I suspect that in a former life I was an arborist. Or maybe a lumberjack. I like trees—the character of the individual species, the shape of the growth, their growth and decay.
Pruning trees is a rugged art. Maybe editing books is the next best thing. You're removing things to heighten the focus and bring out the beauty. But when you're pruning trees, each cut is irrevocable.
You can imagine how excited I was when I saw a truck pull up in front of the house the other day hauling a trailer carrying a mobile cherry-picking pod. On the door of the truck it said Arbor Barbers. Before long there were four trucks lined up in the street. A couple of guys were looking up over their heads, and it occurred to me I ought to go out and make sure they weren't planning to go to work on any of our trees.
"Oh, no," the guy said. "We've got a couple of jobs down the street. You can't park right where you're working." Of course.
"Hey, I've got an idea," I said. "I've got three walnut trees on the side of the house." I pointed. "Volunteers. Maybe you could cut down the one furthest from the street. As long as you're already here. They aren't big, about the size of your arm. How much would that cost?"
In the course of my request I'd mumbled something about "fifty bucks" and I was surprised when the guy said, "I could cut it down and remove it for $40. We'll be here all day." OK.
A client stopped over an hour later, though he had some trouble finding the house with all the trucks scattered along the street. I told him I was having the tree guys cut down a walnut in the side yard.
"That's a great idea," he replied. "We had one cut down. Every fall the fruit fell off and dented the car, and the husks stained the driveway."
I'd never considered that element, and I began to wonder if I should see about having all three trees cut down. All morning long I could hear the intermittent grind of the chain saw, and later the noise of a hydraulic lift depositing debris into the back of a truck. By early afternoon I was beginning to wonder if they'd ever get around to my little project, but by that time I was figuring I could probably do it myself with a hand saw, and then I could keep the wood. I imagined myself hooking up a few ropes to make sure the tree didn't fall on the house or the neighbor's garage, then cutting the notch, hoping all the while that the neighbors didn't come home just as the tree was descending on their driveway.
But a thirty-foot tree weighs a lot more than you think. Did I have any rope of that quality?
Things were getting quiet. I was taking a nap on the floor in the den with the sun on my face, dreaming about firewood, when I heard a chainsaw start up, maybe a little closer this time. When I returned to the office I heard someone clumping on the roof above my head. I saw a cloud of sawdust fly past the window. A thick chunk of wood landed on the frozen ground with a thump.
Then I saw the guy climbing down the tree through the window. A few minutes later there was a knock on the door.
"Well, I cut down the tree," the man said. "But my brother says we've got another job to do today. Do you have a firepit?"
I told him I did. And a fireplace. And a Jøtul stove.
"Well, why don't you just pay me $20 and clean it up yourself."
I handed him a double sawbuck and thanked him for his trouble.