It was the dead ponderosa pine tree that the bald eagle had perched in when I rode the ranch's small motorcycle within 50 feet of the tree and stopped. The eagle looked at me but stayed where it was, less interested in me than in everything else going on around us. I said, "Hey, eagle, how's it going for you this morning?"
Either the eagle didn't like the motorcycle, or it didn't care for conversation, because it flew from the tree and up Trout Creek Valley. I rode on to my morning's work repairing fences.
The next time I went up the narrow dirt road along the creek, I discovered that the tree had blown down. Its roots had rotted underground, so when Whitney Valley's strong winds encouraged it enough, its roots broke and it fell across Trout Creek. It also fell over the barbed wire fence on the other side of the creek. It brought with it a large piece of the earth that was still clinging to its remaining roots.
Had I looked carefully at the pulled-up chunk of earth, roots, and the tree, I might have noticed the delicate balance of forces and angles and weights. I might then have foreseen what was going to happen. But I just figured that when a tree is down, it is down.
I was going to have to cut up the tree because it was lying on my fence. I would have to get it off and repair the fence to keep cattle where they were supposed to be. And, I figured I might as well add the tree to my firewood pile. In any case, the tree probably would have behaved just as unpredictably and dangerously however I approached it and wherever I started cutting.
I rode the motorcycle home and got my pickup, my chain saw, and associated tools. Then I drove back to the fallen tree. I climbed onto the tree, walked up to the top of it, and started my saw. I began slicing off limbs and cutting the trunk into firewood lengths, slowly working my way down the tree.
Some of what I cut off fell into the creek, but the pieces would stop in shallows downstream. I could fish them out when I finished cutting.
I was halfway down the tree when it started to move - and I also started to move as fast as I could, because I understood what was happening as soon as I felt motion. The dirt surrounding the roots and the roots themselves were tilted slightly back toward the ground from where they had emerged, but the weight of the tree was enough to keep gravity from pulling them back down.
I had blithely kept cutting weight from the tree, however, until it had lost enough weight that the root ball began moving toward its original oneness with the earth.
The tree began to move back toward its original posture, pointing straight toward the sky, with me on it. I was almost as high as what was now its top.
The tree moved slowly at first. I long ago decided that chain saws mean less to me than life or limb (if I can be forgiven the implied pun), and I cast the still-running machine hard away from me. I ran down the rapidly accelerating tree and leaped clear of the root ball just as it rejoined the earth. I stumbled, caught my balance, caught my breath, voiced gratitude that I was not injured, and turned to look back at the partially cut, newly upright tree.
I took a mental note: Try harder to foresee everything that could happen and avoid doing stupid things that in hindsight seem so simple to foresee, things that could lead to serious problems.
I walked over, picked up my chain saw, and went back to work on the tree - this time starting from the bottom. The sun still shone and all was still right with the world, even for the eagle, who was resourceful enough to find many more good perches from which to watch over the Trout Creek Valley.