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Perspective: Fallen Oak

Chris Fink

Saturday I was headed to the clinic to get a tick disembedded from my groin when I saw my old neighbor LaVern out lugging his chainsaw. I thought I’d better stop. “What are you fixing to cut,” I said.

That tree you told me you were going to cut,” he said. I told the wife to put 911 into the phone, “but don’t hit go.”

“I’ll be right back,” I said. The tick would keep. I knew that dead standing tree had been bugging LaVern. I drove back to my house, gassed up my saw, and drove right through LaVern’s yard to the dead red oak. We stood beneath the big tree worrying which way it would fall. We didn’t want it to hang up or hit anything it shouldn’t. The trunk leaned one way, but the canopy leaned the other. I guessed that the trunk weighed more and told LaVern my plan.

“I’ll stand back here,” he said.

“Good idea,” I said.

I’ve cut enough trees that they sometimes fall where I want them to. I wedged the tree and started the back cut. Water leaked from the wound. Red oak is 60 percent water, just like the human body, and it holds onto that water even in death. When the big tree tipped, I stepped back. It tipped the right direction, and for a moment I felt a smug satisfaction, but then it spun defiantly on its hinge and crushed a perfectly healthy small white oak on its way down.

I felt a little sick. I looked over at LaVern. “Sorry about that,” I said. LaVern inspected the smaller oak. “It was rotten anyway,” he said. Which while untrue, was a neighborly thing to say.

Chris Fink is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Beloit College. He is the author of Farmer's Almanac, A Work of Fiction.