Last Sunday, I had to make an emergency call to the G.P.
“Dad, that stupid tree on the fence line has collapsed and now there’s a brush tunnel that looks like it goes to a magical fairy land, but is just really scratchy and leads to the overgrown weeds in the easement. We’ve got to cut it down.” I knew what it was like in the tunnel because I thought it would be cool to make it into a fort where I could read books, drink lemonade and eat peanut butter cookies. This theory proved false when I was attacked by red ants and got slashed to pieces by pokey branches. Plus, I nearly lost an eye. The only way I’m wearing an eye patch is if it’s a part of my pirate outfit. Or, like, if I get a sty. In any case, “attacked by tree” is not a valid reason to become a Cyclops.
“What do you want me to do about it?” the G.P. grumbled, sick to death of working on my devil yard.
“Can you bring that pole thing with the saw on the end over? I’ll just cut the bad limbs off.”
It was actually a nice day. The overcast sky had mitigated the big burn of summer, and it looked like it might rain. Dad agreed to come over, noting that if I was going to mess with cutting down a tree, wearing some head protection would be smart. Frankly, that’s always a good idea. I once knocked myself out in a Holiday Inn swimming pool on New Year’s Eve by swimming directly into one of the sides. I inhaled a little water, which caused me to wake up and surface to all my friends laughing hysterically at my spluttering. I tried to pretend I hadn’t almost killed myself, but no one bought it due to a forehead dent, and they cut me off (booze-wise), and also wouldn’t let me go to sleep. I had to sit around bored (and very damp) until 9 a.m. when I then had to drive everyone home. It wasn’t my worst New Year’s. Still, you understand why people are always suggesting I wear helmets.
I knew from bitter experience working with Dad, that I’d better be well into the job before he got to my house, so I grabbed my big loppers and started cutting the branches that I could and hauling them to the curb. I had a decent pile going by the time the G.P. pulled up.
“Why are you doing that?” he asked, disdainfully. “I’m just going to saw the top branch off anyway. It’ll all fall at once.”
I said something about smaller pieces being easier to haul to the curb, which was an acceptable platitude. Dad got to work with the pole saw, trying to cut through the broken-yet-still-thick branches that had created the tunnel. My theory was that I’d only need to saw the limbs about two-thirds of the way through, and then I’d climb up in the tree and stomp on them to finish the job. I was on the top of the fence climbing up into the oak when Dad nixed this idea.
“What the hell are you doing now?” Dad hollered, abruptly halting his long distance sawing.
“I’m just going to stomp on it so it falls!”
“Get the hell down from there, you idiot!”
Pouting, I started my descent. I have always loved climbing trees, and the ancient one in question was particularly good with lots of sturdy branches and hand holds. In fact, this was the tree I had once drunkenly designated as the one in which I would build a treehouse so that my friends would have a place to stay when they totally messed up their lives – but not a very nice one, so they would also leave.
I leapt off the fence and started looking for something to do, just as the branch the G.P. was working on cracked in two. I grabbed the leafy end and started pulling that part out of the tunnel, intent on hauling it to the brush pile. It fell from the tree with a loud crackle – and wonked my father right in the face.
The world slows down dramatically when you’re sure you’re going to get killed. I swear there were about three days of time in between Dad cussing and then spitting blood, and me managing to speak. In that eternity, I was wrenched through a grist mill of guilt.
“Dad, I’m sorry!” I finally managed. “Are you okay?”
My father spat again and returned to his sawing. His righteous anger rolled towards me in waves.
But he said nothing.
I began to very carefully haul more branches to the pile that was beginning to resemble deadfall from a Stephen King story. Dad sawed, and the pile and the silence grew ever thicker, punctuated only by the G.P.’s occasional genteel expulsion of bloody spit.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. We’d eradicated the tunnel, the remains were stacked and ready to be hauled off by the city. The remaining work was more for finish than function.
“That’s good enough, Pops. Let’s quit.” I offered, trying to find a fragile peace.
“Let me get this one down first,” Dad said, chopping at a particularly thick limb.
“Okay,” I replied, still in shock that he hadn’t turned me into emotional mush, yet. The branch fell and I lugged it to the pile. Dad took a sip of iced tea from his Yeti, as he put his saw into the back of his truck.
“This whole tree is a mess, Ab. It’s going to have to come down. We can either pay someone $500 bucks to do it, or I suppose I could just buy a really good chainsaw.”
“Why don’t you just get the chainsaw, Dad. The city comes out again in October. We’ll cut it down in September, and I’ll just work on rolling all the bits out to the ditch for a whole month. I’m sure I can get it done.”
My father scoffed, got into his truck and drove away. I’m still not sure what the verdict is. I’m pretty sure Dad is never going to cut anything down with me ever again. That’s okay.
I really like my tree.