The Way Out Here

Crashing coniferous

Posted 8/5/20

There are a few constants when living in the woods of Northeastern PA. The first is that there will be trees. The second is that said trees will grow and at least some will need to be cut down. When …

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The Way Out Here

Crashing coniferous


There are a few constants when living in the woods of Northeastern PA. The first is that there will be trees. The second is that said trees will grow and at least some will need to be cut down. When my wife and I moved into our home almost four years ago now, there was a tall Hemlock tree in the backyard that we knew would not last much longer. Although it was healthy and green, it was the arborists’ version of the leaning tower of pizza. The tree grew at a very distinct 50-degree angle, fortunately leaning away from our house, but leveraging its roots to the very surface of the ground it held on to.

For a while, this tree served as a great source of shade in our backyard and even made for an anchor on the dog’s run-line. Its low-hanging dead branches were often used as the occasional starter for our summer campfires, and although the wind has been notoriously violent with other parts of our property, the leaning hemlock stood fast.

With our recent project to expand our chicken houses, the tree would be just a little too close for comfort once the building was finally erected. The wrong type of wind and we could easily lose our supply building and a stretch of fence surrounding the chicken yard. The time had come for our tree to die. But the way out here is not about simply cutting back, destroying, or clearing—no. Firewood would be a good use for many of the limbs and dried fronds famous for their fire-starting ability, but the bulk of the tree needed a greater purpose in my mind. So before cutting it down, I spoke to our neighbors who own a portable sawmill. Let me just take a moment to say, I have the best neighbors out there. They agreed to help me mill the logs once felled into usable boards which I plan to dry and use next year to build a small sugarhouse for making maple syrup. The way out here, neighbors help one another, and boy am I blessed that ours are the golden example of that.

Well, the hour had come, and our old Hemlock stood proudly for its final hour as I gathered the chainsaw, bar oil and fuel before taking a final look around to determine that the stage was set for the coming crash of the coniferous colossus. My dad came by to give a few pointers, as it was determined that the base was actually hollow, making the chore just a mite more dangerous than it otherwise would be. Fortunately, with the safe direction of the tree’s lean, it wouldn’t be too hard to pick a landing spot. After consulting with my father, I started the saw and drew my first cut across the low side of the trunk in the direction it was to fall. I followed this up with a downward wedge cut above this one to remove about 30 percent of the trunk on that side. With the hollow middle exposed, I turned to the sides of this wedge cut and drew the blade around the waist of the creaking tree. As it swayed ever so gently with barely 10 percent of the solid base left intact, I lined up for the final cut. No more than an inch into the wood, the roots lifted slightly under my feet as the pillar before me creaked and snapped, unable to hold its weight any longer. I stumbled back and cleared the scene as I watched it cascade in forfeit to the earth.

The tree had been successfully felled and the yet hard work lay ahead. Although now dead, this tree will continue to bring the homestead new life as its boards build onto the future of the way we live out here. Any time we can turn a problem into a resource, that’s the way we prefer to do it.


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