Adventures in Lumberjacking


A few years ago, we had a pretty bad ice storm. Because I live in Ohio. During this storm, the ice caused a couple of rather large branches on two trees in my front yard to buckle under the weight. These huge branches, seemingly defying gravity, hung on, only to dangle precariously.

The following spring, I used a highly technical procedure to remove the lower of the two limbs. I yanked it down. Literally. I pulled and twisted until what splintered wood and tenacity held it in place cracked and it crashed to the ground. After some light chainsawing and heavy raking, all that was left of the branch was the splintered arm from whence it was severed. The other broken branch was out of my reach. It hung there by sheer willpower, awaiting the next ice storm to bring it crashing down, potentially through my neighbor’s bay window.

Summer came. Then autumn. Followed by another winter. I lived in fear of the storm that would bring about its demise. Fortunately, it was an uneventful winter. Another round of spring and summer passed. Every day I looked at this sagging appendage. Never knowing when it might make its move. It stared me down. Daring me to leave it be.

Then came autumn. My neighbor implored me to have someone remove the limb. He even offered to help me fell the tree. I nodded and agreed that it needed to be done. No action was ever taken.

Winter reared its ugly head again. As if conspiring with the tree, it brought another ice storm. Not nearly as ferocious as the one that had inflicted the damage. Just enough to cause me to worry every day that I would be replacing a window as my neighbors stood staring, shivering. Giving me a look as if to say, “I told you so. Look what you have done to my family.” The limb held fast.

I devised a plan. I have an extension ladder, purchased some time ago. It extends to 19 feet. Or 22 feet. I can never remember. I would prop the ladder against the sturdier part of the branch and use my chainsaw to slowly work my way up the hanging branches (that were miraculously still alive). Once I reached the thicker part of the branch, I would not have to worry as much about the branch bouncing off the smaller sticks, propelling itself into my neighbor’s home. Nor would I have to worry about the release of the weight causing the tree to recoil, sending me flying towards the ground from 19 or 22 feet with a running chainsaw in my hand. Quite ingenious, I must say.

The broken limbWith my college-aged pseudo-son in town, the time to attach was now. The sturdier part of the branch is more than 19 feet. Or 22 feet. There is no way I could execute my flawless plan. I had to come up with something else. As we were preparing for the mission, I was told, “I’m not too fond of heights. And I’ve never used a chainsaw before.” Very well, then. I would be the one in the tree with the potentially lethal tool. His job at this point was to hold the ladder.

“Should I tell him I’ve never held a ladder before?” I heard him say as I scaled the tiny aluminum frame. No. Don’t tell me. Even if it’s true.

Plan B was to tether the broken branch with a rope of some sort. With it secured, My pseudo-son could stand behind the adjacent tree and pull, ensuring the falling limb followed the expected path. I have no rope. I have some small twine. But the longest piece is maybe 6 feet long. Not long enough to reach, well, anywhere. Being the resourceful type, I got my ratchet straps. I expertly secured one end as high as I could reach. (Keep in mind, the broken part was still 10 feet or so above my perch, which was a 5 foot climb from where the ladder reached. I tied this ratchet strap to another one. This barely reached over the limb of the next tree I planned to use and the fulcrum for this experiment. Time to tie on a 3rd ratchet strap. While this was still not long enough to be reachable over my fulcrum branch, it was long enough for pseudo-son to find shelter behind the tree as he pulled it taut.

I grabbed the chainsaw and climbed back up the ladder. Chainsaws are heavy. Heavier still when you are climbing a ladder. A rickety feeling ladder will slide a little back and forth across a tree trunk. It will slide even more if you are climbing a chainsaw.

Being the expert lumberjack I am, my plan was to cut a notch on the side of the branch facing away from the houses. I would then slowly cut through the opposite side, allowing the branch to slowly fall under its own weight, rather than just slice it off and have the tree trebuchet me across the neighborhood while my wife, pseudo-son and 3-year-old watched helplessly (though, what a story it would be). The trickiest part was to position myself to be able to cut through the limb, yet still be able to steady myself, should anything not go according to plan. But how could this plan fail? “What if the end of the branch comes back and hits you in the face?” my pseudo-son asked. “It won’t,” I replied. “Then I’ll get knocked the eff out and fall to my death. Thanks for jinxing me, kid,” is what I thought.

Executing the planPseudo-son grabbed the rope and took his position. I started the chainsaw to begin my notch. I was nearly done with the notch when then chain started slipping. Not completely off, mind you. But enough to affect its ability somewhat. Now I’m perched in this tree, some 24 to 27 feet off the ground, my arms wrapped around a thick limb, trying to fix the chainsaw, while a half-notched limb waited to fall and do who know what. After fiddling for a few minutes, I decided that it was still working well enough. And I didn’t want to be messing around at that height with no recourse, should the branch choose now to exact its revenge.

I started the cut on the opposite side of the branch. I cut almost halfway through the remaining branch and told Pseudo-son to pull.He pulled. Nothing. Barely a sway. I Kicked the branch. Nothing. I resumed cutting. I stopped again and instructed him to pull. This time, it moved a little. I kicked it again and grabbed onto the solid branch. Still nothing. “What the hell, tree?” I said. It was just taunting me.

I cut almost entirely through what was left holding the stubborn branch in place. It started to sag a little. I told him to pull again. This time, there was no kicking on my part. I wrapped my arms tightly around the solid branch, grasping the chainsaw handle tightly with both hands. I don’t know if this would have helped any, but I was going to do whatever I could. Crack…whoosh! The limb fell to the ground. Mostly. Being the a-hole tree that it is, it was still holding on, somehow. And I think the tree was laughing at me.

I would have to reach out and cut the last sliver of tree. My fear was that there was still enough weight from the branch pulling on the tree, that when it finally let go, I would be flung from my now unsecured position. Adding to my worry was the fact that my leg would not stop twitching. What’s a man to do, though? As the kids say, you only live once. I might as well go out with a bang, right? I started up the chainsaw…

Chainsaw psychoObviously, I’m sharing my tale, so nothing happened. The branch fell to the ground. My plan worked perfectly. Not that I had any doubt.

Because science!

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