A thumping BOOM! jolted my wife and I from a sound slumber.
“What was that?” she asked, startled.
“I don’t know,” I mumbled, hoping for a swift return to dreamland. “Probably just thunder.”
“But it’s not storming. It’s just windy.”
Whenever something like this happens in the middle of the night, I ask two crucial questions: 1.) What was it? 2.) What can we do about it? If the answer to either question is “nothing,” my preferred course of action is to return to sleep. After several minutes of peering out into the blackness, I convinced my wife that there was nothing to worry about and that we should turn back in.
At daybreak I went out to search for the source of the solitary thunderclap. I didn’t have to look any farther than the west end of our house.
The wind had toppled a gigantic ash tree whose upper regions now rested on our roof. The tangled jungle of leaves and branches on the rooftop made it impossible to determine if any shingles had been smashed or rafters fractured.
Every kid dreams of having a tree house, but not like this.
I instantly realized that I had to call a couple of guys. Rural homeowners keep a rolodex of guys to summon in emergencies, such as the septic tank guy and at least two help!-I’m-stuck-in-a-snowdrift guys.
I phoned Bill, our insurance guy, and Gary, our tree guy. Gary said he would come out to our place that afternoon. As I waited for him to arrive, I decided to go topside and assess the situation.
WARNING: Never venture onto a roof with a live chainsaw! This should only be attempted by skilled professionals such tightrope walkers who can also juggle. Only an idiot would go up on a roof with a chainsaw.
“Get down from there!” exclaimed my wife when she came outside to investigate the overhead roar of my chainsaw. “You’re not a tightrope walker!”
“I’m being careful,” I assured her.
“Fine. But if you fall and break that chainsaw, I’m not getting you a new one!”
By the time Gary pulled in, I had removed most of the minor branches. Some major timber still leaned heavily upon the roof.
After telling him about my feats of high-flying branch trimming, Gary shook his head and said, “Wow, you’re really an id… I mean, brave.”
Gary brought his grapple, a humungous mechanical arm that’s equipped with a two-foot-wide thumb and forefinger. A thumb and forefinger that can lift several tons.
Gary’s grapple gingerly grasped the tree and hoisted it off our house. I lopped off a 12-foot segment which Gary then swung to one side. When he dropped the massive log onto the ground, I could feel the whump through my shoes. Yikes! I had been messing with some enormous forces.
Gary piled up the branches and placed half a dozen logs – each of which weighed as much as a car – onto the lawn. After Gary left, I began to butcher the mossy leviathan. It soon looked as though our lawn was littered with sawed-off whiskey kegs.
I paused to count the rings in the largest log. Starting from the outside, I soon passed my birth year. Here is the ring where Dad was born and these rings were formed when my grandparents were babies. The band of rings laid down during the Dirty Thirties were especially tight. Tough times for trees and people.
I tallied about 130 rings, proof that the tree had been planted by my great-grandfather Charlie. I have a photo of our farm taken a few years after Charlie homesteaded here, and it appears that some scraggly weeds were growing west of the house. Weeds that would eventually become the mighty grove that shelters our farmstead from our relentless prairie winds.
These winds are a form of natural selection. A tree that can’t stand the occasional gale-force breeze won’t last long. The same is true of hairdos.
I rented a splitter to reduce the logs into chunks that our woodstove can digest. During this process I broke open a nest of carpenter ants, some which were as large as a Shetland pony. The insects were quite upset. Many of them made obscene gestures at me with their antennae.
The ants had wrecked their rent-free home, yet they were mad at me. Ants can be real jerks when it comes to such things.
The loss of that ancient goliath is regrettable. On the upside, I now have enough firewood to power a nonstop coast-to-coast steam locomotive.
And I relearned an important lesson: my wife is invariably correct whenever she insists that it’s not nothing.
If you’d like to contact Jerry to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.