I have this thing about cutting down trees.
I can’t explain it, but it’s like a big treat.
Don’t get me wrong. I would not want to do it for a living but for some bizarre reason I find it relaxing and challenging at the same time.
It’s why I jumped at the chance to help Cynthia cut down a large orange tree that was partially knocked down in the rain and wind over the weekend.
My fascination with cutting down trees started after we were married and bought a house on a fairly large lot that had 18 mature ornamental and fruit trees.
Naturally more than half of them had to come out and be replaced with our own tree selections. That meant removing a number of mature trees.
So you understand I’m not talking about a two-hour job where you use a gas-powered chain saw, toss the tree parts into a truck and leave the stump and roots intact.
My choice of weapon is a 2.5 horsepower electric chainsaw along with a 3-inch bypass lopper, an ax, two crowbars, sledge hammer, and a shovel. Every tree I’ve taken out — except for large enough sections of the trunk or massive main branches that I cut into firewood for anyone willing to take — has ended up leaving my yard neatly jammed into a 96-gallon green cart. Given the city won’t take tree stumps, I have been known to spend up to a year chipping away at massive tree trunks — the biggest was a stump on a massive 55-year-old tree that a friend who works for a tree service estimated weighed 250 pounds — employing the sledge hammer, crowbars and ax until I hit them into pieces that you could almost put your hands around.
That was the easiest part. Getting them out of the ground was the tricky task.
It requires learning more than you want to know about a specific tree’s root ball and tap root — they can be so deep you have to go down nearly four feet to get under them to make the hole wide enough so you can swing an ax sideways or use a crowbar for leverage. Some of the holes I ended up creating once the stump, tap roots, and other roots were removed resembled a small crater.
Occasionally, I cheated and used a chain saw on stump sections where I could and even on the roots. People who make a living selling chain saws will tell you that is not a great idea and that it can destroy chain saws. But then again they were the same people who told me it was impossible to take out a 25-inch diameter walnut tree using a 2.5 horsepower electric chainsaw. You can do it without burning the motor if you don’t run it for more than 20 to 30 seconds at a time, keep the chain lubricated with frequent sharpening, and have a patience level that would make Rip Van Winkle seem like an impatient man. You’ve also got to be willing to do what would be a two to three hour job with a large gas powered chain saw welded by a professional into one that — including removing the stump, roots, and cutting them into a size that will fit properly into a green cart — will take upwards of 50 hours over the course of several months.
It also involves after the initial cut is made to drag parts of it you need to work on to break into smaller pieces to other areas of the yard so your neighbors won’t complain.
A good example of my obsession was when I decided to remove the walnut tree at the edge of my driveway. This tree had several limbs that were larger than the trunks on most trees. It was Christmas Eve day and I did not have to go to work.
I decided to start with the large branch that jutted halfway across my driveway. I started at 10 a.m. An hour later I was able to cut to the point I could use an ax to finish the cut given if I kept going with a chainsaw it would have been caught in a pinch. After the massive limb fell, it completely crossed my driveway into the neighbor’s yard with fairly strong branches keeping much of the limb 2 to 4 feet off the ground. I set about slowly cutting into the limb to make sections I could handle using the 2.5 hp chainsaw. An hour later it happened — the chain broke. This is when I realized I made several strategic mistakes. First places that sold new chains was closed because it was Christmas Eve. More importantly, like an idiot, I had my Ford Escape in the carport and was unable to get it out thanks to the massive limb across the driveway. By midnight I had swung the ax enough times that even Paul Bunyan would be convinced I was out of my gourd but I was able to get the limb into three sections that I rolled to the side of the driveway so I could get by vehicle out.
For the record, the walnut tree trunk is the only one I didn’t take out by myself. I hired Vince Haro — he thought I was nuts for cutting down the tree myself with what one of his workers referred to as a toy chainsaw — who wrapped a chain around it and spend a good 15 minutes with his vehicle to get it up and out of the ground.
That isn’t my craziest tree cutting story by far.
One involved two massive root balls on a pair of blue spruce trees that I had asked a yard service to remove for the $300 quote they gave me. After trying it for a few minutes with a three-man crew they said they couldn’t do it and left. So I did what any other person in my situation would do, I took them out by myself. I can tell you that getting a massive root ball into a position so you can roll it out of a hole in the ground takes time. I can also tell you it’s not a smart move as nine months later I had my first hernia operation.
I topped that off two days after my second hernia operation when I refused to take painkiller after leaving the hospital by going out back and cutting down a massive 30-foot cherry tree Cynthia had been asking me to take out. Keep in mind Dr. Jerry Weiner advised me not to do any strenuous exercise for a month.
All I did that day was topple the tree. I was fortunate it did not hit the roof which is what Cynthia’s did when she came home from work that day, looked out the kitchen window and saw almost the entire backyard covered with the fallen cherry tree.
It was one of the only times I didn’t get around to cutting the tree up for about a week after it was cut down.
The doctor did say no strenuous exercise for a month.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.