By Scott Robertson
April Fool’s Day came and went unremarked in my life this year. No one attempted to make me look foolish Friday with some bit of prankish fun. It turned out, however, my appearance of foolhardiness was only delayed, not denied, and was wrought by my own hand.
Saturday dawned sharply at the crack of 11 a.m. for me. I had unwisely stayed up late Friday night watching Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” The movie is about four hired killers, a pair of bounty hunters (one of whom had killed 84 people in a prison arson some years before), two former confederate army officers, a convicted murderess, and an innocent stagecoach driver. They all end up killing each other, except for the stagecoach driver, who doesn’t kill anybody, but is murdered anyway. I forget the stagecoach driver’s name; I just call him Kasich.
Anyway, Saturday morning found my wife buzzing about, eager to have some fun. She was thinking of perhaps driving over Sams Gap to Asheville for a day of shopping, dining, and generally separating us from our income. I, however, was the very picture of industry (She is laughing now, as she reads those words. Ignore her.) with a mind toward productivity and the prudent holding-onto of our hard-earned capital gains. So it was that I came to be watching youtube videos of how to safely and efficiently cut down a tree.
Our home shares its lot with roughly 45 tall trees. To say we live on a wooded lot is like saying there is waterfront property to be found in California. It seems an obvious understatement, but it’s a statement that is becoming less and less true, in California’s case because of drought, and in my case because of two dying trees.
I had inquired of three tree removal services last fall, and had been given estimates which I considered high at around $250 per tree. So as I pondered felling the trees myself Saturday, I fancied I would not only save the dollars my wife had planned to spend in Carolina (she would have boosted the local economy on the wrong side of the hill, you see), but I would also be saving the cost of having so-called professionals remove the offending precursors-to-firewood.
A matter-of fact lumberjack on youtube showed me how, if I cut a 70-degree notch in the tree on the side I wished for it to fall, then went to the other side of the tree and cut a slot to within an inch of the notch, all I would have to do would be to hammer a wedge into the slot, and the remaining bit of uncut wood would form a hinge which would guide the direction of the tree’s fall. He then demonstrated this to be true by felling a live tree. What could be simpler?
To the back yard I went, workgloves, eye protection and chainsaw in hand. My wife and son accompanied me, with, I was sure, the intent of supporting me in my labors. What I was unsure of was why each of them handed a $20 bill to my daughter, who volunteered to stay inside and clean the windows, which she never does. Clearly, I thought, my own work ethic had inspired her, and her brother and mother were simply offering an additional cash carrot for her efforts.
I needed the tree to fall almost due east, so I made my notch in the east side. As I started cutting the west side slot, I noticed my next door neighbor – who has a shed just to the north of our property line – waving and smiling. I paused to speak with him. He is a home builder who Knows How to Get Things Done. As I walked over to the fenceline he continued smiling a benevolent sort of smile and asked, “You have it all figured out?” I am no fool*. I knew this meant, “Do I need to move the lawnmower out of the shed, just in case?”
“It’s all good,” I smiled back. “I watched a video on youtube this morning and know just how to get this to fall where I want it to.”
“Ah,” he replied. “Well, just let me know if there’s anything I can do. I’ll just be mowing the yard.” He went straight to the shed and removed the mower, driving it to the far side of his house. He is no fool either.
As I hammered the wedge into the west side of the tree, I noticed the difference between the live tree the matter-of-fact lumberjack had cut and the one I was battling. Dead wood is soft. The tree simply “ate” the wedge without leaning a millimeter to the east. My wife and son grinned at each other behind me. Seeing this out of the corner of my eye, I was grateful for the confidence they were so clearly sharing.
To make a tedious story merely long, I will tell you now that the tree fell almost due north, though it did not hit my neighbor’s shed. It caught on a few strong limbs of another tree and hung there at a ridiculous angle.
My wife and son went back into the house with me hot on their heels. I needed to find the number of one of those tree services. I saw my daughter hand my wife both twenties as I explained to the tree service men that, yes I understood that in an emergency situation, the cost would be higher. Three hours and one check with a comma in it later, both dead trees lay in pieces on the ground. All lawnmowers, sheds and individuals were unharmed and safe, save one.
There is a short story there too. Several of my neighbors and I enjoyed the entertaining show of the tree service people trying to use a glorified potato cannon to hook the top of the leaning tower of wood.
During their labors, I must admit, to my shame, I felt a certain sense of schadenfreude as I watched the elasticized rope come unbound from the tree, sending the rubber potato zooming down at a tree man’s chest. I have never found the phrase, “Argh, my nipple!” to be so funny (This does not speak well for my Christian spirit, I admit, but I cannot be called dishonest).
At least I was not the only one humbled that day, but humbled I was, and a fool to top it. The tree man may have a bruised chest, but he has my overlarge check as a salve.
What do I, the fool, have? Only the memory of a day on which I learned humility at a cost greater than that of a shopping trip to Asheville.
*Or so I thought at the time.