Friday, September 21, 2012

A Sentinel Stands Down

My favourite tree died this past spring. There was a valiant effort on its part to produce some new growth but it appeared only on the lower branches and just little tufts of fresh green. Eventually, these faded and we have had a gentle rain of needles and pine cones falling with every gentle breeze. I wrote about the decline of the tree  in this link.  It turns out that Global Warming didn't kill the tree and neither did tiny 'silkworms' but we'll disclose what the killer was later, as in all good murder mysteries!

With winter coming and also the anticipated wind and rain storms, we felt it was time for this old duffer to come down and make a graceful exit rather than invite itself into the house at some point! Its estimated height is 110 feet tall and would be a heavy knock on the door!

The picture above was taken about 8 am just as the crew from Beechwood Tree Service arrived and were setting up. Its rather ironic that the only full length picture I ever took of my favourite tree was when it was fully dead.  Well, its exit would be well photographed....

Douglas Firs are common here on the west coast and formed the back bone of the lumber industry here in BC.   They are tall giants in the forest when left in peace to grow. Places such as Cathedral Grove show these trees in all their quiet majesty at 300 to 800 years old.  We have done a couple of trips to Cathedral Grove and will no doubt go back again. Its quite the experience standing next to, and touching an 800 year old tree.

Leif is getting his gear in order as he's the one going up the tree, and Kevin is getting things set at the truck. Well, there will be body parts to dispose of!

I had a front row view of the proceedings from the upper deck and so kept my camera handy. Since it took all morning to do, I took the camera to the studio while I wove and would step outside onto the lower deck and snap a picture or two at crucial moments.

Here Leif is working his way up the tree, cutting and throwing down branches as he goes. The first clue in the mystery can be found towards the bottom of the tree trunk  in this picture.

As you can see from this close up of Leif as he works, its a very physical job and he's carrying a lot of equipment and safety lines with him as he works.

Soon he was as high as he could go. He said the view was great from up there! Leif tied off a lone line to the upper portion of the tree and was careful as to where he set the knot. More on that detail later.

Below, Kevin, who had been enjoying just watching till this point, now took the line and made ready on the ground.

Leif cut wedges with his chain saw and then got back out of the way, while Kevin pulled tight on the line and down came the top 35 to 45 feet of the tree!

... and it fell exactly where they wanted it. Not on the wood shed, or the hedge, or further to the left of the picture where the septic line runs underground. The key to this success Kevin told us, was the location and the angle of the notch that Leif made prior to making the back cut.  It determines the direction of the fall. There's no doubt that this is an art form and is also very dangerous work for those involved. Mistakes can be fatal at worse.

The tree came down in manageable lengths: Leif would tie off the line to an upper portion and then make his cuts a few feet below. With each section the trunk was getting thicker and thicker and so the effort involved was greater for both of them. Leif with cutting and Kevin managing the falls.

This close up shows the work involved at one of the cuts. Leif had some great biceps! Now, the next few photos show a section being cut and falling...

Clearly my timing with the camera was good! Notice how the sections are still coming down 'on spot'. These two guys make a good team. At this point, Leif climbed down and got out of his gear as  Kevin  worked to buck the sections up into rounds. Bruce had cleared the right hand section of the wood shed and they started stacking them in there. The tree really didn't move very far in the end....

Here's Leif out of his gear talking with Bruce. Who does he resemble to you?   Yeah, I thought so too.

This is when the men noticed a strange crack in one of the rounds that ran through the heart wood. It was a shear fracture. They checked consecutive rounds and determined it ran for many feet of the tree.

The heart wood of the tree was fractured and it had tried to heal itself at the bark. It had lost a great deal of sap but slowly died as a result. It now explains the appearance of Sap Suckers visiting the tree. Look at the characteristic holes they make:

Look closely at the large log round on the bottom right.... you can see the holes made by the bird.

So what gave the tree such a blow as to crack it into two? A blow to the back so to speak? Why that would be the big tree that fell, and took two or three others with it a couple of years ago. I was sitting on the couch having my early morning coffee when I heard a enormously loud CRACK, crack crack....   I watched in horror as this tree, these trees were falling towards me and the house!!  But this one lone soldier had taken the blow, the brunt of the fall and literally they changed direction and fell neatly behind the hedge and into the steep ravine on the other side. Later inspection showed the main large tree that had  fallen had a condition called 'cone rot'.  The smaller trees were just casualties of the big one coming down. It also seems my nice tree, that became my favourite after that day for saving us all from ruin, was also a casualty.  Jens, who owns Beechwood Tree Service looked at the shear fracture damage in the rounds and told us that with the tree being standing dead for just under a year, reasonably dry, and with the coming strong winds, there was a good chance it would have have snapped off at the fracture this winter. No telling where it would fallen!
 Its time had clearly come.

So the damage had happened from the back side of the tree where it hung out over a steep ravine. The split was not noticeable from our view at the house, so the cause of death was a best guess. Only the autopsy proved the true reason.
(I'm clearly watching too many British murder mystery shows lately!)

So the view has changed:

They cleaned up well and you'd never know that they had been there except for a light depression in the ground where the tree section had fallen flat (and not point down)  Oh, there was some inconvenience felt!

This spider disappeared into the wood shed during all the kerfuffle!

 The very next morning, we found it had completely ripped out the old web and rebuilt new over night. Things are back to a new normal again.

Kevin, Leif and Jens spent the afternoon trimming up all our hedges, both at the house and down by the orchard. They look just great

A tree's age is determined by the number of rings it produced..... see if you can work out how old this 110 foot tall tree was. Click to enlarge and give it a try!  Post your answer in the comments.   :) Start counting from the centre out to the bark.


Bruce said...

Great post Susan! I actually thought the experience would be a lot more dramatic, but then..., I have my own biceps, so didn't really notice Leif's.

It's a big relief (no pun intended) knowing that the tree is now waiting to provide heat on those cold winter nights when there's danger of the dog's water bowl getting a skim of ice on it.

Hugs, Hub

Dorothy Stewart said...

What a wonderful post and so well written. A sad time though to lose such an elder statesman. He was indeed fatally wounded in protecting your house and yourselves. You will enjoy the heat from him though during the winter.
What a great team of workers and very skilled and obviously respectful of the might of an ancient tree.
Great story of a very busy day.

Restless Knitter said...

I think there are 28 rings. Hard to believe a tree can get that tall in such a short amount of time.

heather said...

hmm 28. just like me! ;)

Hilary said...

I say 29.
but then maybe I can't count.

Dawn said...

Susan, we got acquainted with Jens and Beechwood while living in Cobble Hill. I actually had a bit of a crush on Jens!

But besides his biceps, he really knows what to do for trees. Glad you found him too.

Susan Harvey said...

Thanks everyone for the comments.

As for the tree's age:
Bruce counted 32
I counted 30

The rings are really, really tight at the centre!

So I say anything from 28 to 32 is in the ballpark.

So imagine....something that is only 30+/- years old and it got to 110 feet tall!

We saw a squirrel this morning who used to use the old tree as a short cut, stopped and sitting on a branch wondering what the heck?? He'll develop a new speedway soon.


PS Dawn: It was Leif's biceps I was paying attention to! Jens is married... but you knew that right? :)