Saturday, December 31, 2016

Timber!

It's tree-felling season here aboard the Colonel's vast holdings at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere.

Not since the Colonel completed the mission of preparing a unit for deployment, and brought them all home safe again, has he found something so satisfying as building something with wood harvested and milled on his own property.

When the Colonel first purchased his sawmill -- SemperFilet -- he believed he was doing so to free himself of the grip of the local lumber yard.  He even thought he might save some money in the process.

Did he?  Eh..., probably not. Chainsaws and sawmills don't run on air...

But he did fill his days with a really cool hobby.

The Colonel has always loved trees.  He was a tree-climber when he was a kid -- loving the semi-escape of earthboundedness that hauling oneself up a ladder of branches to a lofty perch provided.   In the top of a tree, the Colonel gained a vantage from which his imagination could run wild.

No telling how many enemy planes he shot down, mountains he climbed, or whales he spotted spouting.  

But, nowadays his admiration of a tree takes on a wholly different aspect.  The Colonel can't look at a sizable tree without estimating its yield in board feet.

Now, before any of the half dozen of you who the Colonel counts as his readership get the idea that the Colonel is engaged in some wanton timber wastage, slashing and burning through his forest in a way that would make a passel of hippie-offspring snowflakes picket his operation, let the Colonel assure you that his is an entirely sustainable operation.

In point of fact, the Colonel's personal forest is growing far faster than his harvesting. He has even allowed former pasture land to return to woodlot.

Some might sarcastically observe that trees are now growing in his former pastures because the Colonel is slovenly in his bush-hogging.  They would be right.  But, there is a method to his laziness. In a couple of fields where once flat prairies of grass grew, small oaks now dot.  They are less than a decade old, but someday the Colonel's great, great grand progeny will lounge under their expansive canopies.

Back to the reason for the season.

Felling large trees is hot, dangerous work.  Mostly dangerous.  But, that's the kind of guy the Colonel is.

The mature trees on the Colonel's hit list are protected in the warmer months but hordes of Colonel-hating insects and fork-tongued folks with no shoulders.  So, the Colonel waits until the winter months, when all of the Colonel-hating denizens are underground, to do his lumber-jacking.

If you have never felled a large tree with a chainsaw, you just haven't lived.  Nothing gets the blood pumping like cheating death and dismemberment at close range.

A large tree is a living thing that doesn't die easily.  One doesn't just march up to a tree and quickly slice it off at the base.  The tree fights back.  And, if you are careless with it -- underestimate its strength and heft -- it'll kill you.

The Colonel approaches tree-felling like a military operation.  There's a planning phase in which the following questions are answered:  A) In which direction do you want the tree to fall?  2) In which direction do you want unimpeded rapid escape?  

Answering question A helps answer the second.  Once you decide in which direction you want the tree to fall, you must plot primary and alternate rapid escape azimuths.  (* Important safety tip:  Ensure that rapid escape azimuths do no coincide with direction of tree fall.)

Once planning is complete, the Colonel conducts a preparatory phase wherein he clears paths for both tree fall and rapid escape.  (* Another important safety tip:  Avoid roads and power lines as tree-fall directions.  Cars and electricity don't mix well with tons of falling timber.)

Rapid escape azimuth planning must also include primary and alternate chainsaw flinging positions.  Rapid escapes from the death throes of a mighty tree are hard enough as it is.  Attempting a rapid escape from the death throes of a mighty tree while still lugging a running chainsaw only complicates the matter, unnecessarily.  

Felling a mighty tree in a desired direction takes several cutting steps.  First, a horizontal cut less than halfway through is made at the base of the tree facing the azimuth of desired fall.  A second, diagonal, cut is made connecting to the first cut, resulting in a cake-slice (tree-felling always makes the Colonel hungry) piece that should, if you have cut precisely enough, fall out easily. (The Colonel is never precise, so he always carries a sledge with which to beat out the slice.)

Remembering a mighty tree is a living thing that will fight him to the death, the Colonel conducts each of the steps above and below in a modified sprinter's crouch.  There are often false starts in the escape azimuth race -- a mighty tree will complain at your assault, issuing starter's pistol cracks.  The Colonel usually gets in a pretty good country crossfit workout when felling a mighty tree, replete with upper body chainsaw flings and false start sprints for life.

Once the tree fall direction cut is made, the real fun begins.  When you start the felling cut on its back side, a mighty tree gets the message that you aren't just whittling your initials and, indeed, intend to kill it.  A mighty tree will endeavor to return the favor.  Ergo, the need for primary and alternate chainsaw flinging positions, and primary and alternate escape routes.  A mighty tree will fall, but it will fight to the end, striking back at you with one or more death throe nods to Newtonian Physics. 

Oh, and when a mighty tree gives up its structural integrity to the vertical, its fall is irreversible.  There is no pause button to mash so that one can quickly move one's pick-up truck.  Don't ask how the Colonel knows this.   

There aren't many feelings the Colonel has had in his feelings-full life that compare to the sight (and survival) of a mighty tree crashing to the horizontal.  Unfortunately, because the Colonel's keen appreciation of the latter most often results in a chainsaw fling and 100 yard dash (and because the Colonel's 100 yard dash time has slowed significantly over the years) he often misses the former. 

There's no mistaking the sound, however.

Particularly, if you forgot to move the truck.   


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