We have been working with Jerry, our tree service guy, for about 15 years, or almost the entire time we have been here.  It seems like we always have something for him to do and he has been involved in most of the significant changes in the treescape in the immediate vicinity of our house and pool (we can handle anything that is not too big and not too close to the house or road).  Jerry is very reliable, quite skilled and eminently responsive.  I called him yesterday, expecting to get his voicemail, and not only did he answer, he offered to come over—on a Sunday—to assess the damage to our oak tree.

Today, he and his crew (an experienced belay man and a novice helper) are here with their bucket truck to remove the downed branches as well as several smaller branches that are broken and dangling over the house like the Sword of Damocles.  Rather than risk their inevitable fall onto the roof (in the next high wind), we decided to preemptively trim them.  We will also prune one or more of the larger branches that although undamaged (at the moment), cantilever precariously over the house.

There is a brute-force aspect of tree work (chain saws and wood chippers) but it has a more delicate quality to it as well.  I am tempted to say that it is aerial ballet and it can certainly be as graceful but it is also more free-form and acrobatic.  A better analogy might be modern dance, especially as practiced by the likes of Elizabeth Streb Ringside.

The process involves setting a belay line in the tree (above where the work is being done), tying off the branch to be removed, making the cut (usually with a small chainsaw) and then guiding the branch to the ground (preferably without hitting windows or power lines on the way down).  Where the tree in question is near a road or other easily accessible spot, Jerry uses his bucket truck (aka, cherry picker) to move around.  When the tree is set back from the road or is otherwise inaccessible (and this applies to the large majority of our trees), he climbs into the canopy (using spikes and a belt) and ties off a safety line from which he can dangle or rappel.

Jerry may not realize it but intuitive structural engineering is an important element of his work.  First and foremost, he must asses whether a tree and its branches have the strength to support his weight and the load on the belay line.  Then, when tying off the branch to be removed, he eyeballs the location of its center of mass.  Depending on how he wants the branch to fall (in a level position or towards or away from him), he ties the belay line at the centroid or to either side of it.  An accurate estimate of the centroid and a careful choice of the tie-off point make the belay man’s job much easier.

In two hours, Jerry and his crew had removed and stacked the downed branches, their stubs, the broken and hanging branches and the largest (and lowest) of the long-reaching limbs.  While he was up in the air, Jerry was also able to maneuver his bucket to the furnace flue and remove the loose bricks (it was too dark for him to see to the bottom of the flue but he saw no other signs of damage).  They spent another hour breaking down and chipping the debris before finally raking up the leaves and sweeping away the sawdust.  In spite of its extensive pruning, the oak tree still has a natural look and appears to be reasonably well balanced, sure signs of a successful repair.

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