Tree in Denial



This tree, a zombie, that is to say dead, refused to come down for the longest time. As Will said, “It was a tree in denial.”
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Many people don’t realize it but trees have lifespans. They age and eventually die. This is a sugar maple and they generally get to about seventy years or so. There are, of course, those who get much older like the wolf trees out in the field. But most decline and then fall down at some point within their first or second century. This tree had lived a long life and gotten well beyond the average span.

Normally I don’t worry about where a trees falls in the woods but in this case it was probably going to fall on a gate and fences, possibly pigs, people, tractors, etc. I would rather a controlled and graceful fall into the open ground where it doesn’t damage stuff.

To convince the dead tree to fall where I wanted it to go I cut a birds mouth with a hinge in the back to control the direction of the fall. This went perfectly and the tree came down exactly where planned, precisely between a high tensile cable holding a whey line, three fences and a gate.

Except… the tree did not come down. And did not come down. And did not come down. Normally things fall at the rate of acceleration of gravity. This helps you figure out which planet you’re on. But this tree was in deep denial, refusing release its potential energy. Instead it clung stubbornly to the sky. Clawing at clouds.

When I cut the release after doing the birds mouth, hinge and plunge the tree shifted… and balanced neatly on the hinge. We put in a few wedges and gave it some time. After all, a huff and a puff should take it. The wind was blowing north west just where I wanted it to go. How hard could this be. But no joy. No disaster, but no joy.

A red headed woodpecker came over and investigated. It hopped out along the branches at the top of the tree on the side I wanted the tree to drop as it considered our work. After numerous comments it flew off, without tipping the balance with its added weight. Ironic he was not.

More wedges and more pounding. We could hear the hinge back snapping fibers one at a time. Gradually, very, very slowly, the tree shifted its balance, hanging more and more to the north. A vertical crack developed behind the hinge. Still it did not fall. The tree was canted at an angle that looked impossible to support. The center of mass was way the heck north of the stump. Yet, there it stayed, noble, erect and refusing to join us down on the ground.

Finally, with wedges doubled up on top of each other and both all the way in to the release cut I started to see continuous ultra slow movement in the crown as the tree headed north and arced downward. About half way to the ground the hinge snapped and the butt jumped high into the air and chased the tree away from the stump. The tree began free accelerating at 9.80665 m/s2 proving that we were indeed on the planet Earth!

It was a majestic mass as it raced north through the air, completely free of all earthly binding. A tree in flight. With a ground shaking crash the tree hit the ground and shattered into hundreds of broken pieces for a colossal game of pickup sticks.

It was a most impressive impact. An impact that missed everyone and everything except the field, hitting precisely in the narrow space I had chosen. No fences were hurt in the downing of this dead tree. No whey lines. No animals. No gates. No people. All of these things had been worries should the tree come down in a wind storm, bit by bit or all at once.


Full Potential Achieved

The wood from this tree would be enough to heat our cottage for a year or two since we only burn about 0.75 cord a year. Except that I’m leaving it where it is. Insects will populate the wood feeding the chickens and pigs who will break the branches and trunk apart incorporating their organic matter into the soil. The stump we cut high as it will serve as a gate post for a decade or more.

This is winter preparation. The other dead trees we did that day all dropped perfectly without complaint or drama. A boring day of wood cutting – just the way I like it.

Outdoors: 67°F/37°F Partially Sunny, 1″ Rain
Tiny Cottage: 65°F/60°F

Daily Spark: I refuse to be limited by order or chaos.

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor…

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10 Responses to Tree in Denial

  1. Patrick says:

    It’s an interesting mix of grain in the base of that thing. I am betting that would tease out some interesting lumber with my brother’s sawmill. He likes the funky stuff.

  2. Ellen Bridgeporte says:

    Hey!! What a great story! I never thought I would be interested in the saga of a tree falling in the woods! You turned it into a mystery novel, a who dun-it. Love it!

  3. David B. says:

    I love getting the chainsaw out and doing some cutting (managed and for a purpose of course) I hope to build a house with similar properties to yours eventually so I won’t need cords and cords of wood stacked up.

    I like how you cut down the trees as needed when they die so that you prevent more work further down the road.

  4. joseph L baker says:

    Try a humboldt notch on your next big felling.

    • I do use the Humboldt Notch, this one happens to be up instead of downward pointing. Which direction has mainly to do with if I want the stump or the log to be square ended and how I want the butt to jump as well as how far. In this case I needed a short jump north west over the steel cable but not too far or the tree top would have hit the far fence line taking it out. Some of the other trees I did that day I used the downward (Humboldt) style.

      In this case I also used a plunge and trigger release although the tree turned out to not need that. Since these were dead trees I was a little nervous about being directly under falling dead branches as it began to shake. Thus the trigger.

      In retrospect I would have done a deeper notch than the 1/3rd to set it more off balance. The risk there was more tension and less control on the fall. The big reason I didn’t was simply because the trunk was a 28″ at 5′ up where I was cutting with a 20″ bar. I was doing it up over my head since I needed a tall stump. The stump is a fence post and anchor for the cable that suspends one of our whey lines.

      For anyone curious here are some descriptions of Humboldt (downward), open and upward (often called conventional) felling notches.[1, 2]

  5. Melissa says:

    Love the story–well done!! Tree cutting is always a challenge. We have often used ropes to help the tree fall in the opposite direction of it’s natural leaning.

    • Opposing the tree can be quite tricky. Ropes can help. Of that day’s trees there were a couple that I would have liked to have had head the opposite direction but after much thinking I finally opted to let them have it their way. It meant skidding them a little more difficultly but I was able to avoid the rope trick. Keep safe!

  6. Glenn Warren, PE says:

    I’m noticing the insect holes above your cut line in the picture of the standing tree. Are those sawyer beetles?

  7. Brittney says:

    I agree that a lot of people do not realize that trees die too. When a dead tree is around people or property it can become very dangerous. Therefore, it is very import to check tree health close to your home. Thanks for sharing.

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