The 70-foot pine tree in our backyard had to go—it should have been removed long ago as it’s been slicing into the beautiful maple tree next to it for years. But I hate taking out any tree, so I stalled and made excuses—maybe the two trees will learn how to play well together, I thought; maybe the pine will quit poking its sharp, browned-out needles into a maple that looks as if it could inspire a budding Walt Whitman to write a poem.
Actually, I was dragging my feet because of the expense, so I put it off until a neighbor recommended a local man named Pierce. “His estimates are half what others charge,” he said. “And he won’t tear up your yard; he does it by hand.”
My neighbor was right. It turns out Pierce is old school, and the only thing that distinguishes him from a pioneer lumberjack is that he uses a chainsaw rather than an ax. He hopped out of his pickup truck, eyeballed the tree, and decided it might do some damage to neighborhood property if he lopped it off at the base. “Should be an easy one to climb,” he said. “I’ll prune the branches and top it as I come back down.”
Pierce attached his climbing spikes, adjusted the tree belt, and started his ascent. Switching the small, powerful chainsaw from hand to hand, he buzzed through lower branches and steadily moved up. He made it look easy, but I know otherwise. During my college years, I did summer work for the local telephone company, and most of the lines had not yet been converted to underground cable. “Gogerty, you’re young; put on these spikes and shinny up that pole to see if squirrels have been eating into the line. It’s only a twenty-footer—you’ll just bounce a bit if you fall.”
I only fell once—about a 14-foot “burn” down a sliver-filled pole, and the boss was right—a few bruises but mainly just a jarring bounce at the bottom. A few years later, my wife told me that her great-grandfather died as a result of falling from the top of a utility pole. His broken back did him in before the horse and emergency sled could get him to the nearest hospital—30 miles away.
The phone company soon purchased a boom truck with a cherry picker, but I climbed enough poles to marvel at what Pierce was accomplishing. Climbing with a belt and spikes is an art, and Pierce is an artist. “I guess I’ve been at it for 30 or 40 years,” he said. “Started with a tree company up in Minnesota. Never been hurt, I’m happy to say.”
He notched and cut the pine so the sections would fall just right, and before long, he had the branches, trunk segments, and debris hauled away. The pine was gone, the maple seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, and the modern-day lumberjack headed down the road.
“How old are you, Pierce?” I’d asked him before he left. “63,” he replied. No wonder he zipped up that tree—I’m 64 and glad to see that in this techno era, there are still some youngsters out there doing such highly skilled labor jobs. To paraphrase Monty Python, “He’s a lumberjack—and he really is OK.” by dan gogerty