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Cleaning Our Woods: Part Three

by Tyler

This morning, as I chat with Rick about what we want to accomplish with his excavator, I'm feeling overwhelmed by the scale of what Tara and I have set out to do with this homesteading project. When I look closely at our land, the work to be done seems endless. I know there's no use worrying about the enormity of what remains, but sometimes it's hard not to dwell on it.

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing. Theodore Roosevelt

In the end, there's nothing to do but pick something obvious and get started. Somehow, the rest will work itself out. This morning, that means the half-fallen tree tangled up near our clearing. I've considered cutting it loose every time I've had a chainsaw in hand, and each time I've thought better of tackling it on my own. Today, Rick and his excavator makes short work of the problem while Tara and I watch in awe.

Excavator Picking up Tree Excavator Picking up Tree Excavator Scars on Tree

It's eerie how little physical effort is required. Inside the machine, Rick is just fiddling with some joysticks, levers, and pedals. Meanwhile, his excavator is literally ripping a tree from the earth, tearing it from roots which have been there for longer than I've been alive. In a matter of minutes, Rick has the tree hanging in mid-air like a twig, dangling in front of me to be cut into more manageable lengths with a chainsaw.

Excavator Picking up Tree

There are massive logs like this laying dead everywhere on our property. With the first tree finished, we repeat variations of this process for the balance of the day, focusing on the area around our drive. While Rick pilots the excavator, I attach chains to trees for dragging, cut them loose with our chainsaw, and generally try to absorb as much information as I can about how to safely complete this logging operation.

Excavator Picking up Tree Excavator Picking up Tree Excavator Picking up Tree Excavator Picking up Tree

Though the work proceeds well, the day is not without its failures. Early in the afternoon, while Rick is turning the excavator with a lengthy tree-top in the bucket, the tip gets caught on a nearby tree trunk, cocking back like a catapult. Before I can react, it slips free, slingshotting directly into my chest with a crushing SMACK. It stings like hell and knocks the wind out of me, but thankfully, I'm mostly unscathed.

Tyler's Tree Accident Welts

Later in the day, I get my chainsaw snagged in a log just before the end of a cut. Unexpectedly, the piece breaks free and falls to the ground with my saw embedded in it. The handle strikes the dirt first, shattering into a million little pieces. It's over so fast that I'm not even sure what happened. The mistake will cost $150 to repair. Ugh. Better the saw than me, I guess.

Broken Chainsaw Handle

Despite injuries to myself and my chainsaw, the day is a success. Rick and I have dragged dozens of downed trees out of our woods and cut them into more manageable pieces. The work has undoubtedly saved us hundreds of hours of backbreaking labor. Even though this is exactly what we set out to do, I have some reservations about the process.

Excavator Picking up Tree

There is a certain amount of collateral damage that inevitably comes with using heavy machinery. In our case, it takes the form of small live trees being killed to aid in the removal of huge old and dead ones. Rick is a skilled excavator operator, but there is a limit to how deft he can be when maneuvering 6.5 tons of hydraulics and metal—especially with a thousand pound log in tow.

Rick in the Woods

At one point this afternoon, there was a small tree, perhaps four inches in diameter, preventing us from removing a gigantic piece of timber. When it became clear that he couldn't work around it, Rick looked at me, made the sign of the cross, and yanked it out of the ground, tossing it aside like table scraps for a compost bin. For all the resistance it gave, the poor thing may as well have been a blade of grass.

If we had cleared the log by hand, we could have worked around the little tree, but moving that one piece of timber would easily translate into an entire day of hard labor. Multiple that by 100 or so and that's the current state of our land. Thinking pragmatically about the process, the effort saved is monumental, and so far, the cost seems small enough.

Rick & Tyler Talking

In any case, we accomplished a lot today, and I'm thoroughly exhausted.