JUNGLE TAMING

( 1990 Quentin Bristow)

After years of living in a rented house with a minuscule garden, a house came up for sale on a street which had big lots, like 66ft by 215ft. We were shown around the bungalow by the agent, closely followed by another agent with another couple. Gosh yes, the lot did look big, but then of course it would after the postage stamp we were used to, couldn't swing a mouse there let alone a cat. The bungalow was, well, adequate and would need some face lifting. The lot was as they say "treed", in this case you couldn't see the lot for the trees, elms, scrub oaks, maples and lots of poplar. Being tailed by other prospective buyers concentrated our minds wonderfully - and we bought it.

We moved in around September and it began to rain, and rain and rain. When it let up enough to look outside we saw to our horror that we had bought a convertible lake. It looked quite idyllic with all the trees coming straight up out of the water. I had visions of Canada geese adopting it as a staging post and the place being designated a wild-life refuge. I also became aware of a subterranean whirring noise which would come on for a little while then go off again. Eventually it was on almost all the time, at which point I paid a visit to the basement and discovered a sump pump in obvious distress attempting to keep its vital parts above the water level which had almost reached the top of the sump.

We reflected rather bitterly on why we had left our rather cosy and bone dry rented abode and made a down-payment with good money (not much of it, but what there was was good), to live in a sort of Noah's ark in the worlds only urban rain-forest, with nothing but an overheated sump pump between us and a watery grave.

Eventually the rain let up, the waters subsided and the sump pump stopped glowing in the dark. The nearest we got to doves bringing olive branches were some loopy crows with faulty biological clocks trying to make a nest in the chimney, perhaps they were building the ornithological equivalent of a winter cottage with free heating and weren't so loopy after all, who knows. Then it was time for the leaves to fall, which they did - for weeks. Now we could see the lot for the trees and it was then that we discovered that it was a double lot, not 66 X 215 but 132 X 215 or two thirds of an acre. No wonder it had looked so big when we first saw it.

Now people with ordinary sized gardens with one or two well beloved trees put their leaves in garbage bags. We tried that but thirty nine garbage bags later we still couldn't see any grass, so we thought about burying them. After all the one thing we had was lots of room to dig holes. I seized a spade and started on a hole of appropriate dimensions. I got down about a foot and rediscovered guess what - the convertible lake again. Oh well, look on the bright side, just think how nice it will be to have an instant in-ground pool in the summer. Meanwhile what about the damn leaves ? Well, make a compost heap, yes of course, a thoroughly responsible and environmentally friendly solution. We were suddenly seized with a feeling of being close to nature - work with it, not against it. How could all those other people be so crass and suburban as to put leaves in garbage bags, leaves aren't garbage, they are part of the endless and immutable cycle of nature, bringing new life to barren soil. Like hell they do, a year later the pile was still there, but the cycle of nature was immutable alright and we were immutably linked to its treadmill. There was only one realistic solution, remove the source of the leaves, or at least reduce it to a dull roar.

I really didn't know much about lumber-jacking, except what I had seen on T.V. Sometimes I saw fellows with spiked boots sort of run up trees and then presumably somehow topple them over, but they never actually showed that bit. Other times they would cut fancy notches in the bottom of the trunk and shout "Timber" and run hell-for- leather into the bush. I didn't think I would have much luck toppling over any of the trees we had, which were on average about two feet across at the base and between fifty and eighty feet tall. Any way, running up them, with or without spiked boots, was definitely out of the question; in the first place they had too many branches and in the second place I am not a terribly good runner even on the flat, let alone vertically.

I acquired an old chain saw from my father-in-law which was reputed to have been one of the confederate armys' secret weapons in the American civil war. It was very heavy, but very powerful, and after rebuilding it I could see why the confederates set such store by it. I resolved at the outset that I would always keep both feet on the ground during tree-felling operations and I always did. I must admit that sometimes they moved pretty quickly across it and barely touched down, but I never used a ladder.

We got a polypropylene rope which we used to secure the victim at a convenient fork as high as possible from the ground. My wife would retreat as far as the rope would allow and apply tension while I went to work with the chain saw.

When we first started the assault on the trees we provided free entertainment for the passers-by. They would shake their heads in disbelief when they saw me whirling a rope with a metal weight on the end around my head and letting fly at a tree. As far as they were concerned people who spent their afternoons trying to lasso inanimate objects were on a par with people who put on waders and stood in the bath with a fishing rod.

As time went on we got pretty good at putting a tree down more or less were we wanted it, but inevitably there were some exciting moments. One tree was leaning ever so slightly in the wrong direction and towards a hydro line. It wasn't particularly large or heavy, but rather than have any nasty surprises we tied the rope to the trailer hitch on our car. Before starting in with the chain saw I inched the car forward enough to put some tension on the rope and jammed the parking brake down hard. I cut out a notch on the fall side and then cut through towards it from the other side, leaving a "hinge" of wood intact across a diameter as usual. The rope was a little tighter now as the tree was leaning a little in the wrong direction to begin with. I got in the car and tried to move it forward, nothing doing, I couldn't believe it, surely it couldn't be too heavy for the car, in desperation I revved up more and tried again. With a fearful groan and shudder we moved forward a couple of feet. I was in panic mode, what could have gone wrong? What if the rope broke? The damn tree would collapse taking the hydro line with it which would start a fire, the transformer would explode and the entire neighbourhood would be destroyed.

It would be the great fire of Ottawa and there wouldn't even be some redeeming side effect like wiping out a plague or something. I would be convicted of property destruction, arson, and disturbing the peace, ten years on each count, sentences to run consecutively. I dashed back to the tree, perhaps the "hinge" was still too thick, although it looked pretty thin. I cut a little more, any more than that and it would be cut right through. Back to the car, again a shudder and a groan and minuscule movement, then the penny dropped and waves of relief swept over me. I reached down and released the parking brake and we rolled forward effortlessly with the engine still barely idling and down came the tree right behind us.

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