Tic, Tac, Toe: Trees in a Row

Article excerpt

Along the west and the south boundaries of the hay and cattle ranch we took care of in northeastern Oregon, trees in dense stands of lodgepole pine had died when pine beatles bored through the bark and circled the trees with tunnels through the cambium. Some of the trees blew down in wind storms.

The rest of the dead trees needed to come down so they wouldn't continue to blow down on fences and in ditches that brought water through the edge of the timber onto the grass-growing meadows. I set to work clearing out the dead trees. I'd always cut firewood for our heating and cooking needs, and I sold firewood to anyone who would come and get it.

But I had no one to show me how to fell standing trees. I read instructions, added felling wedges and a heavy single-bit axe (to drive the wedges) to my tools, and approached the dead pine trees. It was, at first, a time of trembling. There is a great gap between instructions printed on the page and a tree tipping from its stump, falling with a rushing sound through the air, and slamming - with great noise of impact and breaking branches - to the ground. At first, I chose trees clear of thickets, with a slight lean to them. I cut a notch about a third of the way through each tree, close to the ground, facing the way I wanted the tree to fall. Then I cut straight through toward the notch from the opposite side of the tree. Each tree started tipping before I'd cut all the way through, and the remaining hinge of uncut wood held the tree to the stump and helped to direct its fall. In a correctly cut tree, the hinge will break before the tree hits the ground. A tree with no lean still falls into the notch. Felling wedges are for poor judgment -"I thought it would tip that direction, but it won't" - or for trees that must fall in an unnatural direction. The wedges opened the cut wider and wider as I drove them in, tilting the tree toward the face notch until the tree tipped far enough that its weight started the falling arc. …


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