Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Giant Toppled

Red Elm being converted to fire wood.

Several months ago we headed the back way to Campbellsville and saw our friend J.M.'s truck at his secondary farm. He keeps part of his Black Angus herd there and knowing he'd been treating a cow with an injured foot, J. decided to stop and ask if the cow was improving.
The men stood talking--cattle, machinery, haying, gardens.
J.M. waved a hand in the direction of the side-hill pasture and said,
"There's that dead elm that needs to come down.  Would you want to cut it and haul it away for firewood?"
Felling the tree and "working up" the wood has been on J.'s to do list since that time, but other jobs have been more urgent.
Yesterday, a day of cold and sunshine, he suddenly announced his intention to take down the elm.
I scrambled into extra layers of clothes, abandoned a search for my winter boots and hats, which hadn't surfaced since our move.
I picked up a book.
[Never go on a journey with a man without a book to read while you wait for him!]
A few miles down the winding back road I realized I hadn't brought the camera.

J. logged during the years that we owned the Vermont farm.
He is no stranger to the tools and tricks involved in bringing a large tree down safely.
[No stranger either to the grim reality that a tree can become an instant killer if something goes awry in the felling process.]
He expected that approximately half an hours' work would see the tree on the ground.
Viewed close up he realized the girth of the tree was greater than it appeared from down near the barn where we stood on that summer morning when this project was first considered.

Here you can see the chainsaw with its 18" blade compared to the flaring stump of the elm.
J. judged where he intended the tree to fall and began the process of notching and slicing.
The snarl of the saw rang across the pasture and several Black Angus wandered past to investigate, then plodded on to a safer spot.
There was nothing I could do to help at this point, so I sat in the truck with my book, keeping a watchful eye on the undertaking.
J. stopped several times to sharpen the saw, adjust the chain.
He stuck his head in the truck and commented that he had met up with only one other tree that had been as difficult to bring down--a grand old maple.
He brought out a wedge and a splitting hammer.
The rythmic blows rippled through the cold bright afternoon air, but there was no visible quivering in the branches of the tree.
By now grimly determined not to be thwarted, J. produced a 20 ton hydraulic jack, enlarged a notch on the back of the tree trunk to accomodate inserting the jack, and began applying pressure.
He estimated that a 6 inch square of heart wood at the core of the tree was all that was holding it upright.
Nearly three hours after he launched his attack on the old giant, there was finally a telling crack, the tree shuddered and thundered to the earth in a splinter of small dry branches---landing exactly as planned.
The cows, who had retreated to the calm of the lower pasture, raised startled heads at the unfamiliar sound.
I put down my book; I had read 170 pages.

J. cut mostly "limb wood" in the daylight left to us yesterday.
I loaded it into the back of the truck.
The section of the tree which he sawed up today was of larger "chunks."
Some of them were bigger than I could fling into the truck, so I rolled those closer where he could load them.

Elm has a coarse, rough bark, with heavy vertical ridges.
The limbs of this venerable tree were covered in scaly grey lichen.

Here you can see the work of the saw, the wedges, and the space gouged out to place the jack.

The view toward the fence line.
The December sun stays low in the sky and the hedgerows have an amber glow.

Looking over a knoll of the pasture.

The trusty old Dodge, "Snort'n Nort'n", part of every work project for many years.

Elm trees were a familiar and much valued part of the American landscape, particularly in New England, prior to the epidemic of a killer fungus known as Dutch Elm Disease.
The Vermont farm purchased in 1913 by my great-grandparents in partnership with my newly wed grandparents, was known as Elm Row Farm.  I don't know if they gave that name to the farm or if it had been so called by previous owners.

If you would like to read the story about one of the country's last surviving elms, finally felled last winter, in Yarmouth, Maine,  here are two interesting links.


  1. Good morning MM, Jings it's cold this mornng! {-15C or 5F} Windy too. I must remember my beanie before taking G to the train.....

    What a nice action packed wee post. Some lovely photos too of the reality of bringing down the tree. {something I've never done} You get a real sense of ths scale of it in comparison to J.

    I hope it keeps you warm for a long time........

  2. He's quite a man, your man!! What a task and he wouldn't give up. I love your comment about taking a book with you when you go out with your man. In our house it's Barry who takes the book. While I'm in the Animal Shelter, he walks for an hour and then reads. There are practically no elms left in England. Very sad.

  3. What a job for your DH, but a job well done. What a glorious old tree. What a sad tale for the Elm trees.

    Nice that you have some wonderful fire wood for the winter.

    Have a nice day ~ FlowerLady

  4. Lot of work! We have a willow that needs taking down but because it's surrounded by other trees we've left it standing. Hopefully it will fall on its own some day, but not on the house!

  5. Wonderful post ...who would have thught I could be captivated by a tale of felling a tree lol.
    Some years back ...when I lived in England ...the country was struck by Dutch Elm ....horific

  6. Sad to see an old tree go, but what a wonderful supply of fuel for you over the coming months. J must have felt a real sense of achievement when it finally fell, and you must have been greatly relieved!