A Tree Grew In Brooklyn

Ranger Tim is back from Canada, and his weekend expeditions have kept me away from the laptop yet again. In compensation, I asked him for a guest post to make up for my neglect. Seems he’s been taking another masterclass in tree-felling:

They’re felling a big old ash in the tiny Pacific Avenue back garden two doors west of us. Brooklyn forestry is at once exotic and homely to this greenhorn Northern Ontario sawyer, so I take a beer up on the roof and watch.

The tree’s days were obviously numbered as the branches are growing way out over the hydro wires and three adjacent backyards, and the roots are pushing over the neighbour’s brick garden wall. Everything is in such close quarters that the work is on the extreme edge of precision treecutting. They’re having to top the tree a bit at a time from the 90-foot crown on down, without bringing limbs crashing through expensive Cobble Hill windows and awnings and patio decks, a slim alley’s-width away.

The crew of five are mestizo, by their features Colombian, or perhaps lowland Ecuadorian. They don’t wear any protective gear other than cotton work gloves and hardhats. I imagine these guys learning their chainsaw licks bucking mahogany logs in the rainforest off some Amazon tributary. When I join the operation from my perch on the roof ledge, four of them are cutting up felled branches and bundling them to carry out through the brownstone’s basement to the street where a chipper runs nonstop in the back of a pickup. They laugh and box one another and by the economy of their movements I can tell they’ve been doing this together for a long time.

Meanwhile off in a corner of the garden a younger fellow crouches over his saw and somberly files the chain. Occasionally one of the others calls out to him about something, and it seems they know him as Flaco, perhaps ironically, as he is stocky, V-shaped, powerful. He is wearing a climbing harness, and looks nervous.

Sharpening a chainsaw is a rosary rite. Seven strokes with a twist, flip to the next link, repeat until you’ve gone all the way around. The similarity is reinforced when Flaco pauses between cycles and squints heavenward, where his climbing and guy ropes form a tangle in the tree’s top limbs, and seems to mouth a silent Dios Mio.

He hauls himself straight up with a double rope and a single ascender built of a jury-rigged slipknot. His ankle spikes don’t touch wood until the trunk splays some 70 feet up, so that’s pure arm-over-arm power. Once at the top he passes a safety strap around the trunklet, loops a heavy rope around a thick bough, and beckons to his mates. They speak a shorthand of hoots and whistles like jungle birds, and soon a belay is ready down below, so Flaco starts in with his saw.

The chainsaw is a tiny offbrand, an Echo with a 12-inch bar, and I wouldn’t have thought it fit to trim the shrubbery with. But thanks to Flaco’s chain ministrations, the thing slices though the foot-thick bough in seconds. Suddenly a 500 pound, ten-foot length of hardwood tips down and swings free, leaving the whole tree shaking, and my heart skips a beat for the small man clinging to the trunk there. But the crew boss, a light-skinned fellow with a beerbelly and a Ghengis moustache, has slackened the belay at precisely the right moment so the bough arcs down under Flaco’s legs, to within a few feet of the neighbour’s wall, then quickly down into the yard.

They bring down 10-foot sections of tree like this for the next few hours, and when I leave them, Flaco has descended to join the crew for a takeaway lunch of rice and beans and chuleta and fried plantain.

Whatever their cultural roots, skilled arborists are part of a fraternity of initiates to the sacred universal mysteries of ropework and fall line and grain pattern and cut angle and chain temper. May I someday be worthy to carry their gas cans for them.

2 thoughts on “A Tree Grew In Brooklyn”

  1. Hey Tim, did you happen to notice if any Brooklyn fauna were displaced by this necessary and perhaps overdue aborial urban renewal? Any idea if this great old tree will be replanted with a new cycle of life this spring or will paving over be the unfortunate outcome?

    Also, any chance of getting an entry on your recent circumnavigation of Manhattan isle?

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