That Time I Chopped Down a Tree

Last spring, a forester from the Catskill Forest Association came out to walk our land with us, and talk about how we can make it the best place possible for wildlife. One of the things he talked about was felling some select trees in the woods and leaving the logs on the ground. This would help create low cover for small mammals, and also protect smaller plants from being gobbled up by deer. To my amusement, he suggested I cut down the trees. Like, personally.

“LOL,” I said.

Then he told us about the classes available through the CFA. “It’s called Game of Logging,” he said.

“Is it like Game of Thrones?”

“…”

I dawdled a bit, but finally signed up over the summer for a class in October.

This is purposefully not a “how I chopped down a tree” post for a couple of reasons: 1) even though I’ve taken a class, I am in no way qualified to teach anyone how to do it and 2) our instructor was adamant that tree chopping is not something you should learn on the internet. You should learn from a real live person — luckily, you can find Game of Logging classes around the country.

We gathered at 7:30 on a Saturday morning. There were about eight students, all of whom had used a saw and cut down trees before. Some were forest rangers, others were volunteers who helped maintain the Appalachian trial. By contrast, I had to ask the instructor to show me how to fill the fuel tank on the chainsaw I had just wrestled out of the box 30 minutes before. 

We spent the morning learning about safety and basic chainsaw maintenance, and then each took a turn cutting a little notch out of a practice log. It was my first time touching a chainsaw, and there was a bit of a learning curve, but I did okay once I stopped trying to push the saw through the log with my own pitiful force.

And then, we moved on to trees. 

My stomach dropped a bit when the instructor pointed out the first tree. Because it was like 100 feet tall. For real. No exaggerating here, it was easily 100 feet, or more. I was expecting to start with something in the 10 - 20 foot range. Luckily, we were chopping trees in order of experience, which meant Matt and are would be the last two people. So I had a couple hours to watch the others in the class, and get used to these gigantic trees. 

It’s pretty nerve-wracking doing anything with a group of strangers watching closely — let alone when you’re using one of the most dangerous tools there is, in a forest that’s easily an hour from the closest ER. When my turn finally came, I struggled to even start my saw. I also had to do basic math in front of an audience, which meant the flop sweat was a-flowin’.

But I sorted out where I wanted my tree to fall, how wide a notch I needed to cut into the and what my escape place would be — all part of the protocol.

Once I got going, I realized the difference between a $200, consumer-model chainsaw like I had bought, and a $600+ model. Mainly, with a saw like mine, the cutting is going to be pretty slow. Finally, the instructor gave me his high-end saw to finish the job.

We were given points based on whether we fulfilled all the safety requirements, where the tree fell in relation to our goal, and how well we followed our escape plan. The stump tells a tale too, and gets a grade of its own. My stump was serviceable for everyday use, but lost some pretty points. (There’s a whole post-breast cancer rabbit hole I could go down here, but I won’t ;) ). I also lost some points for safety, because I took too long to get away from the tree when it started to fall, and I forgot to go to the location I had selected before I started. Oops.

Matt didn't take a picture of me with my tree - #Husbandfail. As revenge, here he is starting on his tree, with a couple of safety violations. Can you spot them?

Matt didn't take a picture of me with my tree - #Husbandfail. As revenge, here he is starting on his tree, with a couple of safety violations. Can you spot them?

Needless to say, perhaps, Matt and I got the lowest scores in the class. But we still both dropped a couple of big-ass trees and lived to tell about it. Which is pretty cool. Actually, that's REALLY COOL. I went from being worried I'd even be strong enough to hold the chainsaw to safely felling a 70 foot maple tree (which landed exactly where I wanted it to, BTW) in just a few hours. I highly recommend Game of Logging to to all current and aspiring bad asses.

Our first home felling project will be to tackle a giant juniper in the front of the house, and some pines that were planted too close to the garage. We’ll begin marking and felling trees in the woods — first focusing on the stab-happy hawthorn trees that dominate one part of the forest. In early spring, we’ll work on getting our long-neglected apple trees into shape.

Now excuse me while I go think up an affectionate nickname for my chainsaw...