Paul Andersen: Attacked by an aspen tree? Really?!
Blood flowed over my forehead in a gush of red. I had to lean over to keep it out of my eyes. I felt for the wound on my scalp and my arm dripped with the unstaunched flow of my pulsing life force.
One minute I had been standing quietly beneath the yellowing aspens. The next, I was almost laid out with a severe knock on the head. Falling autumn leaves are one thing, but falling autumn branches?
My wife, Lu, and I had set out that morning for a pleasant sojourn into the mountain wilderness. The weather was perfect, the air still and cool, and the dim haze of smoke was gone. There was a pleasant fragrance of forest mold, and everything was bright with a clarity that characterizes the incomparably blue sky of Colorado.
We left the main trail after a mile or so, waded across a shallow creek in the ice cold water, and let our feet dry in the sun. Then we headed up a less-traveled route leading up into the golden aspens.
As we climbed the trail among browning ferns and dried wildflowers, I noticed broken, green aspen branches strewn through the understory and reasoned that there must have been a high wind incident that had stripped the trees of their weaker limbs.
There was only a light breeze at the time, but an errant branch must have been dangling by a thread: Mother Nature’s Sword of Damocles. Gravity finally won out, and the branch let go from 50 feet overhead, its leaves acting like a feathered arrow that turned the broken point straight down.
I had stopped to relieve my pressing bladder and, in a fateful convergence, stood at the targeted trajectory of that guided missile. Wham! My bell got rung by a branch half an inch in diameter and 3 feel long. I realized later how lucky I was not to be hit by anything bigger or I might not be writing this column.
An expletive or two burst from me as I staggered from the blow, wondering what had hit me. Then came the warm gush of blood. Then came my wife up the trail reacting with alarm at encountering her husband bathed in blood like in some B-grade horror movie.
As a tree-hugger, perhaps I had been too intimate with an aspen and now suffered the reckoning of nature with a slap across the head. I had never done anything indiscreet with an aspen tree, but now I stood quaking like the aspen that had just whacked me.
That aspen definitely had its eye on me and seemed to know just when to let that branch fly. Maybe it was just an Isaac Newton moment where gravity dropped that branch on my head as a reminder of the most fundamental of universal natural laws. Old Isaac was fortunate enough to appreciate gravity through the benign fall of an apple. Evidently, I required a somewhat harder knock.
I dug out my first-aid kit and pressed a gauze pad onto the gash, grateful for the protective padding of the blood-soaked, canvas Tilly hat I was wearing. That hat advertises protection from the elements, so I wonder if I can make a claim for pain and suffering.
My head throbbed, but otherwise I was OK. Once the bleeding was stanched, my wife and I found a safe place to sit where there were no branches overhead. After lunch, I had recovered well enough to walk back to the trailhead, drive home, and dress the wound properly.
On the way down the trail, a poem formed itself. The words must have been dislodged by the sharp blow to my jarred brain. Apologies to Joyce Kilmer for this sappy verse that definitely goes against the grain:
I hope that I shall never see/A thing so deadly as this tree.
A tree whose errant limb was shed/To come down crashing on my head.
A tree which God ordained its fate/To gouge a gash in my bald pate.
Trees are hugged by fools like me/But just be careful where you pee.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Though many are fatigued from the pandemic, rules for health and safety must be followed even more closely as winter approaches.