Friday, March 20, 2009

The Evil Maple Tree

In the middle of our two acre field adjacent to the highway were two silver maple trees. The one at right had two forks. One fork falls in a windstorm. It slightly damages three tiny chard seedlings in the gardens next to the tree. I breathe a sigh of relief and remove the damaged tree before the deer are attracted by the forage.

Unknown to me the major portion of the trunk of the split fork maple is rotten. It falls in another storm. Luckily, Dawn was in the house when it fell. She says she heard the swoosh as it hit the ground. This time the killer tree tears a swath across the corn patch, flattens the cabbage patch and digs holes in the soil ten inches deep. Old carpet laid as mulch and a weed barrier is perforated like a piece of plastic. The deer are attracted by the fallen branches and munch happily on silver maple leaves and the organic shirofumi edamame plants. The stumps, some of which measure twenty five inches in diameter, are carefully stacked next to the barbed wire fence on the east fence line. A June flood washes the woodpile away to the flats below my neighbor's farm.

Last week I lit a burn pile over the stumps of the tree. A week later, the stump continues to smolder. I kid Dawn about having a coal seam under our garden that will smolder for 20 years. I hope I'm wrong.

The picture at right shows the silver maple in early fall of 2005. Click on the image for a larger view. One of the two right hand forks had fallen. The other leans precariously. My friend Jorge-the retired cop and city alderman who lives in an Amish house on a ridge top not far away comes to help me with a Three Stooges plan I have dreamed up. We'll cut a limb off the right fork. My reasoning is simple ( simple minded?) . Less weight, hence less chance of it falling over. The other reasonable assumption is that the garden would receive more sunshine.
The assumption was incorrect. As you can see from this picture dated 7/04/2007 the tree fell into the garden. What follows is a description of the tree limbing that gave the maple it's evil reputation. Click on the image if you'd like a larger view.

Chapter Two: The Cutting.

The limb in question extends 15 feet over the garden. It is almost twenty feet off the ground. I rule out leaning a ladder against the limb and slowly cutting segments of the limb. My mind replays a well-known Warner Brothers cartoon. I have five ladders. One is the highest weight rated Werner ladder available. It has two-twenty foot segments and extends 40 feet. On the ladder are all the specs. It lists the highest working range at 38 feet with an OSHA approved weight capacity of 350 lbs. It takes two people to maneuver it. I separate the sections so that I can reach the gutters near the arbor vitae by the kitchen window without waiting for my wife to come home from work.. Jorge tells me while eating scrambled eggs that he has examined the tree. I’m pleased that he has given it some thought because I am stumped for safe alternatives. When he finishes his last sip of coffee, he says, “Let’s do it.”

“Wait a minute,” I tell him as we walk to the garden. “Let’s think this out.” While he’s thinking, I get the twenty foot ladder section. In the garage, I check the chainsaw for gas and bar oil. I grab my ear protectors and gloves. The assumption is to cut the limb near the trunk of the tree. If cut properly, it should drop slowly to the ground. It doesn’t matter that portions of it fall in the garden. The soft soil can be tilled again. I position the ladder to the right side of the branch. When I climb to the top of the ladder and examine the branch, I realize that I’ll be reaching over the ladder and cutting to my left. Jorge is holding the ladder for stability against the uneven surface of the tree trunk. I climb down to tell him that the position is uncomfortable, probably unsafe.

Comic Interlude before the Tragedy

I suggest that we throw a rope over the limb to guide the limb to a safe landing. Behind the seat in my truck is a rope I borrowed from someone in Arkansas. It’s twenty feet long, maybe more. I never gave it back to the owner because his dog was responsible for biting my four-year-old daughter in the face. I figured the cost of the rope a pittance for our pain and suffering. Besides, he never offered a cent for medical expenses. In crude terms, he was a !@#$. His wife was a !@#$, too.

First, I loop the rope in my right hand like a cowboy, hold on to one end and toss it toward the limb. I miss the target. Then, I tie a stick to one end and toss it toward the limb. After six or seven tries, I give the rope and stick to Jorge who watches me with a gleam in his eye. Actually, I’d rather people driving down the highway see Jorge making a fool of himself. Just about the time I’m going to suggest that I take over tossing the rope over the limb, Jorge catches the thin branches near the end of the branch. We spend the next ten minutes snapping the rope in large waving motions to free it from the thousands of tiny branches near the tip. With each snap of the rope it inches toward the ground. When It’s about seven feet off the ground, I jump up and grab the stick. There’s no time limit on our tree trimming, but in the back of my mind is the thought that this is turning into a major production.

I move the ladder to the left side of the branch.There's a small hill directly underneath the branch. I position the ladder on a level area for stability and climb to the crook of the tree limb to assess my position. I’m apprehensive. The top of the ladder extends to about three feet above the area I’m to begin cutting. If I position myself to cut directly over the top portion of the branch, I’ll be standing with little or no ladder to brace myself. Actually, because of my acrophobia, I need a portion of the ladder to hug and cling to.

I climb down a few rungs and lock my knees. With the top part of the chain saw bar, I cut into the lower side of the limb. The theory here is to prevent the limb from splitting and taking a large piece of bark off the tree. I don’t trust using the top of the bar for cutting. I have a running documentary film in my head of the chain snapping like a snake biting me in the face. First, I make one deep cut. Next, I make several shallow cuts. Hindsight says I should have cut a notch from the underside of the branch. Hindsight wasn’t cutting free hand twenty feet off the ground. Jorge offers advice from the ground. The simplest answer to his advice would be, “Let’s see you do it!” I don’t want to be responsible for injury or a possible lawsuit. He was hired as a consultant.

Change the film speed here to silent movie speed from the 1920’s. Robert runs up and down the ladder. Up and down. Up and down. First, I cut one quarter of the way through the limb. I get off the ladder and grab the rope from Jorge. Several tugs on the rope shakes the entire tree causing Jorge to murmur with apprehension. I pull some more, gaining momentum with each pull. Krraaack. Then, nothing. Now, I’m apprehensive. I climb back up and examine the limb. There’s a noticeable fissure neat the bottom part of the limb. On the ground, Jorge offers encouragement for destruction. “Can’t you cut it some more?” I climb down like a monkey, grab the idling chain saw and insert it into the groove. Another scene from the documentary movie twenty years later.

My chain saw is stuck in a tree branch twenty feet off the ground.

Chapter Three: The Climax

I try to get directly over the top of the branch, which I previously mentioned is not an easy task. I’m about halfway through. I climb down, put my chain saw in a safe area behind the tree and ask for the rope. I tug and pull. Nothing. I give up and hand the rope to Jorge. He begins with slow, even pulls on the rope. Gaining momentum with each pull, the limb begins to crack. Finally, it snaps off and crashes to the ground.

I barely made it through high school chemistry. Physics class was reserved for the extremely intelligent. I skipped being intelligent for parking with Bonnie in a secluded area along the Milwaukee River in Estabrook Park. The police car leaves the parking lot after the officer tells me, “You can’t park here after 9 pm.” I ask Bonnie why she didn’t tell me the police were approaching. She skipped physics class also: "For every action

there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Strong pulls on a tree limb to the east will result in motion toward the west. East, west. East, west. Krraaack. When it falls, the momentum Jorge developed causes it to hit the ladder which hindsight never told me to move. Hindsight was busy looking after my hinder. The butt of the branch hits the lower 1/3 of the ladder. It crushes the cast aluminum side rails, severs three rungs and bends the base of the ladder at a right angle. I’m stunned. Jorge is stunned. My first words after looking toward the highway to see if anyone was witness to the farce-“There goes $325.” The voice of reason says, “We can fix it.”

Tomorrow the denouement and ending of the story of the tree limbing. Remember, the evil maple is still smoldering. Will it ever end?

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