Sunday, June 29, 2008

On Newtonian Inspiration Towards A Universal Theory Of Gravity

It doesn't look that hard to do.

Shut up brain.

No, really. See the way it splits at the eight foot mark? You could cut it there with your polesaw.

It's more like ten feet. The polesaw is only just ten feet long.

The polesaw is a majestic twelve feet long. It will reach easily. Have it done in a flash.

Literally if it brings down the power line when it falls. Nope. Not doing it.

It won't come close to the power line. You cut it here. See? It will swing in a graceful arc like so and miss the power line by a good two feet.

And after the geometry ambush you pulled four years ago resulting in a mountain of topsoil I only just got rid of last Fall you expect me to trust you with life-threatening trigonometry? Not a chance!

"Geometry ambush?" I don't recall any...

You had me calculate a volume of topsoil in cubic yards which possessed only nine cubic feet instead of the more customary twenty seven! Don't play stupid with me!

Oh that!

Yes that.

An innocent mistake. I was tired and you know full well I don't work well when I'm not fully rested.

It was first thing on a Saturday morning!

Ancient history, irrelevant to the case at hand. You know Mrs Stevie wants the thing gone. She abhors it.

Although being ferried from that harridan's embrace by Charon has often seemed an attractive option, I am feeling happy with my situation at the moment and not at all in the mood to do myself in by dropping a tree on my head. The answer is no.

Look, it's true there isn't the usual safety space recommended in the chainsaw manuals...

Are you kidding? This tiny space directly under the tree is the only place I could stand owing to the fact the polesaw isn't long enough. Not only is the pole too short, I shall have to hold it by the very end of the pole, recipe for disaster straight out of the saw's manual. Everything about this job you are so eager to have me do is clearly depicted in the "never do" section of the manuals for my 20" Poulan chainsaw, my 14" Sears chainsaw and the polesaw. The Poulan manual has a particularly graphic illustration to drive home the point. I felt queasy for days after reading it.

Hyperbole and exaggeration included by the Poulan legal department in order to avoid frivolous lawsuits.

That's as may be. If the power line comes down she'll do her nut. It'll be way worse than a summer of "have you cut that tree down yet?" I'm picking my battle and I pick the one where I don't end up flattened under a tree and where Mrs Stevie has internet.

Oh don't be ridiculous. It's wood for Azathoth's sake. You're talking like it's made of pig iron.

Bloody tree wood is denser, more massive and therefore heavier than you would expect. I know this because you've tricked me into carrying it on more than one occasion and now have the spinal discs to prove it. I'm not so stupid I don't know that that damn tree limb will behave like unto a speeding anvil when it is severed from the trunk. I've dug enough pieces of that accursed maple from the now-cratered wreck that my once lush front lawn has become of late. All due to vertically-translating high-velocity tree parts.

I'll bet the limb will swing down gracefully to smash into these dendritic fern things here, and that you'll have plenty of time as a result to retire from ground zero. Why don't we just work out how long that would be...

Oh no! No. Nonononono! I'm not letting you loose with S=UT + ½at2 and 2π Cos θ! You must think I'm mad!

If I were you I'd be less concerned about what I think and more concerned with what the next-door neighbour thinks. You've been standing, staring at the tree for about ten minutes, all the time muttering to yourself.

Good point. I'll get the polesaw.


The tree is about fifty feet high, with a bifurcated trunk that splits into two equally sized limbs at about the seven foot mark. Mrs Stevie has hated it for years on account of it dropping fruit that resembles blackberries (but isn't) all over the yard. Sometimes the berries are red, almost like raspberries but not actually raspberries. This year it was specialising in horrid maggot-white ones, something out of a Lovecraft story. This had finally gotten me to wander into Mrs Stevie's court for a bit.

She wants the tree gone, but there are several obstacles. The one limb is balanced to drop into Crazy Joe's yard, something to be avoided at all costs and I had no hesitation in putting that job off to the end of the year. The other limb looked good to go, but was threatening a power line in such a way that simply cutting the limb at the seven foot point was not an option. I would have to start higher in order to shorten the radial swing of the severed tree limb enough to clear the wire. This would require the use of the polesaw, which is nothing more or less than a ten-inch electric chainsaw of exceptional sharpness mounted on an extending pole allowing an advertised reach of from six to twelve feet. The weight of the saw is enough to pose serious control difficulties when the pole is at full extension. Did I mention it is razor sharp? I naturally had to own one of these unfeasible tools if only to see if Mrs Stevie would ban my ever using it. I normally choose gas-powered tools over electric owing to the need for extension cords, but even I'm not stupid enough to attempt limbing a tree with a gas powered pole saw. Yes, they make such things.

The problem with using the polesaw to bring down the tree in question was that firstly, the extension cord was just long enough but no longer, and that the last foot of the pole couldn't be extended without it sliding back into the handle again. This meant that I was holding the saw by the end of a ten-foot pole at arms length while standing directly under the limb I was cutting. In order to maximise the excitement this arrangement was generating in your humble scribe, I eschewed the recommended tree-felling gear of hard hat, heavy clothing and steel-toed boots for a soft sun hat, tee shirt and swimming trunks and sneakers. With my heart in my throat I activated the polesaw and began to cut. At which point I stood on the extension cord and pulled it out of the polesaw's receptacle. Reconnecting the cord involved placing the polesaw on a picnic table located nearby and plugging it back in, a job requiring both hands due to the large quantities of chain oil that had coated everything making every surface almost friction free. I repositioned the saw and stood on the cord again, and had to reconnect it yet again. Then I did it all again. And Again.

A nagging voice was suggesting that this was in fact not the usual anti-handyman deamon activity that accompanies so many of my jobs, but an anti-incompetence angel trying to prevent a terrible tragedy. I naturally ignored it. I long ago learned not to do things The Voices told me to.

Eventually I managed to get things organised long enough for the polesaw to cut entirely through the branch at the highest point I could get to with a convenient crotch for guiding the saw. The branch severed. I struggled with the pole and managed to retain control, all the while watching the tree limb and trying to figure out which way to jump.

Which turned out to be backwards.

The branch swung in a graceful arc just long enough for the outermost branch to pluck lightly at the powerline like some Segovia-inspired Ent, then it came down like an express train to land right in front of me, in the spot where I had just been standing.

"Great Heavens!" I exclaimed1 and the tree fragment rolled over, cudgeling me cruelly about the head and shoulders before trapping me in a woody cage of inescapable captivity.

I used a few of my better Words of Power, stripped the polesaw and detached the chainsaw from the pole, then got busy making matchwood of the tree. I won free of my arboreal captivity after a titanic struggle in which I trod on the extension cord and yanked it out of the saw no less than seven, possibly eight times. It was all very tedious.

Having removed the greater part of the mass of the limb, I re-assembled the polesaw and went about cutting the other branch from the main limb, the one I had used to guide the saw the first time. Once again I positioned the saw. Once again I trod on the cord. Once again I did it all over again.

Finally I cut through the branch and it came clear of the limb. With a mighty squeak of sheer terror I leapt for the safety of anywhere but where I was standing, but came up against the edge of that picnic table I was using to reassemble the saw/power cord arrangement and inadvertently used up a number of class three swear words I was saving for an emergency. My right kidney felt like it had been thwacked by a picnic table, which was, coincidentally, exactly what had happened. I madly spun around looking for the fallen tree part, but it was nowhere to be seen.

Until I looked up, that is.

It had fallen into one of the dendritic fern things and the other limb of the tree it once belonged to and was firmly stuck. I studied the situation with a jaundiced eye, noting in passing that the power lines were still oscillating but hadn't as yet pulled out of either the house service entrance or the transformer tapping. One in the win column then.

I pulled hard on several outer branches but all that happened was that I got showered with nasty white berries. I ended up cutting the thing a second time with the polesaw in an attempt to get it to fall out of the tree but every time I got the branch almost cut through it would shift so I couldn't continue the cut. I eventually lost my temper, grabbed a handful of branches and pulled, at which point one of the cuts I'd made broke though and the main branch snapped in two.

I fell backwards as the piece I had in my hands came crashing down. The cluster of small springy branches that made up the main branch's underside bent under it as it came to rest in front of me, then released all their stored energy, catapulting the whole springy mess at me like some demented possessed tree spirit. For the second time that day I was thrashed about the head and pinioned by a woody fiend.

I fought my way free of imprisonment, staunching my new wounds with a filthy shred of paper towel I had used to mop the oil from the polesaw and stood glowering at the fallen branch.

Which was when the remaining piece chose to fall directly behind me, cartwheeling to the ground in order that my back might feel the maximum number of blows from subsidiary branches.

I dragged the fallen debris out of theater while chanting some restorative charms, then surveyed the remains of the trunk. There was now just a four foot long piece of wood about as thick as my thigh (and I have manly thighs of Herculean build I might add) that I would cut from the body of the tree, leaving only the limb leaning over the fence and balanced to fall on the neighbour's yard. That limb I would not cut under any circumstances, as I explained to the pouting Mrs Stevie who had come on the scene just in time to advise me how I had done it all wrong. She wasn't happy that I wouldn't free her of the intolerable berry menace, choosing only to reduce it by half. She wasn't impressed by my fervent explanations of the dangers posed nor by the freely bleeding wounds I had over 90% of my exposed skin. She would, however, live with the decision since she was not about to try using the polesaw herself.

Not after she saw what it's use had done to me at any rate.

I was happier about this last cut because by extending the polesaw to it's maximum I could stand off to one side and, for the first time in the whole business, adopt a safe place to work from. I made a detailed study of the limb and confirmed there were no surprises waiting in the form of branches I hadn't seen, then cut the log from the remains of the tree. It cut fairly easily and broke free from the trunk to fall vertically to the floor, about seven feet or so, enough to dig a decent sized hole when it landed. It crashed down, hesitated for a moment before falling towards me in a graceful arc. I wasn't worried. I was well out of the reach of its four foot (or so) length.

Unfortunately, I wasn't out of the reach of the long, thin, single branch growing from the back side of the trunk in such a way that it couldn't be seen before the cut was made. The green, springy wood lashed back and forth striking me several good blows on the shoulders and face rather in the manner of a bullwhip before I could take evasive action. Worse still, the neighbours were alerted to my plight by my manly howls of anguish and by the sardonic laughter of Mrs Stevie.

That was it! I marched back to the garage and dug out my 20 inch chainsaw, last used to reduce a maple tree to sawdust and firewood. In a matter of about 45 minutes it was all over for the abusive and incorrigible tree.

At least for the half I cut down, anyway.

  1. I believe those were the words I used though truth to tell I was a bit busy at the time and hadn't prepared anything in advance


gil said...

Excellent exposition.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I laughed very hard. This weekend I was dropping some dead standing elm with a friend, and I also found myself in the woody embrace.

Once again, thanks for the laugh.