Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Secret Life of Trees

Right now there is at least one good-sized broken branch lying on my front lawn. Guaranteed. I don't even have to look. It's been like that every single day for the past three decades.

Fifty-two weeks a year, thirty-two years, each tree has lost four to five branches -- all at least one foot, and often, four or more feet long -- and between a forefinger and a forearm in circumference. I have three oaks, a maple and an elm. They all should be getting smaller and smaller - but they are not. It is really quite spooky.

It's as if a bigger version of each tree is growing inside itself. Then, when it needs more room, it pushes through the bark and throws off the older, smaller limbs that are no longer adding any value. Sort of a business corporation definition of deadwood

Mathematically it makes no sense at all. Over the years the total amount of fallen lumber by any measure -- weight, area -- is (by far) much, much larger than the total amount of healthy wood that ever stood in my yard.

And I've had to get rid of every single piece. But that's been a good thing, because every week, just like the Monty Python comedy routine, I got to say "I didn't want to be an [Insurance Information Technology geek]. I wanted to be...a lumberjack!" Then the British troupe of humorists would sing "The Lumberjack Song".

"He's a lumberjack
And he's O.K.
He sleeps all night
And he works all day."

When I first got into the deadwood disposal biz you either drove them to the town transfer station. Or bundled them up. I had no vehicle to support the former so I did the latter. But the rules were a tad restrictive for someone attempting to use weekend yard maintenance as a Lumberman Fantasy Camp.

Each stick was to be no longer than three feet. Every bundle had to be small enough to be easily held in two open hands. Brown sisal two-ply twine secured with a bale sling hitch knot was required to hold the package together. (All right, I made that last one up, but you get the point.)

Lumberjacking is supposed to be manly, large-muscle work. This was more like a Christmas job in the gift-wrapping department at Nordstrom. Frequently the lumber rebelled during the wrapping operation and thwacked me in the face. The lengths of twine that I eyeball-measured proved too short. My tolerance for the work was good for at most three bundles per week. This was not enough to keep up with demand.

I was about to look for a new make-believe identity when the town modified its collection rules.

Now the wooden debris could be jammed into barrels and dragged to the curb. The only restrictions were those imposed by the size of the container and the strength of the trash-handler. I bought several large pails and proudly measured the degree of my lumberjack-ness by the number of them I put out each week. When the trees did not naturally provide enough deadwood I rampaged through the yard with my pruning saw looking for candidates to add to the pile.

Then I bought a wood chipper.

That was really fun -- a guaranteed easy Saturday morning transition from my weekday identity to my imaginary existence as the "Deadwood Destroyer".

"He's a lumberjack

And he's O.K.
He cuts down trees
He eats his lunch."

Now I'm retired. I have as much time as I want to play pretend logger -- and a lot less reasons to need to. The town has switched to big green bins that hold much more wood and are way easier to cram than my own pails. I have two of them.

I can easily pack half of one every week with the branches that spontaneously splay themselves across my lawn. Then with part of my additional leisure hours I can take my pruning saw and further explore my inner lumberjack -- and still have extra time to sit back and contemplate what my branch-dropping trees are really up to.

"He's a lumberjack
And he's O.K.
He sleeps all night
And he works all day.
He cuts down trees
He skips and jumps
He likes to press wild flowers
He puts on women's clothing
And hangs around in bars."

Or maybe not. I probably should just forget this whole woodland fantasy thing and find something more conventional to worry about. The secret lives of trees may turn out to be as bizarre as the private habits of lumberjacks.

(See Monty Python perform the "The Lumberjack Song" on YouTube )

No comments: