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Tree killers

Ricky jerked the starter cord of the big McCulloch 105. The engine roared and the chain raced over the bar. Ricky pumped the oiler, and a brown spray arced through the air, spattering against the enormous tree trunk.Ricky eyeballed the street where the tree would fall, lining up for his notch with the slack inch-thick bull rope tied from the crown of the tree to the bumper of the crew truck. Leaning the saw on his hip, Ricky set the teeth of the dogs and began the horizontal cut.As the 105 growled, the bar and chain disappeared into the tree trunk. Sawdust spewed from the saw, mounding at Ricky’s feet. After the horizontal cut, Ricky set the dogs with the saw angled down. He revved up the 105 and again buried the bar and chain into the trunk.When the cuts were joined, Ricky pried on the bar to dislodge a 30-pound notch that revealed the deep pulp wood near the core of the tree. Ricky waved to Scott, who started the engine of the crew truck and gradually backed up to take in the slack of the big nylon rope. With the rope stretched tight, Ricky stepped behind the tree and set the dogs for the back cut.The saw groaned as the chain bit deep. Sawdust spilled in long strips as Ricky, his arms and shoulders rippled with muscles, worked the blade across the trunk, his cut straight and true. Then came a deeper groan, this one from the heartwood of the tree. Several crew members, big brawny men, leaned on the rope as Ricky eased the saw out of the expanding back cut. He looked up and watched as the spreading crown swept across the sky, gathering speed and momentum.The back cut slowly opened as the notch slowly closed. Ricky stepped back as the huge tree fell with a whoosh, opening a piece of the sky that had been concealed for a hundred years. A gush of water flowed from the trunk – the lifeblood of the tree – soaking into the ground where the severed roots would never again pull moisture from the earth.The tree was a diseased elm, and Ricky had performed euthanasia. Watching that tree and many others fall, and seeing the water flow from the severed trunk, has stayed with me for the 30 years since I worked on that tree crew in suburban Chicago.There is pain for me when people with saws murder and maim things of great beauty and age, beings with a life force that reaches to the very heavens. In Joyce Kilmer’s words, “… a tree that looks at God all day/and lifts its leafy arms to pray …”In Ketchum, Idaho, last week a developer girdled three large Englemann spruce that were in the way of his building envelope. Girdling, the act of cutting a ring around the trunk and strangulating a tree, is one of the cruelest, most lingering forms of execution.That deed was done just days before the deadline of a citywide moratorium on cutting large trees in a town that the National Arbor Day Foundation had recently honored. The mayor of Ketchum decried “an out-of-town developer who came into our house and defecated in our living room.”Aspen recently experienced similar defecation when trees were lopped off – effectively beheaded – because they blocked someone’s view. As if looking at trees is a repugnant offense worthy of vandalism against a living thing.Last week it was reported that the Forest Service auctioned off a timber sale in Oregon, the first such sale in a roadless area since the Bush administration announced plans to unravel roadless protection for 6 million acres of public lands.”I think that I shall never see/a poem lovely as a tree,” Kilmer rhapsodized. “A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed/upon the earth’s sweet flowing breast …”Tree killers share no such sentiments. There is always someone willing to run a chain saw for a profit or a whim. Meanwhile, the blood of our forests flows in a river of pain and loss.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.


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