Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Doug Versus The 75 Foot Eucalyptus Tree

By Doug Vehle
The Daily Bosco

Could there BE a scarier sound than the cracking in a large tree during a heavy wind. While your car is parked underneath. I was sure I was watching another disaster in the making, and I'm not feeling much better about it now.

The winds have been growing steadily more intense, and when I got home I was on the driveway when I heard the first huge crack let loose in the tree. It was worse than if someone was shooting at me, the guy with the gun would probably miss. If one of these huge arms of my giant Eucalyptus tree let go, well, there'd be more square footage endangered than if someone had pitched a grenade.

A month earlier, a piece of that tree larger than the trees at the street on my block landed on my truck. I was just minutes from leaving to go to a seminar, and ironically enough had delayed leaving since I didn't want to wait around outdoors in the rain. Nearly 3 hours in the rain to cut it loose with a chainsaw, (Later 12 hours more to clean it up completely) and then a shower, yeah, I missed the seminar. Gee, I would already have been gone. If I fix the truck I'm sure it will cost over $2,000. But it's drivable, so I haven't

And I could see on the horizon the potential of a repeat. Eucalyptus branches grow larger, and larger, then collapse under there own weight. The problem is exacerbated by rain, as a foot of leaf bearing branch can have 2 dozen large, round leaves that collect water, and the weight increases dramatically. Or the winds will twist the branches, causing lengthwise cracks, and a bulge where the branch is bending I could see the buldge on the branch directly over the car.

The truck was parked on the street, but my sassy old Eclipse, totalled when I was rearended and pushed into the car in front of me, was sitting under the branch I deduced to be making the cracking sound. It's cobbled together, but basically drivable, and after wishing the tree had hit THAT instead a few weeks earlier, I'd rather not see the tree get it, too. I'd rather see it wind up in the hands of a competitor who'd run it in the 24 Hours of LeMons. Given what I know of that race, this car is a potential champion.

But dang, wouldn't you know? The battery was fine when I started it just a week ago. But it cranked slow today. Meaning I get to bring the truck into harms way to hook up jumper cables. But with the diesel engine running, no quiet thing there, I could barely hear anything else, surely not the cracking of the tree. And I was at least hoping I'd have some warning that all hell was breaking loose And of course the truck seemed safer on the driver's side of the car, but it was a tight fit getting in and out, I'd parked so close. And as I was working through that space to get through the door, a wind blast caused the tree to let loose what almost sounded like a sigh, loud enough to be heard over the truck. That's right, I lost my nerve. I thight the roof of the Eclipse would probably flatten under such a blow.

The neighbors, at least, I could get to move their cars. Over the weekend I saw the chance to cut some high branches down completely while their four cars were all gone from the driveway, but the ongoing heavy rain discouraged me from using my electric chainsaw. I flirted with disaster cutting the truck out, but this wasn't an emergency yet. Only one branch break seems imminent, but they're all endangered. And 'The Perfect Storm' author Sebastian Junger said of his injury during his high tree cutting days, there are those who have had accidents, and those who are GOING to have them. Junger became a writer while recovering from his accident. There's not that much more to cut, and then I'll have no tall trees. if I can just bring it down without getting hurt. . . .

So I had a problem. The winds were getting stronger, and the noises above were getting louder. And the little car isn't as tough as the one ton truck, it might not roll after that much weight was dropped on it. But it wouldn't roll right then; out of gear, with the parking brake off, it didn't budge. A car sits for a few weeks in this kind of weather, and a lot of junk gets under and acts as wheel blocks. The truck was safely back in the street, the battery went on the charger, but since the terminals don't match I couldn't use a truck battery, it was going nowhere under it's own power in the next few hours.

Over the last few months, I have cut away close to one third of the volume of the tree at Thanksgiving, 2008. Including some but not enough of what hung from the big branch that fell. It meant that almost half the original size of the tree was gone. Unfortunately, the major arms that remain are all high, I've been unable to trim anything from them. They remain large and vulnerable. And heavy. And every time I tried to get near the car with a tow line to attach it to my truck, the next wind blast would bring another major crack, each at least seeming louder than before. Or worse, a string of smaller cracks, creating visions of a domino effect of pieces of the wood breaking in unison. I'd jump back laughing nervously, thinking about I'd have as much as four seconds to get out from under the car and scramble to safety if the branch did let go, and at least two would be lost to realizing what that sound was that I was hearing. The winds were bringing dark clouds, and I wondered how soon the rain would start weighting the vulnerable branch. And if this branch did get me, I could just see the cause of death listed as "The Horrible Fiction."

Make no mistake, fiction can be deadly. Ask any bad liar. You conjure up a story that's too improbable, the poor victim listening to this looks away in pain. This is what crashed the Air Force career of General Robert Scott, World War Two legend and 'God is my Copilot' author, on his way to the joint chiefs of staff until the others just got tired of hearing about the European Princess he met as a teenager who reemerged at various moments to save him from expulsion from West Point, (Where he did graduate) stepped in to aid his flying a B17 to China early in the war (He managed to be assigned as a veteran bomber pilot but in fact had never flown one before) and even 50 years later helped clear the way for him to walk the length of the Great Wall of China. (Only American known to have done so.) The true stories were incredible enough, why did he need to add the silly details that made it hurt so bad to listen to? Second City theatre founder Del Close coined the phrase "The Horrible Fiction" to warn such students as Bill Murray and Chris Farley to NEVER take the story so far that your audience is groaning at the improbability.

Yet it's easy enough for me to believe that such complications are inevitable for me, lately. So many misadventures in my life lately, seemingly caused by fate having declared war on me, and using improbability as its' weapon of choice. How could I have lightened that one main arm of the tree and STILL have it fall on my truck? How could I just miss leaving? So as I finally get up the nerve to slip under the car and wrap the tow line around the rear axle, I'm not surprised when the latest offshore blast sets off a new sound: A long, moaning creak, which convinces me this is the big one, I'm hearing the ghostly sound of death, coming right at me. And I'm scrambling backwards from under the car, straightening up as I set in the mud that has slid onto the driveway in the rain, pinwheeling back at the car and into the landing zone of this big branch. . .

. . . .Which actually isn't coming down just yet. I'm so worked up about this it doesn't take much to convince me that truth is sometimes stranger than even the Horrible Fiction. Of late, my terrible luck in general and the disaster with the tree in particular leaves me ready to believe there's nothing left to do but stare in terror. If only I could stay calm the next thirty seconds while I back my truck to the car, attach those tow line hooks to the hitch. . . .And have the tree let loose with another huge crack that about sets the hairs on my back ripping out my shirt like sprouting porcupine quills. Oh, and the drive wheel of a 2500 Silverado is on the passenger side; that's the one that was on the soaked and soft grass, spinning with the slightest touch of the throttle. Oh, I could only ask if there was an as yet unrealized obstacle to this for us to explore the additional problems it could cause?

Well, I guess you could say there was indeed another obstacle. I did get the truck to pull the car up my driveway, and I let it sit for awhile at the top of the driveway. I'll park the car next to the garage, and the truck behind it, and they SHOULD be out of reach of falling branches. But darn it, if this story was the sort of bad episodic television that it sounds like, this huge branch would have fallen from the tree just as my car moved out from under it. Instead, the winds let up and gave barely a breeze, the sky cleared, the Sun shined, and the immediate hazard of the branch abated. Darn it.

The problem is, it's still up there. The bulge seems huge, the angle of the branch has changed. The next big rain, the next big wind, or just time, might bring it down. The ground is far too soft from so much rain to put a ladder in it. I need to get the bottom of my 10 foot polesaw about twenty feet in the air and I should be able to cut that branch. But when will the ground dry up enough to support a ladder without my joining Sebastian Junger as someone who has had his tree cutting accident?

I had a trip I was planning this weekend, a sort of trip of a lifetime. Something I looked forward to doing since gradeschool, but always there's been something to keep me from going. Now, that branch is a hazard. The truck wasn't even underneath the branch that landed on it, the dang thing swung like a boom arm as it came down. This one, no telling what will happen if I let it come down on its' own. There must be great joy in being irresponsible, but I can't just go off and leave an accident waiting to happen. If I can't bring it down, I can't go.

A seventy five foot tree, what a neat thing to have in your yard. Lily Tomlin says she spent over a million dollars maintaining her old Eucalyptus and in fighting efforts to force her to cut it down. Others in the neighborhood understood the dangers of an aging Eucalyptus. Finally she realized it was time to cut it down. I hate to think it, but I guess that time has come for me. I've had neighbors remark about the unpredictability of such a tree, though everyone says they'd hate to see it go. But it's probably better to deal with it before the demands start.

Oh well, at least a potential winner of the 24 Hours of LeMons was saved. My Mother lives outside the city. Her land in the Hill Country of Texas is covered with trees. If a branch comes off a Cedar, which is also prone to sudden drops, there's no one around to panic. The way life is meant to be.

http://24hoursoflemons.com/ Maybe someday, the car will wind up there. If so I'll be glad I saved it.

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