There is something to be said for axe work. I have a friend with a chainsaw and she would come help me if I called. It would all be over in a few minutes, actually, all the cutting, and afterwards there would be a ringing in my ears and the smell of oil and gas in the air. That’s enough right there to want to do it myself, but I yearn for some time alone with trees and sun and my thoughts. It’s been a frantic week and I am tired of people and I am tired to dealing with people.
Several of my young Oaks were killed outright by the falling tree. With a chainsaw it’s just too easy to clear a place to work safely but with an axe there is less random destruction because it takes too much work. My last session out here was Sunday, six days ago, and there is still a lot of green on both trees; the one who fell and the one who was broken when its brother fell upon it. The younger trees, bent nearly double by the carnage, stand bent as I free them and I wonder if they will survive.
There was the limb of a massive Oak that fell a few days after I arrived here in Hickory Head, over fifteen years ago. It bent over a young hickory tree and there was some debate as if it might be easier just to cut the hickory down to get to the massive limb. I stood on a step ladder to get the Oak limb sawed in half with a chainsaw, dangerous work, to be sure, but the hickory still stands today, straight and tall, no worse the wear.
The young Oaks bent over and the brushy branches of the downed tree, and the remains of the tree who was crushed and broken, form a green cocoon over me as I survey the damage. A saw would be nice here, a chainsaw is needed, really, but I have an axe, and a bush hook, too. There is a need to sweat and to test muscles that have not been pushed in a while. Here skill is needed as well as brawn, and full extension is an impossibility. How many people would put themselves to this much trouble to save the young Oaks blocking the work of dismembering a felled duo of trees?
The first cut has to be to free the two entangled trees from the mass of vines, limbs, and smaller trees. There is the main truck of the crushed tree to be cut and I am hindered. So I sit on the main trunk of the fallen to whittle away at the trapped. Woodpeckers make homes in trees by using their heads and so will I cut wisely for there is no room to swing. The bent wood crackles as the pressure is relieved and finally it snaps. The main piece that still rests on the fence cannot be cut yet, but now I can get to the limb in the way of the limb that is in the way of me getting to that limb. Three cuts to go before I free the fence line from this side.
Some of the brushy limbs have to be cut between each main branch cut and some of these are hauled to one side, some are tossed over the fence, and slowly but surely there’s a clear spot forming where two trees have died together, with a brace of smaller Oaks as collateral damage. There are thick vines who are now earthbound and doomed. Once a spot for birds to rest or to take a vantage to see over the pond, the limbs now are cut and hauled away. But this is nature’s doing and not that of a man; the tree broken in half on its own, fell where physics guided it, and the trees in the way of the force suffered the damage without protest. Only I mourn the trees who fall here, while some who live in the woods curse them. I will never see the giants that have fallen be grown from those I have grown, accidently, here. I can see the many young tree that I did not clear in the name of aesthetics and I can see the young Oaks that grew instead of being hauled down by vines or eaten by deer, but what will happen when I leave here, dead or alive, I cannot know.
Now there is nothing but the stumps of the main limbs left and I begin hauling the smaller stuff cut from these two pieces to the firepit. Sweat gushes from every pore. The humidity is terrible. But the job must be finished and one by one, the leafy branches are stacked one on another, the pile growing bigger and deeper, until at last there is nothing left to do but to wait for a good time to burn.
Even in death do tree supply life to the creatures of the earth. Rodents and small mammals can now hide from the dogs under the canopy of a closely packed brush pile. Snakes can slither in to eat the rodents, and as the vegetation decays, insects will feast upon the decay, and birds will feast upon the insects. All of the so called waste matter will return to the earth once again, and some of it may wind up in my compost pile. Part of an Oak tree may one day enrich the compost of my garden, and perhaps be part of a flower or a tomato. The tomato on the vine might be robbed by a bird, who might find its way to a tree that is standing near where this one fell. The seeds will pass through the bird and who knows? Maybe a wild tomato plant will take the place of an Oak.
I retire to the coolness of the house, the company of dogs, and water, lots of water, and the work is done. There will be fire, in October, perhaps, or even later, when the weather permits burning without fear of heat stroke. In the meantime, I will wander the small patch of woods here and wonder if on another day, someone will write about an Oak that I see right now.