Friday 28 March 2014

Surfing the branch down

Forty days, more of less, is how long its taken to start clearing up the raffle of trees, brush and branches which came down in the Darwinday storm.  I'm not talking about the small stuff, mostly sceach / whitethorn / hawthorn / may / Crataegus monogyna (all the same species - you can see why we use Latin to communicate).  I refer rather to the four enormous, and one merely large, cypress Cupressus sempervirens trees that filled the garden down on the Waterford coast.  When we first went down there, the neighbours were jockeying for position and some free fire-wood but a brief consult with Chris "The Tree" Hayes indicated that letting them onto the site was possibly dangerous.  For one thing, a couple of tons of roots and earth are likely to sit back into their hole when the counter-balancing tree-trunk is severed. For another, there were some very large broken branches and tree-tops hanging high up in the surviving trees waiting to impale a parsing scavenger, So we decided to hold everyone off until the most obvious problems could be stabilised and/or brought to earth.

Accordingly, I lit out of The Institute after my last class on Wednesday last and hared off South to see if I could help Rossa and Chris, the tree-surgeons from Wexford.  They had been working away all day and had reduced the three trees which fell in the farmer's field to neat looking trunks.  Anything smaller than about 7cm in diameter had been fed through an industrial-quality wood-chipper and spat out the far end as mulch.  That's a mountain of mulch.  I was tasked to drag the branches to a heap near the machine, so that Rossa could feed the monster.  As I went, I threw any long-dead branches, which can be burned immediately, over the ditch and back into the garden.  After that, we went back into the garden and started cutting branches to put some manners on the tangle in preparation for the long day's work the following day.  Soon enough it was falling dark and so we stopped.

The next day, I got up early to collect all the ready-to-burn branches into a single heap near the front gate, in case one the neighbours runs out of coal.  After a while, the boys came out and I was back to hauling branches to the chipper, but this time I kept my saw handy to cut any big bare pole-ends off for fuel.  It was hard to imagine using ALL of wood-chip mulch that had been created. While we were hauling and chipping on the ground, Chris was disappearing further and further up the trees cutting out the hangers. There was a bit of discussion about what to do about a huge lump of timber that was caught at two points about 15m up in the trees. It was suggested that, if it was cut close to the heavier end, it might start to travel earthwards.  Failing that, they could attach a rope and pull t'bugger loose.  Or somebody could just surf it down.  I assumed this last solution was in the nature of ironic banter,  but this is what eventually provided the solution.  Having attached himself by a rope to a solid part of the tree higher up, Chris stepped boldly onto the branch under discussion and started to jump and bounce and shake until at last it started its descent, leaving the impelling forester dangling above it.  It was a pretty good example of the difference between potential and kinetic energy and the earth moved when the branch struck the ditch below the tree.  Don't try this at home, kids.

I had to leave at 11am to drive 100km back up the motorway to teach my lunch-time class in human physiology.  But I felt much better for having started the day with some physical and useful work.  It turned out that the root-balls of both the 'garden' trees did settle back more-or-less into their holes after the top-hamper had been removed, but without any small children or idle spectators underneath.

Wood-chip mulch for sale.

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