris that is left in a five gallon bucket, and make trips to the mulch pile. Bark, pieces of wood, and the mulch pile gets fifty gallons of the stuff. Some of the wood is so honeycombed with the work of insects it falls apart in my hands. The stump offers little resistance, and I pull large pieces of root from the ground, tearing holes in the earth as they come up.

This is stoop work, hand work, back breaking work, sweat work, and I needed it. I needed to get away from machine and noise, and the din of humanity, and deconstruct a tree. It struck me where this Oak was will be a great place to plant a sapling come fall.

Take Care,
Mike

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