A Role Reversal

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

Felling trees can be a tricky business.

Submitted: June 24, 2018

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Submitted: June 24, 2018



It’s good to appreciate expertise don’t you think? I’ve recently had three tree fellers or three fellers felling trees here on our property, and undoubtedly they’re experts in their field. One of them was a young bloke who is just one month out of his arborist training, but he’s been well-drilled, especially on safety and all the other modern stuff associated with his profession. The older blokes have years of experience under their belts, and like me, they started off when being safety was a little bit of a sissy thing.

I’ve been planting trees here for the better part of sixty years, so they’re dotted all over our property, it’s my hobby and it’s a good way of control gorse. There was a storm in ’84 that caused the main road to sump and with it the power lines, so as an emergency solution, Brian, the foreman of the power board, asked if a line could temporarily be erected across our paddock to return power to the grid. In the spirit of community, I agreed. By 1987, the government, in its infinite wisdom, was selling off assets and among them, utilities including the electricity supply.  Come the new decade, in an effort to encourage corporates to buy up the electricity network, the government passed legislation to say that wherever power lines stood at the time, that’s where they stay, so we have twenty thousand volts zipping across our property with no signed agreement or formal easement. And just to make life interesting, if I’m ‘negligent’ and somehow cause a power outage, I’m liable.

Trees have a habit of growing and from time to time some of mine endanger the power line, but at least the lines company comes to the party. When I think trees pose a danger to the lines, I call the contractor and he comes along at no cost to me, and cuts them down, which is why they came this time. That’s all good and safe for the network, but I have to clean up the mess, the contractors just knock the trees down! It’s actually a lot easier to fell one tree at a time and clean it up as you go, but, and fair enough, when the contractor comes he wants to put in a day’s work, so although he tries to fall them in a methodical way, it becomes a tangled jumble. This time they cut fifteen trees, last year thirty eight. But to be honest I enjoy the work, I enjoy cutting firewood, and I enjoy watching the experts at work. I have my ropes, pulleys, axe, sledge hammer, wedges and chainsaw and off I go. It’s economic wood because by the time it’s turned to ashes, I’ve had three or four warms off it – cutting, splitting and stacking.

Off topic for a mo, the contractor will soon be out of a job. The new broom in the corporate office of the lines company, wants to centralise their arborist activity. Join forces with other lines companies to have one big outfit that lines companies can do business with. It doesn’t matter that last year the lines company demanded that the contractor upgrade to new, super-compliant equipment. It doesn’t matter that the contractor has a good working relationship with the district’s landowners. It doesn’t matter that it will put three people out of work. And the scheme won’t be cost-efficient, bigger is just a bean-counter’s way wielding more influence. Funny how some corporates contract people to wield the axe on behalf of  the shareholders, glorified bean-counters who close branches, create redundancies and believe a healthy bottom line is the panacea to life without any regard to a social conscience. 

Ahem, (spit) ahem again! There, that’s cleared it off my chest!  When the contractors turn up for a day’s work, I spend the day with them, mostly standing around hands on hips, watching, but when it will help, I pull a few ropes or carry some gear, but basically, I watch. Inevitably there’s the odd woopsie! The strong wind pushed a tree off course this time, Johnny and I were pulling for all we were worth on a rope attached high up, but it sailed down landing less than a metre from the house!  Nevertheless these guys are competent and do a very good job. Watching them work is sort of therapeutic for me, because when I think about it, it’s a complete role reversal!

Back in the good old forestry days, we experienced the severe ’75 gale, which left about two hundred acres of windthrown forest that needed to be salvaged. When it comes to logging, salvage logging can be as dangerous as it gets, but those damaged trees were too valuable to leave to rot. Laurie, the big noise from Invercargill asked me if our own crew could do the job and if so, I was to calculate the cost of doing the job. I asked my team first, if they wanted to tackle the new challenge under my tutelage because none of them had ever done any logging before. I told them that job would be dangerous. They were keen to take it on, so I made my calculations.

  When I told Laurie the unit price, he nodded and told me to knock ten percent off. Bloody big noises! Expecting raw recruits to work like professionals from day one! That’s how accidents happen! The danger in logging windthrow is that the trees are under tension caused by the bent trees piled on top of each other, making the placement of tension tricky to predict. A single action can cause a chain reaction of moving logs or trees.  When an uprooted tree is cut off at the stump, the root-mass may suddenly flop back into the hole. Luckily, the during two years we were salvage logging, we were accident-free and by the end we were managing to achieve Laurie’s ten percent cut.

We were using a D6c dozer with a logging arch and I took on the role of breaker-out – hooking the logs onto the winch-rope. I was lugging the winch-rope out and the strops, which allowed me to keep tabs on the whole operation and stick to some sort of an orderly pattern. Whenever any of my team had a tree they weren’t confident to process, they would call me over. Hang-ups were the worst, nobody was allowed to work under one, but the helpful thing was having Mick on the dozer and using the rope to mitigate the worst of the difficulty. In the interests of safety, the rest of the guys would stop work and watch me work on the awkward tree.

That’s why I enjoyed watching the arborists doing their work, someone else sweating and someone else taking the responsibility.

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