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‘A Beautiful Tree’
Tending to a Wind-Killed Western Red Cedar: Selek, Washington, 1/7/2022
© 2023 James LaFond
After breakfast, fixed by The Colonel’s Wife, we began work at 9:30 AM Saturday.
A western red cedar, the dominant tree in this section of the Cascades, below Page’s Flats and the Cedar River Watershed, fell between The Colonel’s two dog houses. There is Izzy’s traditional dog house and Amos’ Great Manger, an open front cant-roofed hay den. Amos’s den took a hit on the corner. He was offended.
The tree snapped off 30 feet up and the upper section bent the pipe frame of the gate behind the dog dens and crushed the wire chicken pen fence behind that.
I trimmed the top ten feet with a pruner and The Colonel cut it into sections as thick as my arm with the chainsaw.
The Colonel then trimmed the next 20 feet with the chainsaw as I hauled off the branches and boughs to the side.
The Colonel then sawed leg-thick logs, which I hauled in a wheel barrow to the front of the wood shed.
This done, The Colonel, who worked his way through high school and college as a logger, moved into the chicken pen and addressed the mid section of the tree. 40 feet came down, 30 still standing. The branches were long and heavy. As he passed them to me I cut the willowy end off at about where the branch narrowed to 1.5 inches thick, stacking them all in the same direction so they could be carried in sheathes.
As The Colonel worked his way up the short rise above the outer fence of the chicken pen, the 16 inch long log rounds became heavier and as he threw them he’d call, “Wood.”
I hauled these off and stacked three rows of logs, by size, with split round halves to the left. With something over 25 pounds I have to stay bent, use my knee as a lever, and not straighten the back and legs. He was soon into the portion of the tree that shattered where it split into two upper spires, providing additional small logs from the branching tip and splitting the rounds that were not already shattered. His knees are gone and I have two hernias, so he cut so as to keep the weight down.
While he oiled and gassed and checked his saw in the barn, I finished the near brush pile and began hauling brush to the pile 150 yards north.
The 30 foot standing base of the tree flared prominently at the bottom. Since this was for firewood and not timber he would take some of the flare at the base of the tree, which would ruin the loading of a logging truck with asymmetrical waste wood.
I skulked around behind him as he cut a wedge and then used a plastic wedge to aim the tree, then cut another wedge to fell it between the dog dens. I collected the wedges and used them to keep the log rounds I stacked around back from rolling and stacked upright rounds in front of the smaller rounds to prevent a roll.
The big red Ford diesel was revved up and the dogs, who love the gated back of the feed truck, piled in, whining as they were driven back into their 50 by 50 pace pen. The Colonel lay down under the tailgate and chained the log to the hitch as Amos supervised, both dogs getting as close to the work as possible and patiently watching, fully confident that they would not be struck.
The base of the tree was dragged out along the same line the top had fallen along and laid out for cutting. The Colonel waved me over to the stump and noted the rings, where droughts and heavy rains had varied the density of the wood and the space between the growth marks, declaring, “This is a beautiful tree and its been standing here for a good seventy years. The ability of these soft woods to flex in the wind is amazing. This one only cracked because of the weak spot there where it branched into two tops. What a good burning tree. I’ll let it season this year and burn it next winter. To have a wood stove is such a blessing and to have this fuel.”
I hauled brush while he cut the rounds. He then said, “This is a pee,” motioning to a pointed pike with a hook used to roll the log so the top cut could be made and the saw would not dip into the dirt and stone. I could not move it, by he rolled it with ease, “That’s right, hernias. We’ll have to split these rounds so we’re not slinging too much weight. Look at how fast work goes when you have two strong men on it.”
While I hauled brush he finished the round cuts and then began splitting the rounds with a steel wedge and a long sledge-ax. I noted, “I could use some forearm work—let me on that.”
I did not have the core strength to use the two-handed sledge. So I used the mallet he started the wedge with, doing 7 to 12 strokes with each hand to split a round. My front right deltoid is trashed, so I do roof block redondo back hands from the right. The left rear deltoid and upper back is trashed, so I do knee dip power forehands from the left side, about 20 strokes for each round. Then, at the bottom where it flares I have to split the rounds into fours and even sixes as the wood gets sappy and wet and is structurally more resistant to splitting.
The Colonel hauls these halved and quartered rounds off like a horse as I split, and continues as I move to brush removal.
It begins to rain. The splitting and hauling of the base trunk has fagged us out. I’m thinking, ‘Keeping up with this Norwegian Chimp is killing me.’
Only brush is left. He is long and tall and takes sheaves of long branches while I stake the wheel barrow six feet high by lining each brush filled side with snapped branches and building a mobile stack.
By 1:15 we have moved that brush off to the pile and are wiring the fences back up and driving a fence post with the hand maw.
By 1:30, The Colonel declared, “She’s done and dusted. It was hell keeping up with you and thanks for the help. This would have been dawn to dusk for a man alone.”
We laughed, realizing we were both pretending not to be tired, and he said, “Let me buy you a case of that beer you like and we’ll kick back.”
And we did.
That was fun, even broken and rundown by age, after a lifetime of working with slugs, to be able to work with a man who values getting things done.
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