We loved the Blue Spruce by the pool yard. It sheltered a picnic table and a bench swing. For years it sheltered the grill. It was a stopping spot for birds going to the backyard feeders. It was the closest shade on the back of the house. 60-70 feet tall, it was the gateway to the net-yard and the back meadow.
But in recent years it had started looking worse and worse. More branches fell during storms. The branches that were left had fewer and fewer needles as the patio and pool had more and more. The color of the tree seemed paler and less green. Finally we noticed that it was developing a definite lean — toward the house, the pool and the new pool fence Bill had just put in. We had to admit that it was time to think about what to do.
Late June brought the perfect weather — cool mornings and no winds. And, of course, this year we were home with plenty of time to work on things.
Bill dug through his boxes and found the tree climbing equipment he had used decades ago when one of his side jobs had been as a high-tree man for a tree company. The harnesses and climbers looked as good as they had when he had put them away all those years ago. That meant we could at least attempt the job ourselves.
My 14-year-old electric chainsaw had seen a lot of use as old trees on our property had fallen in storms. Decades ago, Bill had always used gas-powered chainsaws, but recently he had learned to appreciate the toughness and ease of use of my little electric. So with the electric in hand, he climbed the extension ladder to cut out all the branches he could reach.
One of my jobs was as a safety spotter, wearing a hard-hat, with cell phone handy in my pocket.
Another job was to pull downed limbs away from the base of the tree when Bill told me it was safe to do so.
Bill says he thought he was giving me an easy job, until he saw the divots left in the ground by the weight of the falling limbs and looked at the size of the branches.
After the first day on the ladder, Bill spent the early afternoon cutting up all of the branches and transporting the pieces to wherever we needed them around the property: a deer fence behind the owl net area, brush piles for small animals and birds, and LOTS of firewood.
On the second day, things got serious! Out came the climbing equipment, each piece being checked and rechecked for usability and safety.
Then, with harnesses and straps and spikes for climbing, and with a chainsaw hanging from his belt, Bill discovered that he did remember how to climb a tree!
Up he went. Down came the branches. And when he rested, I pulled more and more limbs away.
When the branches were easy for Bill to reach, lots of them piled up quickly below the tree. The branches were like huge “pick-up-sticks” and I had to decide which one to pull out next. But I knew I had to do it since Bill couldn’t get down if the limbs were piled around the trunk.
And then it happened! The trusty old electric saw finally broke in a way that made it impossible to tighten the chain. It was done! After much discussion and online research, the next morning I drove to Steubenville and bought a new 14″ electric chainsaw. We were back in business.
Down came more branches. As Bill got higher and the trunk got smaller, the strap that held him close to the tree was too long to work well, so he had to switch to a shorter strap. On his way down, he had to reverse that process.
The tree started looking more and more like a lollipop tree in a child’s drawing.
Bill tried to stay up in the tree as long as he could since climbing up and down was hard, especially from the pressure of the climbing spikes on his legs. Bill discovered that he liked the new electric chainsaw even more than the old one — and that’s saying a lot!
On the last day, Bill finally made it to the place where the trunk split into 2 trunks — about 3/4 of the way up. That made it impossible for him to climb higher safely. Knowing what was coming, before climbing up that day he had positioned the truck in the meadow on the side of the tree opposite the pool yard. When he climbed that day, he took with him one end of a long, heavy caving rope. He cut off the last of the branches he could reach. Now came the trickiest part!
Bill tied off the rope as high as he could reach on the top of the tree. Then I took up the slack and tied the other end to the hitch of the truck.
He wanted me to be ready to move forward and “pull” when he said to. That’s when I discovered that it’s impossible to watch or hear what’s happening up in the tree when I’m in the truck with the motor on, facing downhill in the opposite direction. The best I could do was to hop quickly in and out of the truck.
Bill had me put a little tension on the rope and he began to cut out a notch facing 90 degrees away from the pool yard and about 45 degrees away from the truck’s location. He cut a big notch which landed with a resounding “thud”!
Now the part that most worries tree men. The notch was just right. There was tension on the top. He knew just where to cut opposite the notch. Still, the unexpected can happen with big trees.
Bill told me to put a little more tension on the rope. I shifted the truck into gear, but it wouldn’t move! No, the brake wasn’t on. Park … back to Drive. I could hear the gears were working, but it wouldn’t move! Bill was yelling for more tension. Then I had an idea. The truck had gotten pretty close to the compost bins, so I had turned the steering wheel. Looking at the wheels, I could tell that they were turned too severely to be able to move. Quickly I straightened the wheels a bit, started moving slightly, and then turned them back a bit so I wouldn’t hit the compost bins as I crept forward a foot more . Whew! Now all was ready.
Bill began cutting opposite the notch as I watched. Soon he yelled, “PULL!” I hopped back into the truck and crept forward as I heard the unmistakable sound of big wood breaking and the “WHOOMP!” of a heavy landing. Jumping out of the truck, I found the tree-top lying just where Bill had hoped to put it and my tree guy strapped to the top of a tall, empty snag, grinning from ear to ear.
With the branches gone, the trunk would not be prone to being pushed over by the wind, so we had already decided to leave the 40-foot snag for the various woodpeckers, nuthatches and other birds who might enjoy it. Bill climbed down from the tree for the last time.
A few days later we saw a White-breasted Nuthatch coming down the trunk, too. He even came down head-first, with no climbing equipment … he made it look so easy!