Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Honey, I crushed the dog and other lumberjack adventures

The dog is my wife's favorite. Chili is a feisty and yappy chihuahua mix. The only lapdog in our four-dog pack. (All mutts. All rescued in one way or another.) Dr. Spouse babies that dog like no other mammal in this household. A couple of years ago, we spent an unholy pile of money on back surgery for him. (I'm glad we did but don't let Dr. Spouse know.)

OK, I didn't really kill the dog but I came damn close. The weapon? A 70-foot water oak.

The oak was destined to come down last fall as part clearing the back corner of our large yard for our burgeoning citrus orchard. (Hurricane Gustav gave us more sunlight in that corner and inspired the idea to add to our pair of stasumas.) That means the tree's going and it's time to get me out of the way.

All went to plan. The tree tilted by a few millimeters. I shut off the saw, stepped back and pulled one plug from my ear. The gap grew in slow motion with a sound I love: that crackling of the uncut trunk ripping apart; the whoosh of leaves a branches heading toward earth and that final, satisfying siesmic thump.

One problem. Chili.

He'd decided to bask in the sun and watch me work from a spot under the now-falling tree. I didn't see him until the oak was on the way down. Time slowed but I never had a moment to yell at him. He looked up at the falling tree and decided to get up. He looked up at the tree falling faster and decided to move. He looked up one last time at the tree, realized just how fast it was coming, and turned on the afterburners.

In my mind's eye, I can see a branch as big as my wrist came within inches of smacking him. That's seared into my memory.

I don't remember hearing much of that tree going down. The rush of adrenaline left nothing in my ears but the pounding of my heart.

Dr. Spouse heard/felt the thump of felled tree and came out of the house to investigate. She found Chili waiting at the back door, shivering uncontrolably. I learned a lesson: lock up the dogs before you break out the chainsaw.

I did just that last Sunday when I set out to take down the last tree in our orchard corner, an old elm damaged by Gustav. It stood a few feet from the under-construction chicken coop. I figureed I should finally take it down before I put the walls on the coop's floor. I didn't want to tempt fate. If something went wrong, I'd lose the floor and not the walls.

With the dog's locked up and C., our 12-year-old, watching from a safe distance, I went to work. (Dr. Spouse sent her out with a cell phone. Just in case.) The trunk was thick and I struggled with the notch and I struggled with the back cut. I had resort to pounding a splitting wedge into the backcut to start the elm on it's way down.

One more quick cut with the saw and the tree started ... to fall ... directly at the satsumas.

I yelled. "Oh, NOoooo."

C. remembers me yelling something else as I watched the elm head right for those beloved and productive satsumas. (We got about 200 pounds of fruit from each of them the last three years.)
I'm sticking to "Oh, no." I'm sure that's what I yelled.

I had a lot of time to think as the disaster unfolded: how would I explain this to Dr. Spouse; at least it's missing the coop; maybe it won't be so bad. I'd like to say that I prayed but Divine Intervention did not cross my mind.

I didn't ask for His help but I got it.

As the elm fell to south (I wanted it to go west), it twisted and rolled to right and missed the satsumas by 6-8 feet. Branches gave a small fig an improptu pruning but it will survive.

I heard the thump this time. A most satisfying sound.

That's C. looking at all the wood she'll have to move. The satsumas are on the right.

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