Tree Thieves Part II
By Tony Forder
Having just sampled a new beer called Tree Thieves in Dogfish Head's Ancient Ale series, I realized I was in the midst of some tree thievery myself. Not the same kind as DFH; their thievery involved stealing yeast from trees. My thievery was worse – stealing the very life of trees.
Warm weather in the New Year. Time to do a job I'd promised the wife – take down some rogue trees in the backyard which she worried were threatening the stability of our shed. We have a different take on trees. It is against my nature to harm trees. My very nickname contains the word tree; I recently read a book entitled The Secret Life of Trees which for me illuminated their world of interconnectedness.
One of my nicknames is Limetree. When I quasi-emigrated to California I was not surprisingly dubbed The Limey. Not just a limey, but The Limey…some friends seriously thought there was a case of copyright infringement when the movie The Limey starring Terrence Stamp came out some years ago. I’m a big Terrence Stamp fan, dating back to his 60’s movies like The Collector. The Limey, however, sucked, even though Peter Fonda was in it too. Bit of an insult really.
Back to California in the 70’s, which was when I put down West Coast roots, first in ‘73 as a footloose 18-year-old hitchhiker, then in ’79, returning to hook up again with the Californians who had befriended me in my days on the road. They were a large and loosely associated group based in the Santa Cruz-Boulder Creek-San Jose area. In Boulder Creek there was a clothing store called The Lime Tree. So, The Limey became The Limetree and soon the “The” was dropped.
When I moved north to Humboldt County, I became just Tree, which seemed to fit since we were surrounded by redwood forests. At this time my circle of friends consisted of many avid disc golfers and we used to ply our sport among the trees, the second growth redwoods behind Humboldt State University. It was important to get along with the tree spirits so that they would allow free passage to airborne discs. So enthralled was I with the woods, the Redwood Curtain as it was known, that I wanted to name my first borne Forrest. Arriving as a daughter, however, we chose for her Brooke as a middle name, drawing from the area’s aquaculture rather than its forestry, as well as the pun of Brooke Forder.
I had always gotten along with trees. When I worked as a gardener in a park for the town of Brighton in Sussex, England, I spent a lot of time climbing trees. I inherited the job from a retiree and it seems the municipality had just completed a time and motion study prior to his retirement. Well, it didn’t take me as long to cut hedges, trim flower borders or mow lawns, so I had extra time on my hands. I used to hike back in the woods and climb trees: beeches, birches, oaks and elms. Sometimes I would scare myself, suddenly realizing high in the windy treetops that it was a lot easier to climb up than down. Of course, you should never look down. Once I realized that it was equally impossible to fall out of a tree as it is to fall off a mountain I had full confidence.
I digress. Back to the Tree Thievery. My wife seems to view trees as some kind of invasive species, at least ones that she felt threatened our immediate environment. For years her pet peeve was a maple tree planted by the town on the curb outside our house just before we moved in. Well, it grew taller than the house over the next nearly 30 years and she was convinced the roots were doing untold damage to our water and sewer pipes. After much persevering and nagging she finally got the town to take it down. There was some justification it turned out – they had planted it right on top of our gas feedpipe.
Anyway, in order to keep the peace, I agreed to address the backyard problem. These were rogue trees I reasoned to myself, loners, they really didn't belong in our tiny suburban yard. Not possessing a chainsaw, I took out my somewhat underused Sawzall, purchased when we moved into our fixer upper. I began by attacking a couple of 20-foot sumacs, nothing more than weeds really. I was trying to figure out which way to make the cut in order to have branches fall the correct way. That done I moved to the main task – not quite sure which species but it had about 30 feet in height and a trunk of say 12 inches – likely an elm, since we live on Elm Street. About halfway up, the trunk split into four vertical branches or trunkettes. Using a ladder, my plan was to stand on top of the shed and deal with the branches one by one. The trees were in the corner of our yard, close to two neighbors. The first went pretty well, crashing partly in one neighbor's yard but doing no damage. The second stem was a bit more tricky. I attached a rope to guide it into our yard and after much up and down on the stepladder and trial and error it complied successfully.
There were two stems left. I cut into the smaller of them but the rope trick didn't work because upper branches were blocked by the larger stem. I had some time to reflect as my blade broke necessitating a trip to the hardware store and a welcome break. Back on the shed roof I realized I had to attack the large stem and with the new blade I went at it. By this time my highly focused mental state was beginning to lapse and doubts were creeping in, some trepidation of damage or injury. I had already slipped on the roof. But even though I really didn't know what I was doing, I summoned my inner lumberjack, the mascot of my alma mater at Humboldt State University in California, and continued. For some reason the new blade kept coming loose requiring retightening. Carelessly I retracted the saw from the trunk without powering down and the blade flew out whizzing by my ear within inches. I heard and felt the wind. Ok that was close. I don't know how far the blade went, couldn't find it. Luckily I had bought two.
I cut into the opposite side and was, I guess, a little too aggressive, as all of a sudden it was Timberrrrr, and the trunk crashed into my other neighbor's yard, luckily missing his shed, but taking out a plank of his vinyl fence. Minimal damage really, and replaceable.
Another day, another tree. This one a smooth-barked ash and not quite as large. So, with my trusted sawzall and stepladder I went at it again. The trick this time was to prevent it crashing the direction it was leaning, into the other neighbor's yard, which had lights strung all over the place. I accomplished this by attaching the rope, cutting, then descending the ladder and pulling, then ascending, cutting more and pulling more. After many up and down trips I succeeded. This one-man lumberjacking is for the birds, I thought. I still had to cut down the remaining trunks which entailed another trip to the hardware story for a longer blade and cut up the branches into manageable piles for which my circular saw came in handy. (While tree work is somewhat foreign to me, I did have some experience with power tools having worked as a sort of handyman carpenter in San Francisco. In college I even had a side business called Tony's Home Maintenance – but that's another story).
All this intimate tree work produced a certain amount of introspection. These rogue trees, I thought had sprouted as loners without the benefit of interconnecting mycelium and support of fellow trees, woods or forests. Was I a bit like these loners, trying to do my own thing, without being plugged into greater connections. And how in the modern world does one get plugged in?
Social media might work for some
Plugged in or sucked in?
Religion through the ages
Connected to something bigger than yourself
Plugged in or sucked in?
Family, friends, beliefs and social connections
We all have our different spheres
Just as trees are interconnected in the forest, we are all connected, and the best way to connect to others is to connect to yourself. Plug in, stay in control, don't get sucked in
Some words of wisdom recently coming my way from an e-mail thread - Do what you like to do, treat people fairly, pay your bills and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Bring a positive and happy vibe and …lo and behold…your world will become just about as positive and warm and friendly as YOU ARE.
And ain't that What It's All About