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The Single Man and the Widowmaker

October 25th, 2017

Sawing Away at Life’s Problems

Today I got to work on my tree situation. Areas of the farm that used to be inaccessible because of standing water and mosquitoes are open for business, so I took my pole saw and tractor and made some excursions.

Two oaks by the highway to my east were giving me problems. They both snapped about 25 feet from the ground.

One tree had several major branches, and only one branch snapped. That left a tree maybe fifty feet tall, with a torn place halfway up. The part of the tree above the place where the branch tore out appears to be resting in a crotch between two branches of a taller tree. I think the place where the branch tore out is too weak to hold the remaining branch up for long. If it comes out, it could conceivably fall on the highway, which could be very bad. The broken part was lying on my fence, threatening to break it.

The other tree only had one main trunk, and that trunk snapped. It didn’t detach at the break. It was hanging down onto my fence. I would guess the broken part was 25 feet long and weighed several hundred pounds. It was not in danger of hitting the highway, but I wanted it off my fence before it ruined it.

I considered calling a tree service to cut both trees. Tree surgeons call objects that threaten to fall when you cut trees “widowmakers,” and I was dealing with three of them: the snapped-off branches plus the branch with the weakened support. I was afraid that if I tried to cut them, they would find ways to swing toward me and kill me, which was not the outcome I wanted. I thought I had finally found tree problems I could not fix.

I decided to see what I could do. I took the tractor and backed it up to the broken tree that only had one trunk. I cut off as much of the ground side of the broken bit as I could. I put a tow strap on the end of it and took off with the tractor. The broken part came loose at the top and slid down quite a bit, and I was able to cut it up with the pole saw, until nothing was left on my side of the fence except for cut-up wood. I still had maybe 12 feet of trunk outside the fence, but it’s not going to hurt anything. No one walks out there in the weeds. I can take my time dealing with it.

I was able to nibble away at the fallen part of the other tree until nothing big remained inside the fence. When I cut it free from the fence, it swung toward the road, but it wasn’t long enough to go anywhere near it, so it ended up leaning on the tree’s trunk. Now I can put a strap on it, yank it down so it lies on its side, and either cut it up or just leave it for the county.

The top of that tree is something I can’t handle. It’s way up there. The tree people may need a bucket that goes up 40 feet to get to the parts they need to cut. I know when to quit. But I think I did myself a big favor by getting the broken part off the fence. Instead of telling them to deal with the whole tree, I can have them cut off the scary part way above the ground. That’s a smaller job, and it should be cheaper.

I would rather pay $500 than $2000. It’s worth it to reduce the work I leave to paid help.

I also have a widowmaker in my front yard. It appeared as though by magic a few days ago. I would say the break is about 40 feet up. It’s the main trunk of a tall, straight tree. The broken part is maybe 15 feet long, and it’s heavy. It’s just hanging there. I keep hoping it will fall by itself. If I could get a rope on the low end, I could pull it down with the tractor, but it’s way up in the air. That distance may end up costing me hundreds of dollars. If I could get the broken part down, I could handle the rest of the job and not pay a dime. There ought to be a safe way to do it. Surely someone has invented some kind of grappling hook for grabbing trees. If it cost me a hundred bucks, it would be a bargain.

I need something I can attach while standing to the side of the tree. If I’m under it, and I accidentally bring the widowmaker down early, I’ll be in trouble.

Tomorrow I will have to call the tree people and see what they can do for me. I can’t just sit around and see where these things fall. The one by the highway has to be fixed ASAP. I can wait longer to deal with the one in the yard, but it would be awkward if someone were crushed to death before I arrived at a solution.

After I did what I could with these two trees, I took the pole saw deeper into the property and started working on some other trees. In about an hour, I did an amazing amount of work. The pole saw allowed me to cut dangerous branches and trunks up to nine inches thick, without risking my life. It’s one of the best tools I’ve ever seen. I felled a rotten oak with it and bucked it so I could move it off a dirt road. I cut major limbs off a fairly large downed oak and fixed it so it was no longer applying pressure to the trunk of a young maple I want to keep. I had another oak that had snapped maybe 15 feet up, and the place where it had snapped was still hung up. I cut away at the grounded end until the part that was suspended crashed down to the ground. Now I can buck it and move it.

I also slaughtered every small live oak I could see. I hate those things. I will not let them reach maturity. I’m making room for maples and pecans to fill. From now on, I plan to kill every oak sapling I see, unless I can think of a good reason to let it live.

The pole saw is actually more useful than my 20″ chainsaw.

I am growing disenchanted with the raw woods I loved at first. Woods down here are buggy. They’re weedy. They’re full of spider webs with 3-inch spiders suspended at face level. They contain a lot of undesirable species, like live oaks. Now that Irma has knocked over a lot of my big trees, I’m thinking I should give up on the idea of having a wilderness area and try to create some tamed woods. I can get rid of the bad trees and weeds and plant some better ones. Instead of having thick woods that look beaten up, I can have thinner woods that have been put in some kind of order, with more grassy areas. I can put bamboo around the perimeter to restore my privacy.

If I can get a bamboo wall to work, I can live without the woods. The main purpose of the woods is to provide seclusion. A 20-foot-high wall of bamboo with no breaks will do a better job of providing seclusion than a bunch of stringy oaks that fall over every time it rains. It would actually be really neat. And if a tree falls on a bamboo hedge, no problem. Bamboo grows back very quickly.

A lot of people have thick, ugly hedges here to shut out the world. They look pretty bad. Bamboo is pretty. It looks elegant. Remember Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? I have to find out how hardy it is, though. If bugs eat it, there is no point in trying.

I don’t know what I’m doing, but I feel like I’m headed toward a solution.

I’ll try to post more photos. This stuff can be pretty dull when it’s all text.

10 Responses to “The Single Man and the Widowmaker”

  1. Monty James Says:

    Bamboo really creates a mood, being in a bamboo thicket with paths is relaxing, and there are uses for the canes. If it sends out runners though, you have to control it or it’s a pain in the butt.

  2. Steve_in_CA Says:

    You need to plant bamboo in some sort of containment or it will take over everything.

  3. Mike Says:

    The live oak you describe must be different than the variety here. The ones here seem impervious to storms while the pecans and pines fall over like trash cans in a strong breeze. Pines are the worst to clear, in warm weather the sap is a mess. I can’t imagine the job it was to make pine tar in the days of sail. They couldn’t have ever touched each other or they’d be locked together forever. Maybe lye soap will remove it? Be careful out there.

  4. Cliff Elam Says:

    Have you thought of just hooking a strap to the “front yard” tree and giving the tree a good shaking with the tractor? I’ve had good luck with that in the past. Sometimes.

    -XC

  5. Ruth H Says:

    Be sure to get a bamboo type that does not take over your acreage. There are bamboos and then there are BAMBOOS. Make sure you get one that bunches but doesn’t take over China.
    Speak to your local Master Gardeners usually sponsored by the state agriculture agencies. They can point you to the right bamboo to plant.

  6. Monty James Says:

    Is there a tax deduction for growing bamboo?

  7. Andy-in-Japan Says:

    Well done on the tree removal!! You’re like a giant among men – bending the landscape to his will. Congratulations!

    But bamboo….

    1 – Snakes live in bamboo. They have a way of dropping down onto people who walk through the lovely bamboo forests.

    2 – Kudzu grows rapidly. Bamboo grows unstoppably.

    If I were in your shoes, I would research bamboo EXHAUSTIVELY before planting any.

  8. lauraw Says:

    Is there a tax deduction for growing bamboo?

    Only if it’s a panda bear farm.

  9. Jim Says:

    Plant alternate shoots of Bamboo and Kudzu.

    Put the live video on the Vegas Bookie sites, and rake in the cash as idiots bet on which plant wins.

    Kill it all with fire, lather, rinse & repeat.

    I’m only half kidding. Ruth H has genius advice, above. County Extension Agents & the Master Gardner organization in your local area.

    You could donate surplus bamboo to zoos for their black & white bears, but that would be Panda-ring.

    Jim
    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  10. BJM Says:

    Good advice re bamboo…the roots grow horizontally…think 20 ft tall St. Augustine grass…yeah it’s that invasive.

    We planted it in wine barrel halves and it’s created a beautiful thicket…it’s very calming.