When an oak crashes to the ground, it changes one’s perspective about trees. And a lot of other things.
There are millions of trees around the world. They’re so common in northeast Ohio that they become functionally invisible: white noise on the landscape. Trees don’t take up much space — in my mind, or in my physical reality — because I interact with them as tall vertical cylinders. Even massive tree trunks are just a couple of feet in width, only briefly interrupting the view across my lawn to my neighbor’s house.
The mass and import of these quiet towers only becomes obvious when one of them is on the ground, sprawling across three yards.
It takes me three hours to cut through the branches and smaller limbs. I pile them up, higher and wider than Big Bird’s nest, in the middle of the back yard. Snuffleupagus-sized, really. And then I move onto the larger limbs, which range from the thickness of my forearms to the thickness of my thighs. My arms, legs, and back ache under the weight of carrying and manipulating the chainsaw and the tree parts. Another four or five hours of cutting and stacking.
It’s long division. Reducing the fractions, breaking the tree into its least common denominators. Even so, I’ve only just cleared my neighbors’ yards and in the process made a bigger mess of my own yard. It looks as though Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus have invited a clan of grouches to join them in the back yard. They’re messy and bristly and unkempt, piled up in the middle and increasingly on the edges.
The 25-foot trunk remains virtually untouched. When I finally get the “smaller” stuff reduced to a tolerable size, I spend another five or six hours segmenting the trunk. This wasn’t even “that big” of a tree, yet each cut takes five minutes of concentrated effort with the chain saw. I must consider the pull of gravity and the angle of the cut each time, using other limbs and logs as levers, as chopping blocks, and as wedges to hold the trunk in place. Every 45 minutes, I have to stop and add fuel and bar oil to the chain saw.
The amount of mechanical and biological energy required to reduce this tree is staggering. Quite literally. The tree did its work growing quietly and gracefully over decades — but my work to undo its efforts happens in fits and starts over several afternoons, and I am marred by the process. My hands and lower-back, especially, throb through all the intervals between my work.
Even when the chain saw is finally quieted, I require another two hours to carry all the brush to the back corner of the property and stack all the limb segments and trunk segments by the woodpile. I’ll be spending another six to eight hours with a hydraulic splitter at some point in the future — further reducing the trunk segments to size for burning in the fireplace. Even when the lawn is finally cleared and the woodpile enlarged, it will be months (if not years) before we’ve burned up the last of this tree’s wood.
How many other aspects of life are like this unassuming tree in my back yard? How much energy and effort is tied up in every endeavor, every relationship, every curve of the landscape? We may never know until they come crashing down.