Felling a Tree for The Sake of Old Glory

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TO celebrate the 4th of July I had to take down a tree. An ash that had been a seedling 20 years ago had spread its limbs to take over my flagpole. This is a 40-foot pole, and ash trees do grow faster than some other woods. I knew several years back that I would have to trim limbs or take down the tree, and this spring the new growth on the limbs snagged Old Glory until we faced a federal case for abusing The Color.Annually, on the Fourth we have a centennial observance and patriotic breakfast, an assembly of several hundred. We sing the anthem, run up the flag, Neighbor Nelson reads the Declaration, a cannon goes off, and we have pancakes at the shore. It's all over by 9 o'clock, and the holiday has been properly begun. It is no occasion to have the flag looped indecorously over a limb. This is no forest tree, but was standing surrounded by dooryard. I am no stranger to taking down a tree, and in my time have done so for lumber and fuel. But this one needed to be pointed discreetly so it would miss numerous points of interest, including a power line. Thus I mused on the art of felling a tree - which may indeed be a lost cause. When my great-grandfather began clearing forest in the 1600s, he used an ax which had been made in England and was not meant for New World conditions. The saw came later. He whacked down "fathom pines," trees that left stumps six feet across, and his ax was the sturdy European sort so his eyeballs bounced in his head with every stroke. The double-bitted chopper's ax with a limber handle was developed in Bangor many years later. In my time I learned to fell trees with my dad and my granddad, and while we sometimes "scarfed" a tree with an ax, the felling was done by a saw - one-man or two-man crosscut. The scarf was a pie-shaped place taken out on the side toward which the tree was meant to fall - it amounted to "aiming" the tree. Then, from the other side, the sawyer or sawyers would cut until the tree began to tip, gave a snap, and thundered to the ground. Experienced sawyers could set a stake in the ground 60 feet away and ca use the trunk to hit it. When the chainsaw came along, I bought one that weighed 35 pounds before I put gasoline in it, and I thought that was great. I used it until improvements accrued, and then I gave it to a museum. But sawyers who were accurate enough to hit a stake sometimes erred, but they usually blamed it on an errant puff of wind. The tree, instead of going where the scarf was aimed, would tip backward and "lean towards Sawyers." Others in the crew would taunt sawyers so inept, and a folklore saying was born. Anything askew is said to "lean toward Sawyers," until many suppose Sawyers was a family name. Not so. When a tree leaned backward toward the sawyers, the saw would be pinched, and the sawyers were "in a bind." To be in a bind became a saying, too, and is used plentifully without reference to lumbering. When in a bind, as regards a saw, the sawyers would rig a "Samson-pole" to push the tree away. This was a simple and ingenious application of leverage that could be effected on the spot with an ax and two poles. Sawyers who had to extricate themselves with a Samson-pole would be joshed for a time in the bu nkhouse. So I took down my ash tree, thinking about things that belong to logging. I suppose ordinances, as well as prudence, forbid felling urban trees, in favor of the professional tree surgeon. In the woods, "mechanical harvesting" is the term. It was 15 years ago, or more, that Great Northern opened its Ragmuff lumber camp, and Henri Marcoux, a veteran chainsaw contractor, described it to me by saying, "She donave no shinesaw on de place!" It was true. Trees were lopped by an operator sitting in a heated (in winter) and air-conditioned (in summer) cab who pushed buttons. A huge device called a Logmar trimmed the limbs and sheared the tops. Derricks loaded trucks. Another contraption picked up the limbs and chipped them for fuel. The chainsaw was obsolete - at least in the woodlands operation. Carl Muller from over-the-river came "just in case" to help me take down the ash and free the air o'er the land for our Star Spangled Banner. Instead of a tree, I now have some firewood. Old Glory went up unimpeded, unsnagged, and the art of felling a tree is not yet completely lost.

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