Well, we had an exciting afternoon recently!
When you live in the forest, you get used to falling trees and branches flying around when the wind picks up, but we recently had a day that was a bit more dramatic than usual.
A storm blew through one afternoon last week from the north - a very unusual direction for our little protected hollow tucked between two hills. Needless to say, our trees aren't really used to a breeze from that direction, and one showed a particular weakness.
I was inside working and kept hearing a loud "CRACK", every 30 seconds or so when the wind gusted.
Then it got louder.
Thinking I should probably identify the tree so I could figure out what direction it might fall (and if we should be hightailing it out of there), we opened the front door just in time to see it fall in slow motion (as falling trees are wont to do), shattering into pieces across the driveway and a section of our split rail fence.
A bit of a mess? Absolutely. But little damage, thank goodness.
In this part of the world, we have a lot of western hemlock, red alder and broadleaf maple - three species notorious for falling on unsuspecting homesteads and their assorted outbuildings! The alders and maples tend to rot at a relatively young age, and the hemlocks have extremely shallow root systems that give way in the combination of heavy rain and wild winds. And as you are probably assuming by this point, our little cabin is surrounded by all three.
First off, let me say that I have a big space in my heart for big, old, deciduous trees (maples, oaks, a lot of the exotic street trees, and even our local alder). They're so beautiful and poetic - an invitation to go sit underneath with a good book and while the afternoon away. A place for kids to climb and play. A gorgeous addition to the landscape, providing shade in the summer and windbreaks in the winter. Before we moved to the country, I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to cut one down.
Now, after being here in the forest going on 3 years, I get it.
Around here, deciduous tend to rot out or become unstable at a fairly young age, so having a specimen of advanced age anywhere near a building is just asking for trouble. So how do we attempt to stay safe and not end up a statistic at worst, or with a crushed roof, car, chicken house or other outbuilding?
So far we've been extremely lucky. In the summer of 2010 we had a maple just about take my son and I out when we were playing catch on the lawn. It actually fell on the roof of the cabin, but I guess the angle of the tree and roof (or something) meant only minor dents to the metal chimney cap and the rain gutter on that side of the building. So as you can imagine, we quickly called in the local licensed tree guy to do some 'trimming'.
Apparently, we didn't ask him to go far enough.
So here's what the experts recommend looking for in trees around our home and outbuildings in order to assess safety for the winter winds (preferably before winter!):
As with anything to do with rural living, it really does pay to spend a bit of time learning about your surroundings and what is 'normal' versus what might constitute a hazard. While your chances of being killed or injured by a falling tree or branches is really low, the same can't be said for your outbuildings, vehicles and equipment. You've made a big investment in your dream life - it's worth spending a few minutes a few times a year to make sure it's protected.
Now, as for getting the job done, please don't borrow your neighbour's chainsaw and tackle the job yourself (unless you're a trained tree maintenance specialist with all the proper equipment). Tree maintenance and removal is a very dangerous business, even for the professionals, and really should be left to the people who know what they're doing. My dad is an ex-logger, and even he won't touch some of the ones around our place (though he's been very helpful and generous in coming down and cleaning up the fallen trees for us!).
So yes, we'll be calling in the tree service contractor shortly... that or just waiting for the trees to fall down on their own. Kidding - not recommended. At all.
For this job, you want someone who knows what they are doing. There are good tree service companies and really bad tree service companies (tree butchers, really). The good ones are well trained and leave your trees healthy, safe and visually attractive. The butchers? Well, you've probably seen their work - they're the ones who come in and your property either looks like a moonscape when they're done, or the trees are so messed up there's no way they'll ever be healthy again and actually constitute more of a hazard than they were before the work was done. And you're out a few hundred bucks to boot.
So, what should you look for in a contractor?
So, a few times a year (once at the beginning of each season is a good rule of thumb), and again after a big storm, check the trees around your buildings for damage or potential problems. If you simply don't need one more thing on your to-do list, call one of the companies you've sussed out using the checklist above - many will come out and do an assessment for free or minimal cost. Whatever you do, just get it done - your investments are worth it!
And once you've finished all that, you can relax for the winter. Until the power goes out and your water lines freeze, of course...
Do you have any experiences with crashing trees that others might learn from? If so, we'd love to hear from you! Share it in the comments section...
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