Sorry so few photos. It's hard to get good shots in the jungle.
|The main trunk|
|The Leaner on the ground!|
In the half century or so I’ve lived in South Georgia I’ve seen snow stick to the ground three times. In 1973, 1977, and in 1988. I’ve been fortunate to be in a different location for all three events and being on my grandmother’s farm in ’73 for my first snowfall ever was incredible. I was the only kid around for miles and miles so I tromped over one hundred acres of pure virgin whiteness all my own. There wasn’t a camera of any kind around so I experienced it rather than recorded it.
For the most part, South Georgia is sub-tropical and right now, in the latter stages of July, we’re in the hottest part of the wettest month. Over a foot of rain has fallen over the past month, half of it in the last week or so, and overall, it’s been one of the wettest years on record. The irony here is that extremely wet weather means more trees will lose big limbs and more tree will fall. They absorb more water in their leaves and branches than they can carry so they split sometimes, or perfectly healthy limbs just crash down to the earth, green and leafy.
I lost half a tree a couple of weeks ago, and got it cleaned up fairly fast. But the day was cloudy and the rain was still falling so even if it was sticky and wet it was a good deal cooler. A limb fell out of an Oak tree in the back part of my property at the beginning of the week and it was a Leaner; one of those limbs that fall but also prop themselves on their parent tree, as if not fully ready to leave yet. The only thing worse than a fallen limb is one that hasn’t quite fallen yet, and the big fear is it will fall on its own schedule and perhaps crush a dog. Again, irony raises Her pretty head because there is nothing worse to try to cut down than a really large limb that is just hanging around, literally.
Back on 2007 I fenced in the back part of my eighty percent of a hectare and allowed Bert and Sam more running room. Bert promptly began to patrol the perimeter, as was his wont, and when Lucas joined us in 2009, he began making paths that split off from the perimeter path that the Elders had made. Lilith Anne joined us in 2012 and she and Lucas made even more paths through the underbrush. The Striped One arrived in 2015, the Cousins just last year, so there’s a lot of paths where there was once leaves and undergrowth. I began cutting vines off the young trees in 2007. One of the first trees I noticed was a very young Holly tree who was covered in vines. I de-vined it and since it’s close to one of the main paths, I’ve watched it grow over the last nine years or so. The branch that fell early in the week missed the Holy tree by less than half a meter.
The easy and safe thing to do would be to cut down the Holly tree as to have a better cutting experience with the limb but I like the Holly tree. I wanted to save it if I could and I was going to at least try. Cutting something large from one side is difficult and awkward. Let’s toss in the fact that it’s a Leaner. And I am working alone. In the Sub-Tropics. In July.
I like using an axe. I like the skill it takes to cut wood with a blade and to shape the cut the way it has to be designed in order for a limb to fall the right way or for a log to be cut into two pieces. The way the human body feels after working out with hand tools is different in some way than the feeling acquired by chain saws and power tools. It’s less invasive, harder, it requires real skill and patience to use an axe. Using an axe means a man has to use his mind as well as his body. And I want to save the Holly tree. The life of the Holly tree becomes a Quest.
The Leaner has some outlier branches that have to go first. I know it’s going to take half a day, at least, to get this thing down, so I pace myself. I have to because the air is thick with moisture and heat. Stinging insects dart back and forth in it like piranha in a jungle stream. But the air isn’t moving, not even sluggishly. There isn’t so much as a faint breeze, not so much as a whisper of the wind, and so sweat pops out of my body and just sits there. I use a bush hook on the lighter stuff and clear away the small limbs that were knocked down. The Holly tree, a meter taller than I am, sticks me a few times. We are joined in this Quest by blood; mine.
The Leaner is held in place at the bottom by two branches; one thick and the other smaller and it has a divide also. Up at the top of the Leaner, the broken part is held by yet another crook between two bigger branches, but one of them, the one that goes forth right over my head, looks diseased and perhaps it will fall too. Over there were there is a Holly tree, it is safer, if the Holly tree was taken down. Not yet. I have to try.
The first hour is spent with the smaller stuff and the time goes slow. I take my first break, with my faithful cell phone guardian, someone who cares enough about me to keep up with me when I do this sort of thing, send me texts and making sure I don’t get hit in the head or die of heatstroke. I drink nearly a liter of water and rest for a while.
The smaller support branch goes first. It doesn’t take long and then I look hard at the other one. It’s thick as hell, axe work here, and I attack it as far up as I can, even though it does mean it will be even thicker. I hope that the Leaner, once in motion, might come on down. Thirty minutes later the branch cracks and the Leaner does what I suspected it would do; slip down a little further but it does not fall. Break time. It’s time to think about what’s going to happen next.
As I drink water, sweat, and feel muscles trembling from exertion, I strategize. I have to cut at least a meter high. There’s at least that much of the Leaner still caught in the crook. I have to cut from one side and one side only, maybe a little angle at the underside of the limb, but the branches of the Holly tree are going to make it hard. Here’s the fun part; if the Leaner falls straight down, it then might begin to fall forward. That means there’s a damn good chance the Holly tree will be crushed anyway. Take the damn Holly tree down, Mike. It’s a goner anyway.
I have to try.
Okay, let’s take a comedy break here, shall we? I go out to where the Leaner is and the dogs all go back to lay on the screened in porch and not be bothered by the heat or insects. I’m standing there, wondering where to start, how to start, wondering why I’m being so obstinate about the damn Holly tree, and suddenly there is an explosion. It’s a loud sound, like a semi-truck tire blowing out at high speed. Tyger Linn comes bouncing out of the porch, torpedoes across the deck, and she races out into the woods, barking. Lilith Anne is close behind her. So they’re looking around and I realize they have forgotten I’m there. I pick up the axe and Tyger Linn barks a little at the motion. Lilith takes a couple of steps forward and stops and waits. She doesn’t make a sound but she’s keyed in on where she thought she saw something. Tyger barks, waits, barks, waits, and then I take one foot and rustle around in the leaves. Tyger and Lilith charge the noise, Tyger barking as she’s running and Lilith just coming in hot, and then, oh hai, we knew it was you all along, nothing to see here, what the hell, dad, that wasn’t nice at all.
The Cousins have not left the porch yet, and they don’t.
The main trunk of the Leaner is probably twenty-five centimeters in diameter. I can cut the front, the underside of it, a little of the top, but the Holly side will be impossible to get to with an axe. It takes twenty minutes to get halfway through and I take a break. I can hear the sound of my heartbeat in my ears. My breath comes in gulps and I try to even things out. The heat is building by the minute and the humidity is getting worse. Calm down, dude, you got this. Just breathe. It’s going very slow but it is steady progress, even at the awkward angle. After the break the better part of what’s left goes in less than ten minutes. I hit it hard, as hard as I can with the bush hook, trying to use the extra length for safety and the cut wiggles like a loose tooth. Finally, with the bush hook used as a poke, I push and push, and push, and… the piece I just cut falls, and the Leaner stays right where it is, in midair, caught by the crook of the tree, it does not fall.
Hmmm, Mike, you know, I seem to remember now, yeah, that happened the last TWO TIMES you cut a Leaner. Damn, you’re right. Okay, now we…I take a vine, because I’m a guy and going to get a rope isn’t manly enough for me at this point, and wrap it around the dangling end of the Leaner. The Holly tree’s fate is about to be decided. If this thing falls straight down then the tree will likely be crushed, or at least have its limbs torn off. I pull and the Leaner slips out of the crook, stands straight up as if it’s going to stay that way and then falls two meters to the damn west of the Holly tree.
That’s why you use a vine because you cannot predict which way it will fall.
My back hurts. My wrists are sore. I feel drained. But the Leaner is no more and the Holly tree lives. I spent half a day working on that thing to bring it down and very likely spent twice as much time as I had to because I wouldn’t kill a tree that is neither rare nor in any way special.
But she is my tree.