THE FIRST question people ask after a hurricane is, "If a tree falls in your back yard and it doesn't make a sound, who is responsible for cutting it up?" Ever since Hurricane Bob hit Martha's Vineyard this question has been debated from one end of the island to the other.
I was in Shirley's Hardware Store trying to return batteries that I had been hoarding during the storm when I saw Thompson confront Bigalow. "When are you going to get your bloody oak tree out of my back yard?" he demanded. Bigalow responded, "It is no longer my oak tree. It's your oak tree. As soon as it fell over I stopped worrying about it."
Thompson was yelling, "Don't try to get out of it. The law specifically states the person who owns a tree is responsible for the violence committed by the branches and even its sap. If that tree had hurt anyone when it fell in my yard, you would have gotten 20 years in maximum security."
"You're wrong. If the tree fell on your house I could have collected insurance for it, and so could you. The fact that it hit nothing is why we're arguing. Here's what I'm prepared to do. I'll pay for half of the cut and you pay the other half, and we'll divvy up any money we get for firewood."
Thompson was fuming. "Do you remember when your cherry tree fell on my rose garden five years ago?"
"Do I?" said Bigalow. "My wife cried over the tree for a week."
"Well, I cut it up and cleared it away at my own expense, and you didn't even say thank you."
"You did it because you had to. Your dogs were always doing things against the tree and they loosened the roots."
"Do you really believe that?"
"Cherry trees don't take a dive for nothing. You're not going to use that tree as an excuse for not cutting up my oak," Bigalow said. "I don't know if you're a religious man or not, Thompson, but when the oak tree keeled over it was an Act of God."
L Thompson asked, "How do you know that it was an Act of God?"
Bigalow replied, "Because Prudential says it was. They say only God can heave over a tree, and they don't pay for what He does when He's mad.
Thompson yelled, "I'm taking you to court, Bigalow."
"It won't do you any good. The judge has enough tree cases to last until the year 2000. The best thing now is for you to buy a good chain saw from Shirley's, but don't use it while I'm taking a nap. I hate the sound of chain saws in the afternoon."
If we hadn't all been there to stop Thompson, he would have strangled Bigalow.
Bigalow said to us, "That oak gave Thompson a lot of shade when it was standing up. He used to tell me what a wonderful tree it was. Now that it is lying on his lawn, he hates it. People sure are fickle when a tree is down and out."