Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Old, old trees

30 years ago, we began a rolling conversation that almost always started with the sentence "We're going to have to cut the trees."

And never, in all of this time, could I wrap my head around the homeplace without them.

They sheltered my childhood.  They shaded my home.  They sheltered my children.
They sheltered the birds, and squirrels and countless other creatures.

They stood strong and sturdy in the storms.

As little girls, my sister and I made 'play houses' under them... houses without walls, but where we played with each other and our dolls.  Where we played 'family'... where we pretended to be a 'normal' family.
We must have read thousands of library books under the trees, and we sometimes sat in the trees.
We would swing on swings made of rope and wooden boards, suspended from these trees.  We played with the spring puppies under these trees.

They formed a sturdy defensive wall against the afternoon sun, shading the old house and its inhabitants for all of the many years that there was no air conditioner in place.

During the years that my three children grew up, we put not one, but two, swing sets under their branches.
There they played... in sandbox... and jungle gym... and went down the slide a million times... underneath the trees.  Little dark haired girl, little blonde boys,more puppies and dogs than I can recall, and all of them often attended by a little bent lady with white hair.  She would sit her chair under the shade and 'mind' the children... when she actually simply didn't want to be in the air conditioned house.  Not born in a century of 'cold' forced air, she really preferred the shade of the trees.

During the evening and all of one night when Hugo blasted South Carolina, from the coast right through the upstate, I paced the floor of the old house, holding a new born boy whose nursery was upstairs.  The house creaked and shuddered and the trees bent low as the wind whistled and whipped.  Fear of several of the big trees landing on and in the house was very, very real that night.

Over these 30 years, we've lost some trees.  One that was affectionately called the 'nanny' tree, because that's the one that Nanny liked to sit under, on a sunny summer day, with old lady and  young girl sitting under it, suddenly begin to spray water from it's crown.  And then... you could hear the crack begin.  I ran and grabbed the two, and ran back to grab something that was left, when the bulk of the big tree came down. The tree fell within our line of vision.  It frightened the young child so, because she couldn't see me and I worried that she'd be scarred for life. It did make me realize how something so sturdy and solid, could, at any moment, come crashing down.

We had one in the back yard fall, in a storm, and completely take out a hundred year old corn crib building... flattened it to the ground.  A loss that I regret deeply even to this day.

And slowly, but certainly, I began to see the signs... and feel the strings of my heart that were attached to the trees let go.  Big limbs... truly huge limbs, 40 inches around or better, would plummet to earth with no cause... on normal days or nights, they'd simply crash.  More than once, we lost our power connection... having it completely ripped from the house.

Fear of having the very old house forced from it's river rock stacked foundation began to out rank the attachment to the trees.  A very wet and stormy summer, near continual fall of large limbs and the certainty of the trees being covered and damaged by ivy played in my mind.

So, when the conversation arose again, with my thoughtful and patient man, I said "Yes, it's time to cut  the trees."

Several contractors were interviewed.  Several declined to take on the job. This job would require people with expertise, a bucket truck AND human climbers, in addition to removal of the power from the house for several days at least. God bless my husband, who took on the task of finding someone who was capable and only requiring me to meet the two most likely candidates.

Finally, one was chosen.

In the week just before Christmas, they arrived.

And the power went down... and the work began.

For four days, from early until late, a dedicated crew of five worked steadily.

It was pretty amazing to watch.

I had imagined that I could not watch the trees go down, but when it came to the time,,, I couldn't NOT watch the trees go down.  I sat... all four days and watched, as limb by limb, the trees were removed with careful precision and very talented rope work.  Like an orchestrated ballet, but with men and saws and bucket truck, the rhythm of the day.... little limbs, ropes go up.  limbs... large limbs come down... they cut free, the swing free of the tree and are lowered swiftly to the ground and carefully.  Some, it seemed, missed the house by only inches, but they landed safely down below.  Then... four times, the huge, huge trunks, roughly 90 feet tall, were secured with even bigger ropes to trees and trucks and men.  One man and one saw went in and the others hollered warnings and encouragement as they all tightened ropes... and then, you saw it begin to move... barely, at first, then, as if in slow motion,  until the arc of the tree trunk was at about 60 degrees, then a sound and shock waves as the big tree landed, right where they guided... mere feet from the house.

I am grateful to the tree crew men who did not run me off, as I needed to be in the middle of it... I needed to see and hear and feel it.  I needed to look inside the hollow places and smell the tangy sourness of the tree sap.  After the first day, when they figured out that we were going to be safe about it, they would even turn and look at us after each big accomplishment, as if to say "Where you watching?"  "Did you see?"
I tell you, the men who did this work are rock stars!  They smiled when I told them that.  At roughly one tree a day, they were steadily at work and damage came to no human, and harm came to no house or equipment.

At the end of the last day, with a catch in his throat, Tommy said "You know, I was not sad about the trees until tonight.  As I walked back from the barn, I saw the birds, trying to find shelter for the night..."

Yeah... we both had our moments, and I walked around the better part of a week with tears at the ready and a lump in my throat and a good many times, I  had to turn and walked away.

At the end of the week, though, it's done.  Two of the trunks have left for a saw mill to be milled into lumber.  Two of the tree trunks and all of the limbs are left to be firewood, to warm us for a couple of winters, to make our campfires, to cook our food.  Small limbs were turned into several large truck loads of hardwood mulch. Reuse and recycling will claim all four trees.

I will tell you that I keep having to go out there and walk around... mostly to look at how the light plays on the land,,, on the house... to see the way the sun rises on it... to watch it at dusk.  I'm making my peace with the changes.  While I still sometimes shed tears, I begin to see a new place... to imagine spring.  The trees were underplanted with several hundred daffodils and jonquils and equally as many tulips. This year, they'll meet the sunshine. Might I plant a couple of raised beds?  Perhaps a truck load of azaleas... or a fruit tree or two.  I climb up on the stump and survey my little very different than it was a week ago... and I do see the downed lumber, but I also see the future, on a homestead that has been changing and growing and keeping us for these many generations. The ancestors that I knew would say "That's enough of this sentimental non-sense... Get up and get this place cleaned up! Chop the firewood, stack the lumber, use the bounty of it and plant some more trees." " Good grief, girl", they'd say, " You've got hundreds of acres of trees! Quit your fretting and plant some more flowers!"

Finally, there are 149 rings... on the stumps,,, one may have 148... So these trees were saplings as the Civil War began. Their diameters were between 44 and 48 inches each. The lives and history they stood through since 1864 boggles my mind.  4 trees... 6 generations of one family.

Special thanks to McCullough Tree Service of Laurens, SC, 
       who tackled a huge job and provided both excellent customer service and quality work.


  1. Oh, reading this I felt your pain.
    But I am happy that you can see change as being good.
    It is incredible that they were there during the Civil War.
    And you wouldn't have wanted them to hurt or kill someone.
    It was time.

  2. This brought me to tears. Dawn, please write a book! pretty please!

  3. oh.....that is so sad. How good of you to document this change. We saved one tree when we built this was a little flowering crab tree that my grandmother planted on the south side of the could never grow very big because of the other trees... but now I have to have it trimmed about every 3 years. I am not sure how old that tree is.....but probably about as old as I am... I love that pink tree and I will be very sad to leave that tree when someday when we move.

  4. Claudia, should you need to leave, have the tree 'cloned' by a greenhouse and take a 'copy' of it with you... ;)