A month of grumpy gratitude 2020: day 6 oopsie, day 7 chainsaw

I’m certain I was grateful for something yesterday. It was probably (once again) that I don’t make a living with this blog, and my 17 followers are understanding when I let them down. Or maybe it was the tacos I was grateful for. Tacos always qualify for gratitude.

Well never mind. On to day 7.

The back half of our property is part of some woods that run through the neighborhood. Sadly, a vast majority of the trees are stately ash, and the emerald ash borer plague has killed them all.

There they stood, towering for decades, tall and slender, being perfectly happy ash trees and offering homes to whatever creatures came, and then the miserable little invading bug came along and did this to them, just under the bark:

That ribbony damage completely destroys the tree’s ability to deliver nutrients and water up the trunk. Ash trees attacked by the emerald borer typically die standing, and quite suddenly. There’s no evidence they’re dying, until they’re dead.

This year the ash in our yard finally gave up their ghosts. As summer came into full bloom, they offered no leaves. They just stood there, tall and proud and naked, and dead. Before the leaves fell off our other trees – a couple oaks, a handful of maples, maybe a walnut, a few I haven’t bothered to identify — I went around and marked the dead ash with spray paint. Look at all the trees that have died.

It turns out yellow spray paint doesn’t stand out as well as neon pink, but maybe you can make out the exes.

Look at this enormous beauty (a badly placed owl box is about 10 feet up its trunk) that has been a centerpiece of our woods. The photo doesn’t do it justice. It’s about 80 feet tall and probably over a hundred years old, ramrod straight with an enormous canopy. Also 100% dead, thanks to a tiny pest.

We got estimates to take down our dead ash trees. It will cost us $5000 for the three really big ones between our home and our neighbor (look closely and you will see one of them leaning hard left, up by the houses). Large equipment will be involved to protect the houses from total destruction. It will take an additional $10,000 to bring a crew for three days’ labor in the back woods, and see how much they can get done.

[insert whatever “shock and awe” emojis work for you]

So we bought a chain saw. We aren’t newbs, at least. We used to have one when we owned 18 acres of woods, our first home. Using the chain saw was terrifying even when we were 30 years old, but it allowed us to take down dead trees and collect firewood. I never actually peed my pants from fear, but I came close several times.

We agreed not to touch the trees around the houses, or the big beauty with the owl box, which is at least three feet in diameter — pros are needed for that. But we figure we can fell trees that aren’t in danger of falling on houses or power lines. We started small and did okay. (“Small” is a term of art here, referring to trunk diameter and not height. Each of the trees we’re taking down is forest-grown to at least 60 feet tall.)

So far, we’ve felled and bucked two trees successfully. Firewood for the future!

Just a dozen or so more to go.

I cut down a third tree, but apparently did not place my starting wedge in the right direction. It looked like a perfect wedge to me, a nice pacman removal on the correct side of the tree. But when I cut the final cut from the other side, the tree missed my directional goal by at least 30 degrees, tipped barely over, and nestled itself snugly against another dead ash tree. Why. After we stared in dismay for a bit, and waited to see if the weight might just naturally crack them both over (it didn’t), and scratched our heads, Anthony went over to the second tree and went at it with the chain saw until it cracked under the weight of the tree leaning on it.

The sound of their mutual collapse was so loud that our neighbor came out to make sure we were okay. Physically, we were fine. But the emotional scars will never really heal. I was standing about 30 feet away from Anthony when he cut far enough through the second trunk that both trees went down, starting with really frightening crunching and snapping and cracking noises, and terminating with a sonic boom when the trunks hit the ground. As this short series of events commenced, Anthony turned toward me and we made eye contact, both of us radiating quiet terror. I waved him toward me in a small panic, but it was a useless gesture. He was already trotting with high-stepping feet through the brush toward me. We watched in mesmerized distress as the trees (slowly at first, but with really impressive acceleration) crashed to the ground.

Here was what we saw when it was all over.

It looks so innocent in these photos, so simple, just some trees down in some woods. Don’t be fooled. It took a lot of incompetence and fear to achieve this look. Our chainsaw is 18 inches of pure terror.

Working with a chainsaw is frightening, period. The good news is, I’m less afraid when I use it myself than I am when I watch Anthony using it. Love is a powerful source of fear and perspective. And each time Anthony comes away from a cut in one piece, all limbs and head still attached, physically unharmed, I am filled with profound, sigh-inducing, relief-filled gratitude.