A Tree Falls in the Forest

By , July 30, 2013

When we returned from an overnight Thanksgiving celebration last November, we found a tree above our cabin had broken in the wind. As often happens in this forest’s ecology, shelf fungus had rotted a section of the lower trunk, weakening, but not killing the tree. Although it hung precariously from the sound section of stump and entanglement in the surrounding trees, it became a liability we needed to address.

I do all of our tree work by hand, without chainsaws. I also work alone almost exclusively. This means that felling any tree is slow, laborious, and hazardous. But finally, with, as The Beatles said, “with a little help from my friends,” the tree fell, eight months since it broke.

The tree as it appeared in November 2012. Before...(Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

The tree as it appeared in November 2012. Before…(Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

I had done fairly well with the project on my own. I’d managed to shift the tree’s tremendous weight off the stump and down the hill at least twice, maybe three times, trimming 4-5 foot sections of the base along the way. We had enjoyed many showers from the resulting small wood. I rolled it along the entangled branches with a peavy. I even shot through a supporting branch high in the tree to break up the entanglement. Finally, a few weeks ago, with one last, hair-raising cut, I landed the tree with its butt sunk firmly in loose soil, and its top wedged securely against another tree, one we could not afford to cut down. Things stalled at this juncture after 8 months of “almost theres.”

Meanwhile, my brother and his wife arrived, which completely overturned the usual routines of the homestead (including this blog; you may have noticed that this post is late). They returned from the Southeast Alaska Haines Fair with three friends on their sailboat. Sunday evening, they all came to our place to spend the night.

The next day, as we all basked in the warm sunshine, watching a whale work its way up the fjord, they asked if I had any projects around that needed doing. Well, I did have this tree . . . .

I briefly outlined my progress with the tree, and welcomed any fresh perspective on a solution. That led to a grand morning of brainstorming, trial and error, and invention. We agreed that a weighted throwing line should be sent as high as possible, through the dense forest, over the tree, and a line should be affixed to pull it off its support with a come along. One guest created an atlatl throwing stick to launch the weight. Everyone gave it a fling, as it were. Finally, throwing the lead weight like a baseball, one guest crossed the leaning tree high enough for a good purchase. We attached a line, and the come along pulled it free almost before we knew it. The leaning tree hit the ground, avoiding any of the few obstacles we thought might be problematic.

Now, the wood harvest for the coming winter can continue. I have a tree that need not be packed through the forest to the cabin. In fact, my main concern will be to avoid damaging our outbuildings with logs as they roll down the slope. Thanks to my family and new friends, one of our most important projects is back on track.

...and After! Late July, 2013 (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

…and After! Late July, 2013 (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

2 Responses to “A Tree Falls in the Forest”

  1. Charity says:

    Can you estimate how much firewood will come from a tree? How many cords do you usually use in a year?
    Sounds like you have had a lovely summer of company!

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Charity, in a word, no. I can never properly estimate the amount of firewood from a tree. I usually underestimate, just for the joy of being astonished by a bigger-than-expected pile of wood. I do know that we need about 4 cords to fill the wood shed, and that comes from roughly 11-13 trees of the size I can manage. However, this spring we still had about a third of last year’s wood, so estimates of what I need to do for the coming winter are way off.

    Yes, we have been blessed with more company than usual this year! Make reservations NOW!

    Mark

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