Posted tagged ‘a tree falls in the forest’

a tree falls in the forest

March 24, 2021

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.

“A Tree Falls in the Forest” is now up Halfway Down the Stairs

December 4, 2018

Pleasing that I can follow yesterday’s post with the announcement of another published piece today. My One-Match Fire story “A Tree Falls in the Forest” is now up at Halfway Down the Stairs. I had submitted for their Coming of Age call for submissions.

This story occurs about 15 years earlier in the OMF cycle, with the two same characters as in “Deadfall,” both being much younger. I really like this story; everything came together perfectly when I was writing it. There are many significant echoes between these two stories, and it’s better to read “Tree Falls” first and then “Deadfall,” but nothing is lost reading in either order.

I checked the submission history for this story and learned that I had received an even dozen rejections before this acceptance at Halfway Down the Stairs. (I also have one withdrawal, which I made after I received the acceptance.) I’d read somewhere that if you get a given number of rejections for a piece — I don’t remember the number the writer gave — then you should consider that maybe you have a bad story or a badly written story and to stop flogging it. I think that kind of idea is wrong. One thing I’ve learned in submitting stories is that it can be a numbers game. There are thousands of journals looking for fiction, and among there are many editors who simply aren’t interested in what I have written. Fine. But among those thousands are many who are interested. My job is to find the latter. Sure, you can narrow your focus based on what you can learn about various publications, but the number you can do that with is minescule compared to the number you know nothing about. A dozen submissions ain’t nothing. Five times that, the same.

Halfway Down the Stairs is named, I’m guessing, after a poem titled “Halfway Down,” by A.J. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame). In the poem the child stops and sits on the middle stair in suspended action. I don’t know if that’s how the journal truly got its name, but the image of a child halfway between here and there does fit nicely with the theme of my story. (Also, my wife’s Pomeranian, Queequeg, sits halfway down the stairs at our house. I’m pretty sure he does this because it gives him the best view out the sidelight windows by the front door, but maybe he has something more thematic in mind too.)

“A Tree Falls in the Forest” finds a home

October 31, 2018

It seems like only two days ago I was reporting that one of my stories had been accepted for publication with a literary magazine. And now, only two days later, I get to report another acceptance! I don’t think this has ever happened to me before, that I received two acceptance notices in one week.

Halfway Down the Stairs responded to a submission I had made two months ago for their “Coming of Age” theme. They are an online quarterly, and the issue with my story comes out in early December. I’ll post a link when it’s up. “A Tree Falls in the Forest” is one of my favorites. (I love them all equally, as a good parent should!) It really is a transitional moment in the story line of the novel, and I get to describe the son, Curt, as both a snotty pre-teen and a loving boy while his father is both bemused and confused.

It’s a delightful coincidence that this story was accepted the same week as “Deadfall” since the two are a matched set. There are echoes of each story in the other, and “Deadfall” resolves some of the tension in “A Tree Falls in the Forest.” Nice that they’re coming out at nearly the same time since they should be read together.

I had submitted this story fourteen times, going back two years (!), and all but two were rejections. Of those two, one was this acceptance and the other was a withdrawal for a submission I had made last weekend.

So, two acceptances in one week. I’m now having trouble processing all of this — I guess it’s called — self esteem.

a tree falls in the forest

January 25, 2017

Santa (or Krampus — not sure which in my progressive household) got my old chainsaw repaired, which meant on my next trip to Roundrock, I could do some serious damage to the trees there. It happens that one of my One-Match Fire stories is called “At Tree Falls in the Forest” and involves a father introducing his son to their chainsaw and carefully helping him cut down his first tree. Because my own chain saw was in disrepair and my sloth was not, I had not used it in perhaps five years. So it was with a little bit of audacity that I dared to write about using one in a story.

Thus when I got to use mine once again over the weekend, during an unseasonably warm winter day in the Ozarks, I had the chance to check my memory against reality.

The saw requires both chain oil and a fuel additive to run properly. When we got to the cabin on Saturday morning (after a 5.75 mile run and bagels, by the way) I found that I didn’t have any chain oil. Since my intent was to cut up a Blackjack Oak — a tenaciously hard wood that eats up chains — I certainly didn’t want to run it without. So after we got all of our gear settled in the cabin, we made a trip into town about ten miles away to visit the hardware store that has parted me from much of my money in the years that I’ve owned my woods. I found the chain oil without much trouble and grabbed some fuel additive while I was there. And then it was back to the cabin.

I was eager to cut up the tree. It was a double-trunked beast, and one trunk had already fallen to the ground. I had already cut it as much as my arm muscles could with a hand saw, and then the remainder of the trunk just lay on the ground, taunting me with each visit. That would change this time, and I intended to bring its companion trunk — still standing — to the ground and eventually into my campfire.

All I had to do was add the chain oil in its proper spot and then fuel up the saw, tug on the cord until it started, and begin the mayhem.

Simple as that.

I opened the screw-top cap to add the chain oil and began pouring it in, surprised at how thirsty the saw was, but it had been five years since I’d given it any attention, so what did I know? Having topped off the chain oil using nearly the entire bottle, I then turned to the fuel to put it in. And that was when I realized the mistake I had made. I had filled the fuel tank with the chain oil. Which is a kind way of saying I am an idiot. I don’t know how much Santa/Krampus paid to have my chainsaw repaired, but in my foolish act I had pretty much just undone all of it.

And so I stood there pondering what it was I had done and what I could do about it. The obvious answer was the only answer. I had to pour the chain oil out of the fuel tank and into the bottle from whence it came then somehow clean the fuel tank before adding actual gasoline. (Also actually putting the chain oil in the proper reservoir.) And so I did. It was easy enuf to pour the thick oil back into the bottle, but cleaning the tank was more of a challenge. I carried the chainsaw into the woods (across the road and thus not in the lake’s watershed) and then tilted it so whatever gunk remained in the fuel tank could drip out. I suspect I was violating if not actual laws then prudent environmental good sense by adding this hydrocarbon ooze to the forest floor, but it wasn’t too much. I then wrapped a paper towel around my finger and poked into the fuel tank to swab out whatever gunk I could touch. After that I returned to the cabin and filled the tank with gasoline, like any otherwise capable woodsman would have done originally.

So, all was in readiness, and all I had to do was start the saw. I pulled on the cord. And pulled. And pulled. And the saw would not start. Only then did I remember that there is an on/off switch by the handle that is nicely placed so you can thumb the machine off easily in an emergency. And it was set for “off.” Having remedied this, I tugged on the cord again. After a few tugs, the machined roared into life.

And then sputtered into silence.

So I tugged again. The same thing happened. And it happened several more times as I realized that the engine needed to clear the gunk that was in it from my earlier mishap. After a few minutes of tugging and fuzzy hopefulness, I did get the chainsaw running in a sustained way. It was still a little fussy, and I had to restart it several times, but I was able to cut up the fallen Blackjack Oak as well as its standing companion. Here you can see some of my handiwork:


(That’s the much-dimished lake in the background. No swimming this visit.)

Later in the afternoon I schelpped the saw down into the dry part of the lake bed (don’t ask, I’ll just whimper) and cut up some willow trees that are growing there. It’s a defiant act of mine since there are far more willows than an afternoon and a tank full of gas can address, but it’s a start.

So the trip to the woods was a success despite my mishap. We cooked our food over a (one-match) fire (abetted by some oil-soaked rags) with wood I had cut, mused before the flames and embers, and then eventually crawled into our beds in the cabin for a sleep well earned.

I woke in the middle of the night to rain hammering on the metal roof of the cabin. It was not unexpected, and the poor, diminished lake certainly needed a recharge, but it continued through the night and into the wan light of dawn. Our plan had been to ravage the forest more with the chainsaw on Sunday, but the rain, and the falling temps, had conspired against us. So we packed our gear into the truck and steered ourselves toward home. When we could get a cell signal (our cabin is on the wrong side of the ridge for that), we learned that seriously bad weather was coming to the area, with possible tornados. So I guess it was just as well we left any tree felling that day to the wind.