Episode 104: Risky Business
As I grow older, I avoid some of the adventures that made life exciting in my youth. I hire someone to remove a limb from a tree or repair my roof. When I do work from a ladder, I double check that it is secure. But I still ride my bike on busy streets and hike into the wilderness when I can. All of life is risky but we need to keep our courage. This is a story from the time just before I retired.
George and I cut down a big cedar tree near his home that he split into shakes for the roof of his country cabin. The tree was over four feet in diameter and perhaps 100 feet tall. It was dead and leaned over a small stream in a gully. We built platforms on the streamside to get up high enough to cut a notch.
We used a small chain saw to make the notch and the first cut in the back. Throughout the operation we ready to run because the tree was dead and probably rotten in the center and it leaned perhaps 10 degrees from vertical. It talked to us quite a bit as the chain saw made its way through the trunk. After the saw had done all it could reach, there was still over one foot of wood untouched and no sign that the tree was ready to fall. Then we got a two-man saw and began to really sweat. Both of us had a healthy respect for the power of that tree. The saw was only six feet long and would not allow a full cut. We were perched on the edge of the bank on an improvised platform. When the tree swayed or cracked, we ran along our escape route without a backward glance. We ran and returned many times before the tree began to move.
I remember that moment of fear and relief and exhaustion. The air was clean and fresh. The woodlot was full of the sounds and smells of nature and the dreadful swishing of the falling tree. It seemed to be falling as planned but in those few seconds we moved out as fast as possible. When we were totally clear we were able to turn and watch the final crash into the lower trees and the hillside. The top of the dead tree shattered into bits and the butt jumped backward on the stump stabbing our platforms into the mud. The earth shook and the crash seemed to roll down the little valley for a long time.
When all was still, I climbed up onto the stump and clambered onto the trunk itself as it rested across the gulch and along the hill. The bark was slippery but I inched upward until the lower branches came within reach and then walked up to the very top with the woodpecker holes and splinters. Everything had gone as planned. After a brief celebration we settled down to cutting and splitting the trunk and then hauling the bolts up the hill. This process took several weeks and George did most of the work by himself. The shingles are now stacked in his garage awaiting the completion of the roof on his country cabin.
We, or at least I, was never sure we could do this job but like many other tasks I have undertaken I wanted to try and when we did succeed, I felt that I knew more about myself and about George. I felt like a better person for having accepted the risk involved- the physical danger and the possible failure of nerve or strength and subsequent humiliation.
I am used to being the more adventurous partner and it made me nervous when George wanted to move farther and faster than I was prepared for, But courage like fear is contagious and after talking it over I decided to help him with his project, I am grateful to George for the opportunity to engage with the big tree and turn it into a useful product.
George and I worked together in a rehabilitation center for injured workers. Many of them seem to have lost faith in themselves. We need to help them to recover their courage. Perhaps the best help we can give them is to demonstrate with our own lives that life is good and that each of us has within us all the things that are necessary for our own happiness.