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Monday, December 19, 2011

90 Degrees from Vertical: The Joy of Sawing Fallen Trees with The Little Saw That Could

I didn't know that deciduous trees don't drop their leaves if the canopies are decapitated from the trunks.  Nature revealed this secret to me, rudely.

It was as if a bomb had been dropped by an off-target military drone.  Our backyard was a welter of half-felled trees.  Large trees, trees with trunks several feet in diameter, had been uprooted and were lying in the horizontal plane.  It reminded me of those funny home movies where it looks like the kids are walking up the walls of the family room at the birthday party.  But that's just a cheap parlor trick, where Dad turned the 8 mm camera 90 degrees from vertical and makes it look like we were defying the laws of nature.  After the late-October snowstorm struck this year, the laws of nature were defying our human expectations.  The big trees in my backyard really were 90 degrees from vertical.

So was it with all the neighbors.  But we weren't in a war zone.  This was no man-made explosion.   It's just that the snowstorm struck out of order, in late fall, when the leaves were still on the deciduous trees.

Here are two photos I took up the street from our cul-de-sac.  The first one shows what happened when I tried to drive to the food store the morning after the storm.  When I got to within a quarter-block of the main road, a large tree had collapsed across the roadway.  And a transformer from the utility pole was down on the ground.  I walked gingerly through the downed wires to take a look at the other side.

The second photo is taken in the opposite direction, looking south on Jacobs Terrace in the direction of our cul-de-sac at the end, Chimney Hill.  It sort of reminds me of what Santa and Mrs. Claus's home territory looks like year-round at the North Pole.

The snow didn't stay on the trees long, but the damage to the power grid was done quickly.  The wheel of seasons had not yet turned from fall to winter.  We hadn't even finished having our pre-winter, late-fall Indian Summer.  That was still a month-and-a-half away.

This time we lost electric power for six days.  After the hurricane-force winds of Irene blew the trees and branches into the electric wires back in late October, we lost electricity for only four days.  The power company had taken so much heat from the public and the politicians that the trees and branches which were at risk of breaking and falling across the transmission lines supposedly had already been taken down or trimmed by the time Mother Nature decided to have some fun with us and threw all that heavy white frozen water all over the still-intact leaves of our lovely trees; maples, oaks, and willows, and the stately but pain-in-the-butt cottonwood trees (the ones that drop thousands of those tiny parachute-like seed pods with cotton-like albino Afro which get all over the garage and have to be swept up to prevent the garage from camafloging itself as a cotton field in Alabama).

In our backyard there is what's called a retention pond.  It's shaped like a pond but it's only been full of water one or two times in the quarter-century we've lived here.  Our cul-de-sac has a storm water catchbasin connected to a pipe which empties the storm water from Chimney Hill into a little stream which runs through the retention pond.  The city required the pond be dug because of fears from a downstream neighbor that storm waters from our street would flood their land.  As it turned out, that fear was unwarranted except for those two occasions since we moved here in 1986 when the depression to the rear of our backyard filled with water from an extremely heavy, and unusual, rainfall.

The developer of the Chimney Hill subdivision never turned the maintenance responsibility for the retention pond over to the city, as was permitted by the city ordinances at the time.  Had she done so, the city public works department would have become responsible to maintain the pond.  Our developer lives on her family homestead which adjoins the retention pond but she has chosen not to maintain it and over 25 years what used to be a relatively open area became thickly overgrown with large deciduous trees.  These are the trees which were weakenend by the high winds of Hurricane Irene in late September and finally pushed over or entirely felled by the anomalous late-October snowstorm.

Hurricane Irene brought us high winds and heavy rain which, in combination, loosened the root system of the trees in the retention pond.  When the snowstorm added heavy frozen water (snow) to the canopies of these trees, the trees simply gave up any further resistance and moved to horizontal, as if they were so stressed out and tired from all these insults from Mother Nature that they needed to just stretch out and take a power nap.  Unfortunately trees do not sleep a few hours or so for their naps and then get up to vertical again, energy restored and outlook refreshed.

Here are three photos of our backyard after the snowstorm dropped its bomb.

I had hired The Tree Man, Mike Mitchell, after Hurricane Irene to remove some fallen branches from our ancient willow tree in the backyard.  And Mike and his crew (Mike's son and James Hepburn) were in the neighborhood after the snowstorm so I paid him $350 to chainsaw and remove the biggest of the now-horizontal trees in our backyard.  Our neighbor who owns the retention pond said she had no money to do any tree removal work in the retention pond so it was fine with her if I took matters into my own hands or hired someone to trim the trees there.  "If you know anyone who wants firewood, tell 'em they can take anything they can find," she told me when I called for permission to remove the trees which had been transformed by the snowstorm into debris to be removed.

In an earlier "Bobs blog" post I mentioned that one of Mike's crew members is James Hepburn, a nephew of Katherine Hepburn (yes, the actress, not just somebody with the same name).  Here's a photo of Mike's son, me, and James Hepburn mugging for the camera during a break from the post-Hurricane Irene clean-up work.  James is the tall guy to my left.

After Mike and his crew took down most of the big trees which were resting at horizontal in our backyard, there was still a humongous quantity of tree trunks, branches, and cut logs which created an unpleasant-looking backyard and retention pond beyond it.  Since Susie and I are selling the house, I wondered how I could clear out some of the debris without paying somebody else to do it.  

Then I remembered The Little Saw in my basement.  Several years ago I bought the saw to prune some tree branches but I'd forgotten about it.  I happened to see it last week when I went to the basement to pack up some items needing transport to the new house.  It looked kind of puny compared to the size of some of the tree trunks which needed to be cut and the multitude of large broken tree limbs which had split off from their main trunks.   Here's a photo of The Little Saw.

Over the next few days, I found myself wanting to go out in the retention pond and saw wood.  The Little Saw only has an 18-inch blade, double-sided, with larger teeth on one side and smaller on the other.  It takes a lot of effort to saw through large limbs and trunks with elbow grease alone, but it turned out to be both excellent upper body strength-training and mentally focusing.  I found a lot of pleasure in learning how to be cautious around bent, but strong tree trunks.  It's critical that you pay careful attention to the sound of cracking of the wood, which indicates that the cut in the wood from the saw is beginning to undermine the structure of the wood, it may be beginning to break apart, and you had better look and listen to what's happening, to avoid getting hit in the face by two pieces of wood splitting apart under great tension caused by the tearing apart of the wood fibers under the heavy pressure to the fibers by the gravitational force which is pulling the heavy trunk or limb downward, to earth.

I put the branches and the cut wood into two piles, one totally within the retention pond, the other on the pond's south side. Here are two photos of the sawn wood piles.

All my adult life, until now, I've done only intellectual work, in the law.  For years I hated doing yard work.  But now that I'm retired, it seems I've regained my zest for alternative ways to keep my body fit.  A few hours sawing wood, with The Little Saw That Could, leaves my entire body, and my mind,  feeling relaxed, happy, and energized.  This exercise is certainly a form of meditation.  

Here's a photo of how our backyard looks now.  For the most part, the remaining trees are back to vertical.  Hopefully, prospective buyers will appreciate how the yard looks now.  While I was unhappy when I first saw what the late-October snowstorm surprise did to our yard and the retention pond, I am happy now that the storm gave me the chance to learn The Joy of Sawing Fallen Trees with The Little Saw That Could!


  1. I believe the correct construction would be "saw through" not "saw threw."

  2. Sounds as if you are definitely getting your exercise, Bob. Well done!

  3. Dear Anonymous,
    Thanks for your sharp-eyed editing. I attribute my error to poor editing on my part as well, perhaps, to my tendency to use street slang on Facebook posts rather than the Queen's English. No excuses, just an explanation.
    Thanks for reading "Bobs blog" so carefully and for posting your Comment.
    All best wishes,
    Bob Dutcher

  4. Thanks, Carol, for your Comment.
    I know you and William get lots of exercise by going to the gym, skiing, golfing, and biking.
    The dancing I'm doing is great for the legs and the wood sawing takes care of the upper body.
    It's all great.

    Brother Bob

  5. As someone who cuts up his own firewood all the time, I have to admire you for having taking the hand saw to this task.

  6. Dear Will Brady,
    Thanks for reading "Bobs blog" and posting your Comment.
    Thanks also for your positive reaction to my using my 18-inch hand saw to cut down the (now) loosened tree trunks and tree branches. Had I a chain-saw handy, I probably would never have tried using the hand-saw.
    All best,

    Bob Dutcher