a tree falls in the forest

Sunday found us making a trip to Roundrock. The weather was favorable, and we had no obligations in town. We even took the dogs with us (though they can be a bother when we want to do chores).

One of the long-term chores I have is to spread gravel around the cabin. In part it is as a firebreak, but it can also keep down the scrub growth and give us areas we can walk through that won’t leave us infested with insects. Plus it looks nice. And when I have the gravel spread and tamped down, I scatter marbles on it. (There is a chance that I may have a passel of grands visiting the cabin this summer, and I’m hoarding marbles for them to scatter when they visit, so I need to get the gravel spread!)

One of my chores connected to gravel spreading was to double the size of the parking area. I can fit my truck in there just fine now, but if I removed two smallish trees, I would have twice the space. And I would spread gravel on the added space, and then I could scatter marbles on the added space. And all I had to do was take down one of the trees on this most recent visit, saving the other for a future visit.

What you see in the photo above is the tree I intended to take down. It’s the one in the center, with the rope tied to it. (There is a bunch of other stuff there too.*)

The tree is a Blackjack Oak, a wood that is notorious for dulling the chain on my saw. However, it cuts more easily when the wood is green rather than after it is dried, so I hoped I would make quick work of it. The rope was intended to guide the tree as it fell, my wife providing the muscle as I did the cutting. There was actually plenty of space for it to fall safely, but I feared it would get hung up in the branches of the nearby trees. Thus the rope to guide it down (or yank it free if it did get hung up).

The saw cut through the wood easily, which was gratifying. I made the wedge cut, though I feared I made it too deep since so little of the trunk was left when I kicked the wedge free. But since it was a Blackjack Oak, it didn’t seem to notice. So I started my back cut, working as low to the ground as I could so I wouldn’t have much of a stump in my parking area.

When I cut through the remainder of the trunk, the tree did something you don’t want it to do. It jumped the stump. That is, rather than begin to lean and then fall in that direction, it lifted off of the base and came my direction. And rather than my wife pulling the tree into the open space, the tree pulled her forward. Since it was a smallish tree, this wasn’t really a concern, but larger trees have been known to kill people when this happens.

But we had it mostly on the ground and I began cutting branches off of it. Most of those I hauled to the brush pile where the wood rat lives, but that’s through some trees, and the branches I was carrying would often snag on those, so after I had most of them moved, I carried the rest across the road and just threw them into the scrub.

Then I cut the trunk into firewood sized chunks. I should have then used my sledge and wedge to split these pieces since they would do so better when green, but I left that chore for another day. I did make one more pass at the trunk, taking off about an inch more to make it more or less level with the ground. In coming years, this will rot, and it will cave in, but I can fill that with gravel when it does.

This is how the area looked after the initial work was done:

After I had the tree all stored away, I spread landscaping fabric on the ground (in the area between the two trees) and then spread a dozen wheelbarrow loads of gravel over it. The coming rains will help settle the gravel, and I hope by summer it will be ready for a nice application of marbles.

With the primary chores of the day behind us, we walked across the lake to inspect the work of the resident engineers. They had been busy in our absence. Because of the recent rains, the water in the lake was too muddy to peer down at the den entrance, but we made our inspection. Queequeg for scale:

I’m happy to report that the beavers are also taking down cedars, which is my lifelong ambition to liberate my forest of. And some of the oaks they’ve taken down have been stripped of their branches, which are missing. I supposed they’ve been taken into the den to be munched on until more palatable food grows this spring.

After that we slowly packed up to return home, another good day at Roundrock.


*From left, the orange water jug, a wooden captain’s chair before it that I used to gain some height next to the tree for tying the rope, my orange chainsaw case (chainsaw within) and red gasoline tank, a stack of cottage blocks behind them, assorted planks I salvaged from a fallen deer stand and that I use to hold a tarp in place as a chemical free way to kill the grass where there should be gravel. Also, a cabin and, beyond it, a lake.

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