Thursday, January 3, 2019

Tree Service

I think I shall never see, a thing as lovely as a tree, being cut down.

Trees are wonderful and beautiful and dangerous and messy.   We love the enormous magnolia that was planted by the original owners of our house, nearly 50 years ago.  It shades the front screened-in porch we built, and cuts down on our utility bill in the summer with its cool shade.  The birds love it because - in addition to the bird feeders we've hung from it - its tight web of branches discourages hawks from swooping in.

But of course, like most trees, it is messy.  It drops leaves all year-round and every fall drops these seed pods like pine cones - all over the place.   Of course, it is not a native tree to the island, which raises the hackles of our island horticulturist, but it is a beautiful tree.  Our island is noted for its plethora of live oaks.  We don't have one of these beautiful trees on our property, but our neighbor does.  He always complained about the mess - the oak leaves (which get into everything, including your car's air conditioner) and the Spanish moss litter his lawn, and he spend hours every day raking it all up!   If had his druthers, he would have cut it down - but since we live in a State Park, that isn't permitted.   Oak trees are too messy, he says.

Of course, children can be messy, too, but you don't see people cutting them in half with a chainsaw, at least not very often.   The analogy to children is apt.  When a young sprout, they are so cute and adorable, and you don't realize they can grow into a huge nuisance later on - a nuisance that can be difficult and expensive to get rid of.  Not only that, a large tree, if it falls on your house, can kill you in the night as you sleep.   Sort of like that drug-addled 30-something that you've let live in your basement for far too long.    Yes, the analogy is apt.

And some people chose not to have children - and others choose not to have trees.  We used to laugh at the "retirement houses" we'd see along the main highway in New York and in Georgia.  Usually on large lots, these houses had nary a tree.   "Too damn much maintenance!" the owners would say - a lot easier to mow five acres of lawn without trees obstructing the way or dumping leaves, pine needles, or whatnot on the lawn.

Of course, that is an extremist view - in one direction.  Others have extremist views in another.  They argue that no tree should ever be cut down, ever.  If a tree falls in the forest - regardless of whether anyone hears it or not - it should be allowed to sit there and decay and rot.   Small saplings that never have a snowball's chance in hell of growing beneath the canopy of their elders should be left to die.   Nothing whatsoever should be done to anything - just let it all grow "natural-like" in a viney mess of branches and debris.

And I suppose there is some merit to that point of view, but like anything else, perhaps moderation is the key.   One problem we do have with forests, is that they catch fire periodically - which they are supposed to do - and since we put these fires out, the amount of combustible underbrush accumulates over time, until spectacular fires erupt - fires too strong to be put out readily.    Our interference in the ecosystem (by dint of our every existence) changes conditions, and to some extent, we have to be stewards of the land to compensate.

It is like the deer population on our island.  It was brought here for hunting purposes during the club era in the late 1800's.  We were the top predator on the island.   When we stopped hunting, the deer population exploded - and so did the tick population.   Some argue that as top predator, it is our responsibility to cull the herd, through whatever means (hunting, birth control, whatever) and thus manage the herd to be healthy and of a size that is sustainable for a 7-mile long island.   Others, of the "leave it all alone" mentality, submit that the deer should be allowed to breed indiscriminately, until disease or some other factor culls the herd (so far, tick-born illness and auto collisions seem to be the only thing that is culling the herd).

Myself, I think moderation is the key.  But moderation isn't very popular these days.  Across the planet, the human race is engaged in an orgy of extremism.   People like to criticize America and President Trump (and they should, too) but they fail to realize that the populist, nationalist, right-wing trend isn't limited to our country, but is fanning across the globe.   Power-hungry dictators or parties can be found anywhere - from Valenzuela to the Philippines, from Poland to Turkey, Egypt, and even in Jolly Olde England with its xenophobic Brexit campaign (which will be the cause of the next recession).  And of course, that includes China, where a new leader is consolidating power, Russia, where Putin has held a death grip on power for decades, and rogue States like North Korea.   It isn't just us - the "get 'er done!" strongman is once again in vogue, across the planet.

And on the other side of the coin, wacky left-wing thinking is spreading as well, as evidenced by the freshmen class of "Democratic Socialists" who promise to mess things up worse than the "tea partiers" did a decade ago.  The GOP didn't get half its agenda accomplished because of holdouts on the far right.  The Democrats look poised to suffer the same fate, not due to the Republican-controlled Senate, but because of the far-left in the House.

But I digress.

Moderation - that is the key, and today, moderates are targets for both the right and left.   But like with anything else, with trees, moderation is important as well.   On your personal property, having trees is important.  Like I said, they provide shade in the summer and, if deciduous, will drop their leaves and let the sun in, in the winter.  They also make a home more appealing and comfortable and enjoyable to live in.   A house sitting in the blinding sun is no fun to be in, unless you keep your curtains closed all the time and spend all day watching television.  Whoops, I just described half of America.   More like 3/4ths.

The big problem is that trees do get old and die, just like every other living thing.  And even before they die, they can drop a limb through your roof, causing an awful lot of damage.   We have pine trees on our property as well as the Magnolia (and palms, which are considered grasses, not trees).   We've had one cut down already and hope to remove two more that are poised to fall on the house.   Our neighbor has a dead one that is coming down as I write this.

Dead trees are tricky to remove, as they can snap off at a moment's notice.  These are trees that are over 100 feet tall, and you need a tree service - professionals - to take them down.   They climb the tree, chainsaw dangling from their waist, and cut off chunks starting at the top.   Some use a crane to hold the tree up while it is being cut, and then lower the pieces to the ground.  Others let the chunks fall - often 4 feet long or longer - with a huge "thump!" and a 2-foot dent in your lawn.   The tree can sway dramatically when a piece is cut off, which is why cutting dead trees is tricky - if the tree sways far enough, it can snap off and take down the tree surgeon with it.   Since you don't know how structurally sound a dead tree is, it can be very dangerous.

Which is why often, you need to call an expert for this, rather than risk life and limb with do-it-yourself tree trimming.  Granted, a small tree, far enough away from the house, could be safely felled, if you know what you are doing.   But it also is a messy and time-consuming task.  Just removing all the branches and debris can take hours or even days - and then disposing of them becomes a chore as well.

But how much does it cost to have a tree removed?   Well, "it depends" on a number of factors - where you live, how big the tree is, what type it is, how close it is to structures such as houses, overhead wires, etc., and how accessible it is to equipment.  We paid a little more than $600 to have a pine tree removed - a decade ago - by having a guy scamper up the side of it and start sawing off chunks of it.   It was on the front lawn, far away from the house and overhead wires and easily accessible by truck (which sank into the ground).  They didn't do any follow-up cleanup work (repairing the lawn, etc.) nor did they grind the stump.

The pines we need to have removed now are four feet from the house, right near the main power drop, and basically inaccessible to larger equipment.  It is possible to crane the tree right over the house, but this of course, adds the risk of dropping the tree through the house in the process.   There is a lot of risk involved - to life and limb as well as property - and the tree service factors that in (as does their insurance company).   They are also grinding the stump.   Total cost?  About $2000 a tree.

Ouch.   Now you see why these trees, which probably seemed like cute little Christmas trees 50 years ago, can turn into expensive monsters later in life.

Trees can grow quickly - more quickly than you might think.   Some sort of trash-tree spout comes up near your house, and you think it looks cute.   Ten years go by and its growing into the foundation and clogging your gutter with leaves.   When I was young, I thought trees grew slowly.   As I get older and time compresses, I realize something else.

The previous owner of our house in New York planted a plethora of "specimen" trees, and by the time we bought the house (and the decade we lived there) they matured into a beautiful garden-like setting.  He had planted most of them away from the house, so they did not provide any shade, sadly.  But he was of the opinion  - a valid opinion - that shade trees, while nice, can create problems with they tip over in a storm, right into your roof.   I planted a tree right in front of the house, to block the blinding sunsets.  I am sure the next owner probably cut it down.

It is nice to have a tree right next to your house or patio - it provides a natural tree-house effect than can be very pleasing.  Some avant-guard houses are built around existing trees, or have trees poking through the backyard deck.  Again, very beautiful and calming, until the tree dies or threatens to topple, at which point it becomes an expensive nightmare.

I will continue to love our trees, though I will be a steward of them, and as they age, they will need to come down - with newer trees planted in their place (as indeed, is required by the State Park rules).   But man, think hard before you plant those damn pine trees.   They get huge!

UPDATE:  My neighbor found a cheaper tree service that wasn't backed up a month in advance.  Using a huge crane, they hauled the tree right over the house (hope they have good insurance!) for about $1000 a tree - far less than the other company.   The trees are all gone now.  I counted the rings - about 50 years old, or the age of the house.  The original owners could have run them over with a lawn mower - and should have.    100 foot pine trees four feet from your house - like living under a guillotine!