Friday Firesmith – Bring Down Trees

I have a chainsaw. Cody has a tractor with various attachments, and Brian has a need for money. Doug is there, too, and Doug mostly wants some dead pine trees in his sister’s yard down in a reasonable fashion so they won’t come crashing down on Sis’s well or shed, or even her house.

I’m there because I know chainsaws, but Doug assures me Brian is going to do all the serious manual labor. I almost bow out, but I know chainsaws.

Brian, who speaks English fairly well, never told anyone he could run a chainsaw. Everyone just assumed he could. He can’t, or he can, but he doesn’t know how to use it properly. He doesn’t understand where to cut or how to cut, and the first tree leans towards both the shed and the well. It could very well get them both.

Okay, we have a rope on the tree, and I explain to Brian I’m cutting behind the tree, but in the direction of the pull. We want the tree’s weakest spot to be aligned with the pull of the rope. Physics will take care of the rest, but these are dead trees. Things might happen.

“Things?” Brian steps back and looks up at the tree then back at me.

The top could break off and come down, or if the base of the tree is rotted enough, it might spiral, twist, and then it’s on,” I tell him.


“Run fast”



Cody is very good at this. He shakes the tree hard with the tractor, and a Widow Maker limb falls, but the top seems intact. There are three feet of distance between where we’re dropping the tree, and a dozen feet to the other side before the house gets hit.

Brian is clearly out of his element, and so I pick up my chainsaw and tell Brian to tap me on the shoulder if the top breaks off. Cody tightens on the rope and nods. It’s a simple cut, but a large tree. I have to make sure the cut is exactly where we need it. Oddly, the bottom of the tree is not rotted at all, and that’s great. But all the pine sap has settled down this way, and the tree’s base is partly petrified. I’m a little scared myself.

Slow, Mike, slow, nice easy moves with the bar, like playing a violin, making sure the deeper I go the cut stays in line with the pull of the rope. The cut opens, just a bit, and I step back to take a look. The top is intact, the rope is tight. Cody nods, and the man hasn’t a lot to say when we work even though he knows more than the rest of us, by a bunch. Cody is a quiet man, and never raises his voice to Brian while Brian is tying the ropes to the trees or hitching the rope to the pulley. Cody nods in a way that tells me the cut is good. No, it’s perfect, because anything less than perfect means there’s a well wearing a tree.

The chainsaw roars to life again, sawdust flies, and the cut opens even more, leaning with the rope. Suddenly, there’s a cracking sound, and the tree breaks and falls with the pressure as I bounce away. The tree lands right where it had to fall.

“The tree broke!” Brian is surprised.

“Once the trunk began to open up that created more pressure on the weakest part of the tree, and with the pull of the rope it had to crack,” I tell him, and I hope that’s right. It sounds good.

There are seven more trees, including two really big ones, but there’s nothing they can hit on the way down. Brian gets an education on chainsaws, and it’s always a wonderful thing to teach someone something useful, and teach them to respect the dangers inherent in trees and chainsaws.

Cody and I, and we planned this felling back in July, begin a partnership in pulling and cutting. He can call on me for help now, and I can call him. Men who can work together in this sort of adventure are rare. Brian is on the team, too, and he knows it. We eat a homecooked meal made by a woman incredibly grateful that her shed and her well are safe.

Once upon a time, neighbors did this sort of thing for one another, and that meal was all the payment needed, except for the manual labor Brian did in cleaning up. He works hard, very hard, and he’s young, and needs the money.

They rest of us are just there to help, because it’s what we can do, and if you can, then you must. That’s the way things once worked, and we refuse to allow that to die.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.


11 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – Bring Down Trees”

  1. I don’t always agree with your articles, but that’s okay; we can disagree without being disagreeable. I TOTALLY agree with the moral of your article today and only wish we had more with that mindset today.

    • Emmette, Cody is a die hard Trump fan, as is Doug. Brian is a Latino transplant, who moved here because his grandmother needed help. But we all live in the same community, and we never talk politics or religion. We eat at the same table, we share the same food, and when we can we help anyone in need. This isn’t Trump’s world or Biden’s; this belongs to us. But we’ll share. 🙂

  2. “Once upon a time, neighbors did this sort of thing for one another…”
    Once upon a time all the neighbors knew how to do this. Granted some were more skilled than others but they all knew what was supposed to be done. Today so many are clueless when it comes to this sort of thing I’d worry about not only physical damage but lawsuits by volunteer neighbors.
    A big reason the pros charge so much is the huge cost of insuring the company and the help.

  3. the morning after Hurricane Zeta passed thru Atlanta (was that really just 2 weeks ago?) I was out at 5:30 AM with the chainsaw and my polesaw driving around the local streets to try to clear obstructions on the road and deal with any other obvious hazards that I could help with. I was out cutting trees for a good 5 hours. There were a LOT of down trees many downed powerlines and the police were understandably very busy,

    I had cleared 3 down trees off the road and countless branches when I came across a very dangerous situation; 2 trees that had partially fallen that were leaning over the road entirely supported by some powerlines and a small section of fence. – These trees could come down at any time. it was a fairly busy street and people were driving under it without even seeming to notice the precarious condition of the trees. There was no way I could cut this without creating an even more dangerous situation so I drove a safe distance up from the trees and called the police to get someone out to close off that section of the road. It took 15 minutes to get an answer from the emergency dispatchers and as it turned out another 90 minutes before an officer arrived at the scene.

    Now it was easy to see the danger if you were looking for it; the trees were obviously leaning on those lines and you could see it well before you went under them but there was a constant stream of cars flying past without even seeming to glance at the danger above…

    I ended up blocking the road with my truck and was directing people thru a side street as a detour. the road ahead was already blocked by some other fallen trees so anyone that drove under those trees were just going to end up forced to turn back and cross under them again just another 100 yards or so down the road. Eventually an officer arrived to setup an official detour about 15 minutes before the powerline finally snapped, the tree’s came down instantly; had anyone been driving past at the time they could have easily been killed.

    That same morning I also saw 2 accidents; starting with a t-bone crash at an intersection where the traffic lights were out… some idiot just blew right thru the intersection at 45+ miles an hour and plowed into the side of a truck. That was immediately followed by a rear end collision as two other cars that also seemed to have no plans to stop at a major intersection slammed on their brakes to avoid the first accident. – If the traffic lights are out you have to treat it as a 4 way stop… This is drivers ed 101 stuff people… be safe out there!

    • Keith, after the conversations we have had here I could very clearly see you doing that! Good work, my friend.

  4. I think I mentioned this in a previous discussion but we’ve had a bunch of trees down this year (not just the storm I mentioned in that last comment but we had trees down in 2 other storms and my wife tried to kill me by cutting down a hickory tree without knowing what she doesn’t know about cutting down trees. That hickory tree could have fallen right on my office or into some high voltage powerlines behind the house.

    I am not a fan of cutting down trees; they scare me.. I know enough to know that I don’t want to take unnecessary risks and whenever possible I want to be as far away from a falling tree as I can. back in the swamps of florida we used to cut down trees a lot; we’d bring em down, cut em up, sell the logs (often to st. joe paper company) and chop up the fatlight and sell bundles of it as firestarters. I hated the work but it helped pay the bills. but we were doing that in the swamps… there were no houses or powerlines or cars that we could hit. we really did NOT know the best ways to cut down a tree; it just fell where it was gonna fall and we just had to run if it was falling towards us.. it’s great to be young and stupid and think you are indestructible.

    These days I really try to avoid bringing trees down myself… Seen too many ways it can go wrong and I prefer to hire someone that knows what they are doing for that part. but once it’s on the ground i’d just as soon deal with it myself.

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