David Hoppe

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David Hoppe
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:: Cutting the oak

by David Hoppe

If there’s a sound more insistent than the timber-shredding growl of a chain saw, I don’t know it. I suppose there’s a high-pitched three or four-year-old out there who comes close; but kids in this mode are usually blitzed on sugar or lack of rest. They can barely help themselves, and whatever they churn up usually runs out of steam before long.

The chainsaw, on the other hand, is, more often than not, powered by gasoline and driven by grown-up will. It doesn’t just want your attention, it devours it. 

Foresters have been using chainsaws around my house since early morning. I live in a woods. From where I’m sitting, I can see a couple different kinds of oak trees, as well as maples, dogwood, beech, witch hazel, sassafras, hemlock and blue spruce. When Christian, the leader of the chainsaw crew, first visited our place, he smiled and told me that when he googled the address, he couldn’t see our house for the density of the tree canopy overhead.

I like these guys. They wear t-shirts with the words, “TREE PHILOSOPHY” emblazoned across the back. Christian has told me that, unless a dead tree puts people or property in harm’s way, there’s no need to cut it down.

I appreciate the humility of this outlook. While trees are a defining part of where we live, it sometimes seems as though they fill some members of our community with ambivalence. Trees, for these folks, appear to be a kind of threat. They tower above us, after all. When the wind blows, they sway. And you never know when one is going to come crashing down.

Last year, on a still and sunny afternoon, I heard a sharp report, like a cherry bomb. This was immediately followed by a mighty rending sound, and then a heavy thump. It was 70 feet of oak tree, come suddenly across our road.  

There are people who cut trees to supposedly improve their view; for us, there is no view without them. That’s why it took us so long to finally ask Christian to take down the dead tree at the edge of our deck.

It wasn’t so much a tree as a leaning, oaken column. The top and any branches had cracked and fallen down years ago. It stood at a slight angle, shedding its bark in long strips. Woodpeckers loved it; lately I could swear that whenever a bird alighted on its ragged crest, I could see it shudder slightly.

Christian didn’t object to cutting it down last year, but on second thought, we declined. The tree was dead, but a kind of sculpture remained. There was something companionable about it.

Eventually, though, we reached a point where we began to see not so much what was left of the tree, but the space surrounding it. The idea began to sink in that something dead might give way to something living.

I’ll never know how long it took that tree to grow. It took minutes to cut it down with a chainsaw. The sound was intense. We’ll let the space breathe awhile. Then, perhaps, we’ll plant a dogwood there.