On Sodom Pond

Postcards from rural Vermont

If a Tree Falls

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It is wet and windy this morning after a  stretch of idyllic golden days. I’m sipping coffee in bed, the kitties perched, one on my lap, one at my knees. The waterfall rushes below. I am home, grateful, at ease.

Then: Pop! Pop! Like hail, but it’s not raining. Wind jiggling the panes? A squirrel’s dropped nut?

The kitties look around. After we hear this a few more times, I hear a louder pop-pop-pop over the bank in the woods out back. I assume it’s a rifle shot and then an awful splitting follows and I know now: it’s a tree. I can hear it wrench loose from its base, crackling, twisting, like a tooth being pulled free of its root, and then it falls to the ground with a boom.

Trees are a reality out here. Yesterday at the Subaru dealer, the mechanic pointed out four indentations the size of golf balls along the side of the hood. “A tree,” my neighbor said. “For sure.”

Last year or so a tall maple out back came down in a windstorm, missing the cabin by a few feet. Scared the kitties to death. I stood frozen, listening. The energy that came off that tree, in that wind of death, was electrifying.

I called Ben to cut it up. He’s a tree man-in-training, so he charges less. Then I cut it up last summer with my friend John, who brought his splitter. It was a manual hydraulic splitter, quiet and easy to use, and we talked and got eaten by black flies as we split all the wood.

A few years ago I had Ben take some top branches off a yellow birch and a young ash to make more sun for an old apple tree. The ash was dying but I couldn’t bear for him to take it down. It still had life in it.

I have another ash, much much larger, that is also sick. Not the emerald ash borer, but from a fungus, said the previous owner of my cabin, also a tree man. It will have to come down. It will make good firewood. It will be noisy and expensive and take a lot of summertime days. So I am waiting. Half its branches still blossom and leaf.

Someone asked on the Front Porch Forum the other day if maples could turn gold one year and red another? He thought he had a tree like that.

On Saturday they will be removing a tree by crane in front of the Maple Corner community center, and lifting it over the building to cut up. It’s dead five feet up, John says, and no man in the village dare take a chain saw to it.

When my ex used to cut trees I helped him tie it down to help guide its fall. It always felt tragic, like some ancient wise ancestor was falling to its knees. Something glorious brought low.

Newly cut wood is damp. It smells like an old schoolroom. In the woods I used to dream of books.

In the wind, trees moan and sigh. In sub-zero weather they shriek and crack, which always makes me think of a giant in the woods cracking his knuckles.

Sometimes a tree falls across a road out here and you have to get out and move it, or cut it up if you have a chain saw in your truck or car. I turn around and find another way home.


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