Sunday, August 2, 2015

Out On A Limb

There something in Mancode that says once you’ve put your hand on a project you have to see it to the end, and I knew that when I saw the limb down on my neighbor’s driveway. This is a ninety-five year old, that’s 9-5, woman who still gets around in the yard to work. She has a circular driveway, sure, but this limb has now taken half of that away from her. I’m not happy about it and I’ve a good hand with an axe and not bad with a chainsaw. This all took place Thursday and it was still there this morning. Yeah, I’m going to throw down on it.

The thing here is that Thursday when I first noticed the limb it was hanging from its place in the trunk by a few fibers and that’s all. I went and got my axe, and truly, all I wanted to do was put all of it on the ground. I found the supporting branches, now driven deep into the ground rather than into the sky, and whacked away at them. This caused the limb to shift massively, not down, but to the South, where the last ten feet of it wedged into the crook of two other limbs. Stupid physics. But now it really was mine. I fixed one problem and created another.

Other than the fact this was one truly bushy limb, with lots of branches that had branches and it was full of leaves, it was also alive and well. Not a spot of rotted wood to be found. Other than being broken at the base it was the very picture of health. At this point, take a pen or a drinking straw or anything long and prop it against anything solid, at a forty-five degree angle. Now, if you wanted to cut this long thing, near the bottom, what would happen as you cut? That’s right, the straw, or the limb, would bend towards whatever it is propped against. This means I had to cut from underneath. Which means I had to hold the chainsaw up for the duration.

This isn’t much of an ordeal but I simply do not trust trees or chainsaws. At a certain point I put the chainsaw down and resort to axe work. The cut is deep and the axe is sharp. A couple of minutes later and the limb breaks. But instead of falling it just slips lower. That was half way expected. It happened on my 4th of July tree. I have to make another cut with the saw. And this time I do it at shoulder height, which is two axe handles in length. I’m guessing that’s how much limb is left in the crook of the other limbs. I am guessing but it’s going to be close.

The cut is made with a sixteen inch bar on a limb that is nearly that in diameter. Again, from the bottom but this is different. The Gods Of Chainsaws punish those who take chances and there’s something to be calculated here. If I am right, this is the cut that will cause the limb to break at the cut, shift down, but also shift the top past the crook and then fall South, just like it did when I hacked at it at Day One. The weight is still there. The pull is still at that point. But if this thing breaks at the cut, shift down, and falls forward, I had better be somewhere other than where the trunk of this limb lands.

Rule One: Leave an escape route. I move a lot of the smaller limbs and branches so if I have to run I won’t have to hurdle. I also cut a short branch off the broken limb so if this thing rolls as it falls I won’t get swatted.

The cut goes very slowly, but I make sure that is goes deeper on the South side, where I expect the limb to fall. I do not want to be there, trying to deepen the cut, when this thing breaks. I go as far as a dare then begin my cut on the north side of the limb. I am tiring. The saw is getting dull. The progress is very slow. That’s good, Slow is good. I stop and look at the cut and drink water.

The limb, up to some point in time last Thursday, was part of a living being. The limb was up in the air, holding up twenty five thousand leaves, a myriad of branches, and using only the sun, water, and carbon dioxide, was a marvel of engineering. It still is, even in death. Less than ten percent of the limb remains uncut but the limb still holds. There are several hundred kilograms of tree aimed somewhere, and I have to be right. Or quick. Mostly I hope to be right because quick doesn’t seem to be happening.

If I had cut from the top the saw would be pinched as the tree began to lose its structural integrity. As I make the cut from the bottom I notice the cut widening. I know it’s getting close. I pull back and there’s maybe ten percent of the wood in the limb left. And it’s still holding. That’s pretty amazing because I’ve never seen anything manmade that could survive a ninety percent loss in volume and still hold. I make two notches at the top and whack at it with the axe. The limb slowly begins to creak and bend.

I back off.

The limb reaches a point of equilibrium and I poke at it with a long stick. It moves but does not break. We humans could never build anything that could take this sort of punishment. I finally toss a large piece of wood at it and the limb suddenly breaks, slips straight down, I’m back pedaling heading north and away from the tree and the limb shift past the crook and heads South. It lands with a thud that I can feel in my bones. There’s nothing left to do now but clean up the mess that’s been made.

It’s truly exhausting and takes four trucks loads of stuff but finally, after six hours, it is done. My back is going to let me know about this tomorrow, as is my shoulder and my knees. Like the tree, I’m getting weaker at stress points too, but I hope I don’t lose a limb to it. The tree looks to be in good health. The woman in the house waves to me and I wonder what this tree looked like when she was born, no more than five miles from this spot. Time was, a man with a hand saw would have had to get a friend or two to do this, and she remembers that time clearly.

Take Care,



  1. Quite neighborly of you, Mike. Sounds like a pretty big job, but for an older neighbor, well, I have an older neighbor I've helped many times (with much smaller things). We're all going to rely on another's help for something someday.

    1. I Think she and her family will sleep a little better knowing I'll wade in without being asked. As far as how large a job it was, wood getts bigger as it falls but I knew that.

      Thanks, Scoakat~!

  2. What? You stole this poor old lady's branch? Oh well it's green, would take a long time to dry enough to burn cleanly, and at 95 time is important. Ha ha,

    Good job, Sir, challenging the no good deed goes unpunished rule, is not for the faint of heart..

    1. It will make good January or so.

      And I am paying for this in soreness but it was a good workout