Ice Storm Saga
An adventure I could have done without.

Part Three of Three:
The clean up…

When we bought and moved to this property (October 1989) I knew it would be expensive to maintain, but I had no idea how expensive!

Tree work for the thirteen years we had lived here already had cost me thousands of dollars, I have lost track of how many. That is not even counting the garden expenses and supplies - plus: tools, 2 chipper machines, four lawn mowers (one was stolen), two chain saws (one was stolen), student helpers, truckloads of mulch, sand, etc., the list goes on and on.

And now it was to do all over again!

I finally got through by phone to one of the tree service companies who had worked for me before. I asked to be put on their waiting list. She asked if I am one of their customers. “Yes.” She verified it on her computer. Regular customers were being put on a list - ahead of callers who were not customers already. I was encouraged.

The swarms of men with chainsaws could do a lot and there was plenty for them to do. But, there were some jobs I saved for the professionals, such as the trees in the front: 2 sugar maples, an old black locust and the bur oak with the limb over the bedroom roof. Plus, I saved one huge hackberry tree in the back that had split right down the middle. That one would be a dangerous job and a strenuous undertaking. It would require a team of professionals with special machinery. The men with chainsaws could do all the rest. And, I called in a few college students to help with the sorting and moving of debris.

Decisions had to be made, and made quickly: OK –

(1) The downhill path to The Dell had to be made passable. Chainsaws were needed there immediately to fight through a mountain of tree that was covering the path. Do that FIRST!

The huge (and I do mean “huge”) hackberry that stood at the top of a drop-off that we call “Look Out Point” had split. (It had been the Great Horned Owls’ favorite perch!) Half of it was sprawled over a third of the bank, the chipper-mulcher machine, the mulch pile, the path, the rockery, the terrace, and reached all the way to the property line. The other half still stood. This was a job for professionals. But, any chainsaw could start clearing the path so we could get in there and get that chipper-mulcher machine going fast!

(2) In the front:
All large limbs that were not too heavy to carry needed to go down into the dell to be arranged as borders along paths to delineate them. Large limbs too heavy – cut into lighter sections – and put to the edge of the street.

(3) More - In the front:
Limbs of smaller circumference were to be cut into short pieces of firewood for my small-size bedroom fireplace – the only fireplace we (I) use.

(4) Uphill:
Make a stack of firewood for me. A stack of the special short-length pieces is to be created “here”. “Do not put any of the longer pieces on this stack. These are a special size.”

And so it went. There were stacks of cut wood everywhere downhill and both yards uphill. It seemed the more we did, the more there was!

Clean up was dangerous; it was February and trees were heavy with sap. There was so much foot traffic up and down the path the grass was soon worn away exposing the slippery, early spring, wet clay slope. Wet clay is very slick.

One day there were three chainsaws going at the same time in our front yard: Husband and two others, a father and son team. All three chainsaws were small homeowner sizes, but they could cut small branches and remove the brushy stuff from the large pieces. The work wore out chains rapidly, but they would sharpen them, or change to a new one, and keep going. Then Husband started whittling away with his little saw on one huge limb that reached the ground, but was hanging by bark and strong fibers. His reasoning was: He would do what he could on the limb by trimming off the small and brushy parts that he could reach.

Now, in front of our house the streets form a triangle. In the center of the triangle is a small park or green space that belongs to the city. That space has a few old trees and of course they were broken.

We watched as trucks, that looked different from any we had seen, came in quickly, parked, and out jumped several men in uniforms with name tags showing they were with the state Forestry Service. They were strong fellows, with serious machines, and large size, professional quality chainsaws. They made quick work of the little park, threw all the mess into their grinder truck and were through in no time flat as we struggled along with our work.

One man looked over our way, saw Husband piddling along with the little “toy-looking” chainsaw, shook his head, strode over with long strong strides, and making a large sweeping motion with his arm, said to everyone (us) in a loud voice: “Everyone stand back!” And stand back we did.

With one large swoop he cut that huge limb down from the tree as if he were cutting butter with a hot knife. And, I appreciatively noted that the cut was made properly and correctly, as a trained arborist should. And then they all jumped in their trucks and were gone. It all happened so quickly I felt like saying: “Who WAS that masked man?!” But, did I ever appreciate what he did! That was a major help.

One day, I got the call letting me know the tree service crew was on their way to our house. They were the ones who would be trained and skilled with ropes, etc. They were the ones for whom I had saved the split hackberry, and the front yard including the bur oak hanging over the house. And, they were the ones who would have insurance!

It turned out this company currently had twelve crews working. They had contracted with out of town companies who came to help. This was a Spanish speaking crew from Texas.

What a remarkable and entertaining show they put on. Swinging from tree to tree on ropes, cutting, lowering, and never letting anything larger than litter fall on our roof. They were very careful. It was a sight to see and we stood around watching them most of the day.

I asked them to take everything they cut with them. They were good-natured about pitching on a few extras. (I did not want to miss an opportunity to get rid of as much as I possibly could.)

That was a big job that took all day. The split hackberry that was sprawled all over kingdom come in the back would have to wait another day.

The sorting went on. It seemed that everything downhill had to be carried uphill. And, everything uphill needed to be carried downhill. All was heavy with the rising February sap. Ice melted, the wet path was even wetter and more slippery.

Some slender long limbs were placed along the sides of North Path, which is near the front yard. But there was SO MUCH.

What we did not want to keep could be placed at the edge of the street. People who wanted the wood cruised around in cars and trucks asking if they could have it. “Yes! Please, take it - all you want!” That went on for a few weeks - loading it up and taking it with them. Then it seemed everyone in the world had all the firewood they could possibly use or sell.

All the uphill brushy stuff was placed to the street in hopes the city trucks would collect it and grind it. It took months for the city workers to cover the whole town with their tree grinding trucks. Finally, that which remained was cleaned up by the city crew and machines - but it was a long time later.

The downhill brushy material was run through our homeowner-grade chipper-mulcher machine. The brush pile was unbelievably huge! One student helper worked about a year running brush from the pile through the machine creating a very large pile of wonderful homemade mulch. Before the ongoing grinding ordeal was over, the machine wore out. It was the motor. I decided not to replace it.

Meanwhile, another team of men with chainsaws worked on the Woodland Garden and The Bank. To this day, there are still remnants of their ropes tied around some of the large pieces. The men were happy when I said I did not expect them to take it all away – which would have been uphill and a long way to the street. I showed them how in the past we had arranged logs and large limbs along the borders of the paths, and in positions on slopes to squelch erosion. All I wanted them to do was cut large items and move them around. We could handle the small stuff. They were incredulous, but very happy to cut and place.

One fallen tree extended into a backdoor-neighbor’s back yard. I talked to him and told him, if he would give us permission to park the workers truck in his driveway and work in his yard, I would pay to have it cleaned up. He agreed, and also made a deal with the men to take one of his trees from his yard.

Of course there were fallen branches of all sizes everywhere. It looked as if a tornado had gone through. Some of the “small stuff” was not so small, but I knew in time we could work through it.

A year later, I was still asking Husband to cut pieces for me with his chainsaw so we could rearrange them into better positions, and some into small pieces that I could lift. I asked for large limbs to be “sliced” into round slices. He did the best he could with it, although they could not be sliced-through evenly. I’ve used those “slices” several places. They are easy for me to lift, and they look interesting. By now (2007) many of them are crumbling into a wonderful soft material that the plants absolutely love.

At first the down-hill brushy material went on the huge brush pile to be run through our chipper machine - until it wore out. Additional large limbs were aligned along, and parallel to, the foot of the long bank. After the machine died, brushy material was cut as best we could with loppers and placed behind and parallel to the long, large limbs in hopes it would catch the soil that is washing down the bank because ground hogs (Wood Chucks, Whistle Pigs, or whatever name you know them by) persist in digging it out to make their tunnels.

Another mountain of tree limbs and chunks of trunk was run through the commercial tree company’s grinding machine that could get no closer than the head of the driveway. Everything had to be carried to it, most of it uphill. It was all hands on deck: the tree company’s men, several college students, and yours truly.

As they worked on the split hackberry tree, the first decision I had to make was: Whether to leave the remaining half standing, or have them take it down, too. I had so few of the largest trees left. I wanted badly to keep it (remember the owls), but after consulting with the foreman, I made the decision to take it out. I forget how many days that single tree took; I think it was a day and a half in all.

That tree had been too large for me to reach around. Now, the trunk was being sliced off in huge chunks. The large chunks (about 30 inches tall), heavy with sap would roll downhill sometimes banging into the last piece cut and all would roll to the base of the bank coming down like huge bowling balls. They were large and heavy. Men were scattering and running every direction to get out of the way.

They had a small “Bobcat” tractor with a loading fork on the front. They were trying to use that to lift the large pieces and transport them, one at a time, up the slippery clay path to their truck on the driveway beyond the back yard. The tractor would slip and slide, and twist sideways every direction. It was getting too dangerous.

The second day, I told them to stop. Leave the stump (my $4,000 stump) and leave all those large chunks at the bottom of the bank. They said, “Are you SURE? We can get them up there.” I had my doubts and was so afraid someone was going to get hurt, I just said, “Yes, I am sure; if you would just line up these big chunks along here and leave them, it will be good. I have been wishing for a work surface down here.” They did the best they could. One was so large they couldn’t budge it in the soft mud, but with effort the rest fell into place nearby it. It was OK right where it was, as far as I was concerned it could stay there forever. And there they sit to this day. And no one was seriously injured.

The last day they were here, I asked them to dump their truck on the driveway at the head (top). I wanted to keep the ground-up tree to spread on paths. Their grinder made smaller chips than some I had seen. It worked well as mulch, and for walking on along the paths. Of course, we had to trundle them around in wheelbarrows to get them where they needed to go. Afterward, we had lovely footing to walk on all through The North Path, Cliff Walk, and Woods-walk Path.

By the next weekend following the storm, the ice was mostly melted, and we had mud. Nice slippery, sloppy mud. It was mid February, time for the little crocuses, snowdrops and Eranthis to bloom, soon the larger spring bulbs would start to grow.

A Journal Entry:
“February 25, 2003
Gardeners surely have their work cut out for them for the rest of the year.

A bright spot: Down under the mountains of demolition debris at Crocker Croft, the tiny Eranthis (Winter Aconites) are poking their little bright yellow heads through the snow. When the sun peeps out, they open like a smile.

Snowdrops are standing with feet in snow, still tightly wrapped as if they shiver, but give them a few days.

Iris reticulata is emerging.

I keep reminding myself that we still have March winds to blow through. For months, the song of the chain saws will be heard in the land. We had three going today.”

Later, I was STILL trying to get rid of wood. Because this place is solid with spring bulbs, I knew there were spring bulbs trying to break through under those stacks. It needed to be moved; we needed to get rid of it!

Subject: Firewood

May 21, 2003
“Hi, Do you want any firewood? You may have as much or as little as you want, if you have a place to store it. This is already cut up."

May 31, 2003 (ten days later)
Subject: Firewood

"I still have some and would love to get it out of the way, not nearly a truckload, but enough to get you started. The pieces are small, so I think they will be dried out enough by winter."

"I'm a little late reading my email. If you still have any firewood, I could take about a pickup truck load (about a half cord).”

Hot dog! I got the students to help me. We loaded firewood in one of their pickup trucks, and then traveling in two vehicles we took it to Local Daughter and Son-In-Law’s house. Unloaded it, toted around to the back of the house and stacked it where it should go. HA! Got rid of that much!

Some chainsaw-men, who had put me off, returned and wanted to work some more. I told them, “No, it is too late. You missed your chance – the window of opportunity has closed. The flowers are beginning to grow and we mustn’t step on them. The time for clearing is over. Now it is time for flowers to grow. We will deal with the rest of it.” And, we did… and are still.

After the storm, we had a few more snows, but nothing serious. Then spring arrived with what seemed an apologetic, subdued attitude; it was unusually lovely. Husband/Best Friend/Chief Photographer captured part of it in the photos that make up the Slide Show (Spring 2003). If you have not seen the slide show, and are interested, there is a link to it in the “Categories Index” on the home page.

Or, you can click here: SLIDE SHOW