a tree falls in the forest*

I mentioned earlier that I had found a hickory tree that I thought was suitable for cutting down and cutting up** for my friend Todd’s barbecues. As I was watching the fire die near the end of my Saturday cabin trip, I realized that I needed to harvest that tree then or I might never get around to it. (I don’t like using the chainsaw when I’m alone in the forest, and most of my trips are solo adventures.)

So, thrilled by this uncharacteristic decisiveness on my party, I pushed myself up from the comfy chair and fetched my chainsaw out of the cabin to see if I could get the thing started, a prerequisite to actually, you know, using it. I had also remembered to bring the gasoline from home, so the stars were aligning.

When I leave the chainsaw unused for a long time, it’s harder to start. In the past, when I’ve done this, it usually takes three sessions of vigorous pulling on the starter cord (as well as colorful language) before the machine sputters to life. After my third, failed round with the cord this time I was beginning to despair, but I gave it a fourth try and I did get the saw running after all!

The tree I was cutting down was standing beside my mostly overgrown road down into the acre below the dam. It was leaning toward the road, but I wasn’t worried about it someday falling and blocking the road because a) it was youngish and looked vigorous, and b) I rarely drive down that road. But its lean, in the perfect direction for felling it, meant I didn’t need to do the usual wedge cut and could go directly with a straight cut across the trunk (at its base) and the lean would direct the fall better than any wedge cut could.

I’ve cut down many trees in my forest. This one was different only in its perfect setting. The lean. The open space for it to fall into (the road). The perfect weather. The running chainsaw. I had no expectations of anything special happening with this harvest.

Which really enhanced my surprise when something special did happen.

I was cutting directly across the trunk, an inch or so above the ground, and I was about two-thirds of the way through it, waiting for the tree to begin pitching forward, when it happened.

The tree began to bleed.

I mean copious amounts of blood, which my whirling chainsaw was spreading across the forest floor, across the chainsaw, and across me.

At first I thought that some critter lived inside the tree and that I had sliced into it. But a moment’s reflection allayed that. The tree was too small (maybe a foot in diameter) to have a cavity big enuf for a critter, at least one that contained enuf bodily fluids to produce what was gushing from the cut.

It was water, of course. And it was pouring from the cut. I killed the chain saw and stepped back, watching as the water rushed and then oozed. Apparently there was enuf of a cavity in the heartwood of the tree to have collected a lot of water, and by cutting into it, I had released this water.

It was startling, as you might imagine. Normally the most common by product of cutting down a tree is very dry sawdust! I was two-thirds done with the cut (as you can see from the wet and dry portions of the stump in the top photo) and had to stop just to collect my wits.

And still the tree was standing; it hadn’t begun its fall. Once I realized what had happened, I knew I could finish the job without offending the forest gods. The ooze had stopped and the chainsaw had started, so I applied myself to the job once again and very soon a tree fell in the forest, making a lot of sound.

Then it was a simple matter of cutting the trunk into manageable pieces to load into the bed of my truck. I was curious to see what kind of cavity was in it, but that was disappointing.

It’s hard to tell from this photo, but only the lowest part of the tree had any cavity. The left end of the log on the top right shows it. Not so much. The end you can see of the log next to it is dark from the color of the heartwood rather than from a cavity. You can see my chainsaw resting on the stump, which gives you more perspective to the size of the tree than the rest of the photo does.

The tree had fallen hard onto the road, and as I bucked the log, I rolled it back and forth across the road to get the saw through it.

And amidst all of this mayhem was a turtle. Half buried in leaves and grass in the road was a common box turtle. It was in the space betwixt the top right log and the one next to it. I don’t think the tree fell directly on it, but when I was rolling the log around, I’m sure I rolled over it once or twice. The carapace appeared undamaged, so I carried to turtle into the forest and set it beside the base of a tree. It never emerged from its shell.

I got back to the business of bucking the log so that the road I rarely used would be reopened. That done, I carried the saw and gasoline back up the hill to the cabin. (The saw needs to cool before I put it back in its case and back into the cabin.) Then I jumped in my truck and backed it down the road. This road has been washed out and gullied by water coming down the hillside, so I put the truck into four-wheel drive just to make sure I could bump through it all. I had no problem.

When I got the truck in position and dropped the tailgate, I took a moment to check on the turtle. It was gone. I couldn’t see it anywhere around either. I think it made good its escape from the noise and heavy things falling from the sky.

The logs were loaded soon, and the road was cleared, and Todd’s present was ready. After that it was time to clean up and close the cabin for the day. The fire was out. The dogs were eager to go home. We still had daylight to travel by. And a good day in the forest was concluded.


*also the title of one of my One-Match Fire stories, which I wrote about yesterday.

**I love how these two contradictory-seeming wordings are exactly right

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2 Comments on “a tree falls in the forest*”

  1. pete29anderson Says:

    Though the tree was young and vigorous, doesn’t that large of a cavity inside suggest that the tree wasn’t especially healthy? Or healthy, but likely to fall down during some storm in the not-distant future? Mind you, I’m no arborist – for all I know, these cavities are common, even in healthy trees.

  2. Paul Lamb Says:

    Only the outermost rings of a tree’s trunk are alive. The heartwood is no longer living tissue, so it often rots in a perfectly healthy tree. Red oaks are known for their hollow trunks. This tree faced more peril from its lean than from its hollow soul.

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