Cutting a figure, but no trees, with chain saw

September 09, 2006|By ROB KASPER

Thanks to Ernesto I had the ultimate chain saw experience last weekend. I got to tote a big chain saw, a Makita with a blade about 20 inches long. I sported goggles and thick gloves, and for a time I had the chain saw-guy walk going.

The best part of the experience was I did not have to turn on the chain saw. That meant I did not have to worry about severing my limbs or chain saw kickback or the many other hazards associated with applying a whirring blade to trees.

After taking a long look at the huge trees, 60-foot-tall loblolly pines, that the storm had sent crashing down on the driveway of our place in Chincoteague on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, I realized I was out of my league. This was a job for a guy named Buck with a truck -- in other words a "tree removal professional." I spent most of last weekend tracking one down.

In between my negotiations with tree guys, I carried the chain saw around the yard, positioning it in a prominent place. I figured if the tree guys noticed the saw, they would discern I was a wannabe lumberjack.

When I screwed up the courage to ask one of the visiting pros if he saw any limbs I might be able to attack with my chain saw, he told me, in so many words, don't even think about it.

Reading the "how-to-cut-down-a-tree" literature (oh, the dangers of the Internet), I did notice that the term "widow maker" was used with alarming frequency. Felling a tree, it seems, is dangerous business.

The more I read about the proper procedure -- making two cuts on the tree trunk, one at a right angle to the fall, the other a backcut, at least 2 inches higher than the first cut -- the less I wanted to start sawing.

Something about those passages that advised a logger to always have two well-cleared "avenues of escape" and to be on the lookout for "spring poles" -- bent over limbs or tree trunks that wreak havoc when released -- made me want to just sit on the porch and pat the silent saw.

I had spent a lot of time on that screened porch when I was on vacation. Stretched out in a hammock, I had watched the tops of nearby pines sway in a gentle wind. This tree, Pinus taeda in Latin, is also known as the oldfield pine, the North Carolina pine or the Arkansas pine.

I was going to say that they are "fixtures" on the Eastern Shore. But in my experience, these trees are not that stable. Their shallow roots and the bushy branches at their soaring tops make them vulnerable to strong winds. This seems to be especially the case when the trees make a home in marshy ground, soil so soft that a sharp blow with a boot heel will draw water. Yet the pines are eye-catching. A while back, while riding a bike through the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, one of the national parks on nearby Assateague Island, I saw a flock of egrets perched in a stand of the pines. The striking image of the white-feathered birds dotting the dark-green limbs looked like a bird-lover's Christmas card.

Even when these trees die, they attract considerable animal attention. One summer evening, for example, as my family ate supper on our screened porch, we looked up to see a raccoon climb a dead pine in a nearby marsh and feast on something inside its hollowed trunk. A few weeks ago, I saw a giant blue heron, a bird I swear was as big as the Orioles Brandon Fahey, perched on another dead pine. I am fond of loblolly pines as long as they remain upright. But a week ago yesterday, Ernesto, with its 50-mph winds and soaking rains, sent several pines toward the ground. Some went down like bowling pins taking other trees with them. Two leaned on our house, like drunks on a lamppost.

When word reached me back in Baltimore that I had tree troubles, I headed to the Shore, stopping along the way at the Home Depot in Lansdowne to rent a chain saw. I figured that by the time I got to the Eastern Shore all the available saws there would be spoken for. At the tool rental desk in Lansdowne, I showed a big fellow named Patrick my driver's license and a credit card. He, in turn, fired up the 20-inch Makita, showed me how it worked, and gave me a can of gasoline and a quart of oil. It cost $66 for 24 hours.

Trees don't honor property lines. Confronted with the mess of tangled trees, I huddled with Chincoteague neighbors and we agreed to hire a pro and split the cost of removal. Mission accomplished.

Back in Baltimore the next day I returned the chain saw. The good news was there was not a scratch on it. The better news was that there was not a scratch on me.

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