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Somewhere between Lost and Wildcat creeks.
Two weekends ago I followed Mrs. bastrop out to Seattle for a long weekend to celebrate her birthday and to visit an old best friend and his family. We all had many adventures in the city and I was glad for the opportunity to catch a couple days of really nice weather while there, as well as a couple of rainy ones. Seattle is such a great town, it reminds me of Boston and Portland, ME in so many ways. Staying on the waterfront was particularly nice.

But you all know my real passions are to be found in the natural environment, so I was particularly delighted when my buddy J informed me that he wanted my help taking down two dead and dangerous trees on some private land out on Kitsap peninsula. It turned out to be a bit more than either of us had bargained for.

Please step gingerly over the Laetiporus conifericola, and be sure to cook thoroughly if you decide to pick a bracket for later…

Now, I grew up in a family that cut and split their own firewood for home heating. We had oil as well, but the house was built in the 1730's and wood made up the difference in the leaky old structure. All of our lots and woods were managed by the family, yeilding upwards of 10 cord a year depending on how much remained from the previous season and how long the season lasted. I have done every job on the ladder from kindling to felling the tree and have seen, or heard tell of, my share of accidents and close calls.

As kids, my brother and I were often reminded of the dangers in the wood lot. From the time my dad was cutting alone (don't do this) and dropped a tree across his legs, barely freeing himself with the saw from an almost impossible position, to the time the chain broke and left a one inch gouge through the thick mid-ridge of his hard hat (which Dad still keeps), the potential hazards of this work were never far removed. It engendered respect and a healthy dose of caution in us kids. We knew the work was as risky as it was necessary, and those lessons I have not forgotten.

My buddy J is a professional arborist and has a long career in tree work. He is an expert climber, works often in storm conditions, and is used to the large growth one finds in the Northwest woods. I have known J since middle school, he is my brother as much as anything else, and I trust his instincts and his ability in the woods. He had been putting this work off for over a year, as it was a volunteer job and he hadn't been able to get out there with anyone else. You just don't do this kind of thing alone if you have a choice, so my trip to Seattle was the perfect opportunity to both take care of this and for a great hike. The timing could not have been better.

J had warned me the job was hairy. This is a recreation area and the trees were threatening two camp sites and a main trail. Part of this job would be dropping them in the proper place since we weren't cutting them up, just laying them down. An arborist has the right tools for that work, the key part being the ropes.

Tools of the trade.
These trees were both 150 ft Douglas Firs, the first a bit older than the second. Both were dead and as these trees are prone to rot, especially higher up, a major hazard is the top breaking off and dropping on the workers. They don't call this a widow maker for nothing. Even the smallest branches falling from this height can injure or kill, let alone a 15 or 20 foot section of the trunk. Part of my job was to keep eyes up top. Fortunately this never happened, but the threat was very real.

Laying it down was tricky, as the canopy is thick and the last thing we wanted for this beast was to get hung up on top, thus creating a whole new set of dangers and problems. This is where the ropes come in. Basically, you create a vector between the falling tree and other trees by running ropes like a bowstring. Attaching a pull line to the draw rope you create a mechanical device that compounds the force of your pull. This leverage guides the tree in the direction you want it to land even when naturally disinclined to that direction. Of course, plenty can go wrong, but with skill and luck it will drop when you intend to set it. In our case we were off by a couple of feet. J considered this to be a minor failure.

To run these lines, you have to get the lead rope up into the canopy as high as possible. This is done with a lead line, which is a tough, thin nylon cord sporting a weight made of ball bearings wrapped in tape. The thrower stands legs apart and creates a pendulum with the weight in-between, then tosses it has hard and as accurately as possible to achieve target height placement in the crotch of a branch. I think it took 7 or 8 throws before he was happy with the set.

Tossing the lead line.
Once it drops you attach the lead rope to the lead line, haul it up into the tree and over the other side, then guide it down and anchor it at the base. From this line you attach a second rope and run it out to another tree off one side. From this tree the line is wrapped around and secured to another tree in the opposite direction. Using mechanical advantage this rope is pulled taught, becoming the "bowstring". From its center is run a pull line out past the backside of the target tree. This is the business end of all that rigging.

My job was to leverage my weight against this line at just the moment the tree begins to drop and the window of opportunity is quite narrow. Keep pulling past that window and you can actually spring it back the wrong way in a rebound. All of this timing is crucial, and even in the proper conditions (no strong wind, etc.) error happens. I was stationed a tree hight and a half away, about 225 feet. Not sure the distance shows in this picture, but it's a lot of rope.

Running the lines.
Draw line. I thought he tree fell nicely.
The first tree dropped without incident, though not precisely where J wanted it. It was supposed to fall on top of the already downed tree to the left. He was a bit hard on himself for mising.
J being hard on himself, for the drop and for the "sloppy" cut. LOL. Professional woodsmen...
Then came tree #2 which was far less forgiving. Realizing that rot at the top and considering how thick the canopy was, he should have brought his climbing gear to cut it front the top while tied into a neighboring tree. Too late for that he said "Fuck it, we're dropping it." Famous last words…
Famous last words, indeed.
The tree was not only hung in the canopy but at the stump. It had twisted and was hanging on by inches of core. This is a dangerous situation for the arborist. The forces involved and the tension inherent here can also a widow(er) make. One can predict likely directions the tree could kick out, so the best one can do is asses, guess  and hope for the best (not the optimal strategy for saftey) and have a clear exit. We spent some time clearing exits.
Hung at the canopy.
Hung at the stump.
After clearing exits and assessing the likely outcomes, we decided it was worth running lines to leverage the force of the hang and try to pop the cut backwards with the draw line. Want to see how successful that was?
It had a mind of it's own.
You guessed it: the tree went in exactly the opposite direction we intended and hung up worse than before, compounding the forces at play with a twist. Dangerous doesn't even describe this. As my dad responded to a text with these pictures, a man who has cut  as many trees on his own as J has in his career so far " this brings back memories of almost killing myself twice a day". He ain't lying.

After long discussion we arrived at the least worst option. I would get far the fuck away and have 911 on speed dial and J would hope for the best as he executed it by cutting out the FRONT (see the deep low notch) of the hanger (meaning toward the lay of the tree). I had my eye on that dead zone up top. That was my biggest concern once branches started to fall off. Hairy addition to our worries…

It worked. She is not a widow.
After that it was spear cuts, one after another, until the tree was essentially vertical. This leverages the force of the lean against the cut itself, dropping the tree in sections at a sharp angle. This buries the bottom spear of the trunk  a good 10" or more into the floor and is dramatic to watch. There isn't as much danger here but remained an unpredictable situation, with the largest concern remaining the widow maker up top. Check out an action shot.
Making the cut...
The moment it drops...
Did I mention my buddy J is a trained sculptor? Yeah, he carves wood among other skills. This is his most powerful work I've seen in a while, a visual representation of our extreme anxiety. Looking back I see the power of the message this tree sent us. It did not want to go, and the spirit of the tree remains in this arrangement at this site. I do believe the path has been permanently diverted to accommodate this installation.  
Sending a clear message.
After we packed up J and I took a long hike and a run (during which I blew out my knee, go figure) in the beautiful old growth preserve between Lost and Wildcat creeks. We cooled ourselves in clear waters, checked out massive old growth and picked up a few choice stones. It was a memorable and amazing day, one that I will also pay for later this month with arthroscopy to remove my mangled meniscus. That will be another post for sure.

At the end we hopped on the "Kitsap" back to Seattle.

Washington State knows how to do ferries, y'all.
And we had great views…some beautifulness right there.
Some beautifulness right here.
And we even got to watch a rainbow heading into the waterfront. It was the longest lasting rainbow I have ever seen. Such a great end to an intense and magical day.
Rainbow over Seattle.
Anyhoo, thanks for joining me here tonight. Don't forget to be safe in the woods, people. Always have a buddy and take care of your body. Especially your knees. Ouch!

See you in comments. It's great to be back in the KTK saddle.

- bastrop

Kitchen Table Kibitzing is a community series for those who wish to share part of the evening around a virtual kitchen table with kossacks who are caring and supportive of one another. So bring your stories, jokes, photos, funny pics, music, and interesting videos, as well as links—including quotations—to diaries, news stories, and books that you think this community would appreciate. Readers may notice that most who post diaries and comments in this series already know one another to some degree, but newcomers should not feel excluded. We welcome guests at our kitchen table, and hope to make some new friends as well.

Originally posted to Kitchen Table Kibitzing on Wed May 14, 2014 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots.

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