When a Tree Falls in the Forest

We finally made it to the lake! I was looking forward to it so much, knowing that May is going to be a rough month for work but especially ever since we’d had to cancel our original April trip because of snow. I couldn’t wait to run away from home!

I packed my violin, and my writing laptop, a new novel I ordered a few weeks ago but hadn’t started yet, and the kitchen remodeling books I had the pages marked in to show J. He packed his guitar, two books and some guitar stuff to study. We had decided not to bring the ATV, because the trails in the spring are a mess between the mud and everything that’s fallen across them in the winter, and the license plate on the ATV needs a minor repair. We knew we would not be fishing because the ice was not even out at home yet, so it wouldn’t be out for sure up north, but it also wouldn’t be good enough for ice fishing. It was going to be all reading and writing and playing and campfires and good cooking and lots of watching the birds from a chair on the porch.

Because it was our first trip of the season, we didn’t leave on Friday as we usually would. We wanted to get there in the daylight, so we could uncover and un-winterize, and also for easier navigation of the road, which could be a mud filled mess. We set our alarms for SIX AM. (I know, I can’t believe it either, its like who even am I anymore?) I was so excited to go that I didn’t even care that I had to get up at six. Besides, I could take a nap if I wanted to! At the lake! I popped out of bed and got going on the last of the gathering and packing. We left at eight. It was a great day for a drive, sunny and bright, and we were enjoying all the scenery we hadn’t seen for almost five months. We made good time, arriving around 11:30 am. We pulled in and hopped out of the truck, delighted to see everything as we had left it.

“Let’s go look at the lake,” J said.

We walked around the front of the camper, noting the deck was exactly as we left it, and the bird feeder log was a little more falling apart. Picnic table, still covered and intact- check! Firewood- check!

I was a little behind J, so he saw it first.

“Oh no!”

By then I caught up to him and saw what he saw. The neighbor’s giant 100 foot who-knows-how-old spruce tree had fallen. Our yard is only sixty feet wide. It started in the neighbor’s yard on the left, crossed through ours and right on into the neighbor’s yard on the right.

This is not the first spruce tree to fall on our land. Two more have fallen up by the camper, one right on the camper, right on our bedroom. We would have been dead, without a doubt. Those branches speared through the bed, right into the ground. The camper shifted sideways and the tires popped. The roof vents blew open. Dead, for sure. It was at that time that we had the other 100-foot spruce tree taken down. We suffered huge amounts of guilt for taking down that other old tree, it was a beautiful giant, but we knew that guilt was nothing compared to what we’d feel if it fell on us, too, and hurt anyone in our family.

The spruce before that was kind enough to fall along side the camper, barely touching the bumper.

This tree fell across our cedar swing and our kayaks, so I raced around through the neighbor’s yard, where the snapped end was still seven feet off the ground and back through the brush to our yard. Miracle of miracles, another tree had uprooted, a big balsam, and its root, now pointing towards the sky, was the thing that was keeping the tree from having crushed our kayaks and the swing. The swing still took a much softer hit, which resulted in a broken brace piece, but it was otherwise intact.

That swing has sentimental value. J got it when we first started coming to the lake together. He cleared a spot down by the lake and put in the swing and a firepit, and later I put in a rock wall to level it out and keep down erosion. (And make it look cute, as one does)

When he made that nice perfect spot with the beautiful view, he said, “I wanted you to have a nice place at the lake that you could enjoy. Where you could read a book if you wanted.” (I know, so romantic, right?)

We’ve made a lot of really great memories on that swing, in that spot down by the lake. Last year, J took the swing home and disassembled it all and sanded it and re-stained it and put it all back together which was a TON of work and only made it more valuable to us, so we were both pretty happy it had mostly survived.

We wrestled the kayaks and the swing to safety and thanked our lucky stars some more. Thanked the balsam tree and the oak tree, because it was a combined effort of those two keeping the big spruce tree suspended. Some other trees were not so lucky as our swing. Two maples were damaged pretty badly and a few others- aspens and popples and pine trees.

We stood back and surveyed the work that lay all over. It was the neighbors tree, that was true. And if the neighbor were there, he would surely clean it up. But the neighbor was not there, and would not be there again until Memorial weekend. Should we leave it? It was blocking our path to the lake, disrupting our yard and more importantly, there were other trees that could be saved if we could get this mammoth spruce off of them.

We might have forgotten our blessings for a few moments just then, saying a few swear words about all this work we had to do (and it wasn’t even our tree!), our relaxing and goofing off now a far-away dream.

But we could only stand there, looking around, feeling sorry for ourselves and mourning our weekend for so long, because we had a crap load of work to do!

“Ahhh, I love coming to the lake,” J joked.

“It’ll be good for us. You’ve been saying how you needed a good workout,” I said.

We tried to make the best of it.

We headed back to the truck and unpacked everything, got the food in the fridge and changed into the worst clothes we had which weren’t very bad because we weren’t planning on have to take care of two giant sappy trees. It was a sacrifice.

We hydrated up, ate a quick lunch of chicken sandwiches and put on our work gloves.

When you disassemble a tree, you take the branches first, so that when you take the trunk you can roll the giant pieces. But first you check it all. What’s holding it up and what removing weight from the end of it is going to do. Where its going to fall, because it still had seven feet to go. But then, when you know how to do it, you take the branches. I am not a chain-sawer so I was the branch carrier. I carried so many branches up hill, piling them by the fire pit. Started a fire. Rolled logs, carried branches, fed the fire, carried branches, fed the fire, carried branches, fed the fire. From noon until we could hardly see anymore.

J grilled burgers at nine pm for dinner.

We kept the fire going, so after dinner we sat a few feet from it. Pine burns hot and we’d been burning for hours.

“I think I have to go to bed,” J said shortly after we sat down.

I was feeling it, too. Exhaustion. But, in a way, it felt really good to be physically tired. (Instead of the usually mentally tired) I stayed outside to make sure the last of the fire was out, took a quick “shower” and crawled into bed shortly after.

J let me sleep in, so I woke at ten, and hobbled out of bed. Grabbed a cup of the coffee he’d made and met him on the porch, plunking into my chair.

“You ready to do it all again today?’ he asked.

“My butt hurts,” I said. All that uphill had my rear end muscles complaining every time I sat still for too long. “And I need to drink some coffee first.”

The neighbors on the right arrived when I was on my second cup of coffee. They came up for the day, and I was happy to see them, and to know that everyone made it through the winter. We all ohhh’d and ahhh’d over the tree again- the top of which was still laying in their front yard.

Then J and I changed into our sticky clothes from the day before and we did it all again. J kept the other fire pit going down by the lake, and I manned the upper one, while we picked up the rest of the branches and took care of the other tree trunk.

The neighbors came back over to say good-bye that evening, and we were still working.

“It’s a lot of work sometimes,” Kathy said, taking in the sight of us.

We were sweaty and sticky and sappy and smoky and we both had scratches up and down our arms.

“We even put up a for sale sign one year,” she continued, “because we said all we do is come to the lake and work and then go home and work some more.”

“But we decided not to sell,” said Ray, “and boy, were the people who wanted to buy it mad.”

“You two have been at it a long time,” Kathy added.

“We’re almost done,” I said, gesturing towards the branches left to burn, “we’ve made good progress with the wind today keeping it going.”

“You sure have,” Ray agreed. (And since I am a “Words of Affirmation” I appreciated the compliment)

That night, after J’s excellent (I mean freaking EXCELLENT) grilled salmon at nine pm, I was the one who could barely hold my head up. I fell into bed, every muscle exhausted, and slept like a rock.

The next morning, we woke up to sunshine and birds. Lingered in bed for longer than usual. Nursed our sore backs and legs and arms. Laughed and groaned. Drank coffee on the porch and watched the birds. I made a big breakfast.

Then J set off down the road to trim some brush along a hillside that was taking over the road (because why not just keep going, I guess?) and I got to doing three days of dishes and starting to pack up.

I took my violin out and played for a few minutes after the dishes were done, before setting it in the pile of stuff to take to the truck. J took his guitar out and played on the porch. He played for maybe five minutes before putting it away and taking it to the truck.  (I think we both wanted to make sure we could still play with our fingers and hands in the shape they were in!)

Always before we leave, we go down to say goodbye to the lake. This time we took a look around at the missing trees and bare spots, the little trees that would now have a chance to get big, and at our favorite spot with the swing.

It looked kind of sad, really, but also there was a certain sense of accomplishment. Jimmy’s tree trunk is stacked neatly near the stump for him to do what he wants with when he returns. All the branches are gone and the trees that could be saved righted and repaired as much as possible. The kayaks are back under their tarp and the swing is in it’s place, minus one brace that came home with us for repair.

“It’ll get better when the leaves come in,” J offered.

“I know it will,” I agreed, “the forest moves in fast. It’ll take back over before we know it.”

We walked out onto the dock and said good-bye to the lake, whose edges are just peeking out from the ice.

“Next time we’ll be fishing,” J said.

“So long as no other trees fall,” I said.

Sometimes it’s a lot of work to have a place at the lake.

But it’s always worth it.

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