Sunday, June 5, 2011

Lines of communication

Our regional electric cooperative hires a forester to help protect the power lines from tree damage, thus cutting off the flow of electricity. I think it’s a great idea. I always assumed that it was just some guy who decided to rip up the trees along a power line, without regard to the effects. I was glad to hear that a professional forester was in charge.

Our area of the cooperative was due for cleanup this summer. Dave talked with the forester, walked through our woods from the road to the house with her and discussed the best ways to do things. They could either trim branches, remove branches or cut down trees that directly affected the power line. Trimming branches meant they’d have to come back in a few years to trim branches again. Removing branches gave them a slightly longer time span before repeating the process. Cutting down the individual trees made the most sense from the point of view of the power company. Since none of the trees they would cut were landscape trees and most were box elder, a soft maple that isn’t a particularly nice wood for carpentry or carving, removing the trees seemed the best path to us too.

They began with one truck and a small grove of trees in the middle of our hayfield. It would be a relief to have those trees out of the way. I always dreaded driving the tractor-baler- hay wagon procession around the clump. I frequently lost bales to the low hanging branches and dreaded the day I would lose one of our employees. And furthermore, it was hard to judge how close I should be to the trees to meet up with the proper row of cut hay on the other side of the grove.

Next day we were vaccinating lambs in the barn. I heard the growl of machinery all morning, but was still stunned to see an white and yellow cherry picker bucket up at the top of one of the trees behind our house. As I watched, the man in the bucket raised his chain saw one handed over his head, made a slice, and grabbed the branch with the other hand to guide it’s path to the forest floor. The bucket lowered slightly and he repeated the gesture. It was mesmerizing.

After six or ten branches, he lowered his bucket to the ground. That was when I noticed the other vehicles in our woods. There were two cherry pickers, a chopper and at least one miscellaneous truck. This was not the one man with a chainsaw carefully pruning the trees in our woods that I had imagined. This was a crew creating a superhighway through our property.

What were they doing? Why? I walked down into the trees, trying to control my anxiety. It’s okay, I told myself, Dave okayed this, I thought. Would they stop cutting before they reached our plum tree, the one that had never produced fruit in thirty years, but still every year I hoped for white flowers and small purple plums? I was almost too full of emotion to speak.

I knew that the trees were a problem for the power line, but couldn’t they have talked to us about laying underground lines down our driveway before they ravaged the woods? If you have big machinery, you use big machinery. My vision of the single man with a chain saw was due to my lack of imagination, not their attempt to mislead me. They couldn’t imagine taking down a tree with a single man and a chainsaw. I couldn’t imagine driving four large vehicles through our woods.

To the background roar of the chopper and two chainsaws, I talked to a man in a yellow hard hat with a clip board. He put me at ease. First, they were chopping the branches and spreading the mulch on the forest floor - a really good idea. Not only would it decompose back into the forest, building up the topsoil and returning the nutrients to the earth, but it covered up the old strands of barbed wire fence that had lain on the ground since long before we bought the property. Second, they were stacking the logs they cut so that we could burn them in the wood stoves next winter. Box elder isn’t one of the long burning, high energy woods, but it would be great for spring and fall when we didn’t need quite as much heat. Finally, I realized that they had built their superhighway through the scruffiest part of our woods. Only the violets bloomed there in the spring, none of the other wild flowers that I had found or carefully transplanted to bring back the ecological richness and diversity to a woods that had been lumbered over one hundred years ago and then grazed by cattle for many years. My wild ginger, bluebells, trilliums, wood anemone and rue anemone, Dutchmen’s britches and showy orchis were safe.

I had thought I knew what was happening to our woods and they thought we knew. It was no one’s fault that even though we were talking, we really weren’t communicating. It was a good lesson for me on how what one hopes doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with reality, and also on watching and listening a little longer before I say something. The woods will recover. The apple trees in our yard are no longer overshadowed by the box elder trees in the woods behind them. The extra light in that section of the woods may bring new spring flowers. We have some wood cut for winter and it is only the beginning of June. The actual outcome is exactly what I would have imagined, if the lines of communication had included telepathy.

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