The hundred-foot conifer took two years to die.
First, clumps of yellowed needles appeared. We chalked it up to drought damage and thought certainly this drought cannot last. Next, needles began to turn dark gold and fall off. Eventually, bare branches poked along out the entire height of the tree and the top twenty feet turned a transparent ghostly white.
In August we called a local certified arborist, hoping to find a spray or salve or injection to heal it. He said the tree was dead and wouldn’t stay upright through the winter. He needed to drop it where it would do no harm. What a gruesome thing to learn that this beautiful giant couldn’t be saved.
Within this small part of a big forest is our place to escape, a home away from home. The scent and sight of the trees, absolute quiet, and wildlife visits are soothing to the soul. The night sky is an exquisite show of sparkling pin dots, shooting stars, and slow-moving satellites. When the moon is full, the surrounding forest is spotlighted like a night at the carnival. We were sad to be losing this member of our ecological family.
A month later the arborist fit us in his schedule. The sound of rumbling motors came heavily down our road. First to appear, a four door dually pick-up pulling a chipper big enough to warrant having its own wheels. A chute came out of the chipper and aimed into the bed of the truck, which had a six-foot-tall cover to catch chipped up remains of the stately old tree.
Following was a huge commercial truck with a metal lift looking somewhat like a kneeling crane with a bucket to carry a logger up into the trees. The third truck’s bed was fitted with storage doors holding chainsaws, ropes, and climbing gear. Out jumped a crew of four men who immediately filled the chainsaws with gas and oil, pulled out their gear and organized it – ready to rock and roll.
The work looked choregraphed, each worker supporting the other with direction or equipment. This was dangerous work, and they were serious. All four men were small, agile, and wiry. Each had a designated job. I was told that after training their jobs were assigned by age. The youngest was sent up highest in the tree. Two of them tag team the climb.
Within minutes the lift, controlled by one of the ground crew, was unfolding and two chainsaws were revved up to buck the limbs. Once the trunk was cleared of limbs, up to about thirty feet from the top, the smallest logger donned his climbing gear, got in the bucket, and ascended. He could also control the bucket from a panel inside. From his dizzying height, he quickly bucked limbs, shouting to the crew below when one was about to fall. When the lift reached its limit, he tied himself to the tree, lifted himself out of the bucket, and used the spikes on the inside of his boots to get closer to the top, sawing off limbs and adjusted his tie off ropes.
The saw stopped, and he hollered toward the ground crew, saying the trunk had a one-inch crack. He couldn’t climb higher. He rappelled back down to the bucket, powered it down, traded for a larger chainsaw and rode back up as far as the bucket could take him. He climbed out of the bucket tying himself to the tree. I could hardly breathe, hoped his knot skills were good.
He deftly maneuvered himself around the trunk and notched the cut. The ground crew had hiked into the ravine below and grabbed the end of the ropes the logger had tied to the top part of the tree. They kept the ropes taut. At the last cut, twenty odd feet of treetop fell away with no kick back. While the climbers worked above, the ground crew threw the cuts into the chipper and raked up leftovers.
As the crew packed up to leave, they joked and poked fun at each other. We
were impressed and grateful to have the job done. The tree was gone in three hours. I’ll need to go back and count the rings in the stump to see how many years it had stood.