Saturday, January 7, 2012

Out of the woods...(updated)

When we bought it, our house had a tree problem. Mature trees are usually considered a value-enhancer in real estate; however, our house had trees that had passed maturity and were in decline. In addition to contributing a bit of a run-down air to the place, some of them were a material threat to the house. Here's a photo from earlier this year:
From left to right, we see behind the house an old maple (visibly diseased, with bracket fungi near the base of the trunk), an immense fir (whose top had been broken off and was growing ugly, and whose trunk was less than a meter from the house), a locust stump that was growing immense suckers, then (hidden behind the house) fir that was threatening a shed, a sycamore that was too close to the house, and a pair of cedars--one of which was sick--so close to each other that they were individually deformed, and then again in front, a maple that was tearing up the front walk and fence. Just out of the picture is an immense locust that had a visibly rotten core.

That's a lot of problem trees. The only ones that were really healthy and not threatening a structure were the sycamore and one of the cedars. What to do? This being the heart of timber country, we toyed with the idea of felling the giant fir for lumber; a good, straight old tree could bring a thousand dollars or more. However, there were no guarantees that the tree would be good. We got a recommendation to call John and Billy, a couple of ex-lumberjacks, to do the job.

The death of a local industry leaves distinctive human debris. There are a lot of ex-lumberjacks around here, just as there are a lot of ex-Baathist party apparatchiks in Baghdad. These are people with phenomenal, nearly irreplaceable (if highly focused) skills and knowledge, and a treasure trove of anecdotes. (Given the nature of the timber industry, many of the lumberjack stories are as gruesome as I imagine the Baathists' would be.) John and Billy fit the stereotype in most every way, from the odd missing digit to the extreme garrulousness (old lumberjacks are probably why extreme talkativeness is called logorrhea). They also know their wood, and are damned good at putting trees down exactly where they ought to go and not hitting a house.

So, with a couple of assistants and a dependable 1950's Case tractor, they set to work on our property. That diseased maple in back? It was really diseased; the Real Doctor stands in the stump, contemplating what would happen to our house in a good windstorm:
The diseased honey locust in the front was really diseased too--see how the trunk splits when it hits the ground. It was rotten from the ground up to the first fork.

If the sound is up, you can also tell from that clip that these guys enjoy their job. They're good at it too--they had a very narrow space in which to put this fir tree so it wouldn't damage the house or anything else, and they hit it spot on:

It's been a while since I've seen two guys who enjoy their jobs as much as these two. John, the man on the chainsaw, does everything but a Babe-Ruthian gesture with his chainsaw when he predicts the fall of a tree. Billy, the man in the tractor, would probably willingly pay to drive it around.

As lumberjacks, they speak an unusual dialect of English--John launched into a story about a schoolmarm with a crotch full of whiskey that broke his chains that had me utterly lost until I got it translated. A schoolmarm is a tree with a deeply forked trunk, so called because it won't roll over. This tree had been growing on an elderly couple's property, and after they died the son wanted it cleared away. Apparently the old man had a liking for whiskey that his wife disapproved of, so he'd go off to drink and hide the evidence by dropping the empty bottles down the hollow crotch of the tree. This went on for decades, with the man draining and depositing the bottles and the tree growing and encasing the evidence in wood. When John tried to cut the tree down his saw ran into a bottle and died a foot off the ground, and again two feet off the ground, and again higher and higher. When they finally got the tree down, they found an embedded column of whiskey bottles five feet tall.

John and Billy found plenty of stuff embedded in our trees--a length of pipe, a hinge, an iron post, many nails--but got them all down safely. The oldest trees, the big fir and the locust, were over a hundred years old. Now they're gone, and part of me feels like poor Dogmatix:
However, on the whole, I think it's better--for one thing, the house is no longer in imminent peril. Roseburg is one of the least windy cities in the US, but every once in a while it gets a big wind--one of these happened just last week, and would probably have taken down that maple. For another thing, it's a lot brighter inside the house, and you can see some of the scenery. Also, from the outside, you can actually see the house. A nice change. Here's before, again:
And here's after:

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