Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, and so did one of my neighbor’s trees that had stood for so long right next to the fence that went around my back yard. It was a reasonable thing for a tree to do whenever it decides it had stood for about all it could take, and evidently, it had. Unlike Humpty, however, the tree didn’t shatter into pieces on its own. No, it was going to have to be coaxed to pieces…with a chainsaw.
It was late in the fall. Fall happens every year, and has been occurring regularly ever since Adam and Eve set the example, what with the apple being mature and ripe. The thing I have in common with Adam is I did not plant the tree, though I felt injured by it perhaps as he might have felt injured by the one in his story. The difference being that instead of being forced to leave my garden, I was forced to stay and come to terms with it.
Further, like Adam, I wanted very much for circumstances to be somebody else’s fault. In this case, it was. It was an old tree, and even if it had remained standing, it would have never again put out new leaves. Besides being dead, the tree was huge, and possibly older than me, though my children cannot imagine much of anything being so old and out of touch with the times as I must seem to them on occasion.
The seasons, especially fall, are appropriately named. Various hickory, maple and oak trees had let loose a fine collection of airborne organic mulch this year as has been their tradition, and it was falling all over the place. Leaves were collected into piles in time to be scattered by the wind before we could bag them, which gave us the opportunity to rake them again, and again, and again.
Luckily, we have a fence. So the leaves could not escape into the adjacent woods. No, they remained in the yard so we could rake them. I’m beginning to think it would just be easier to pick them up one at a time and place them into a bag in the first place rather than chase them with an awkward leaf rake for hours just to have to pick them up, anyway. As it turns out, a leaf rake’s primary purpose is to cause blisters to form in the palms of your hands. They have very little other practical utility.
There is also the factor of leaves falling at a rate faster than we were retrieving them. Two of my sons had pointed this out a month ago, and suggested we wait until the trees were finished casting off. I’m sure I muttered some response at the time that was not wisdom, nor was it likely to have been taken as such.
Besides leaf retention, the fence had a supplemental advantage. It was the business of keeping our dawgs in the yard, while keeping other people’s dawgs out. We also had dawg pens made of additional fencing materials inside the fence itself. The utility and benefit of such a configuration is tremendous when you have two dawgs, one in heat, and the other patriotically in the pursuit of happiness. In fact, I was proud to have a fenced in back yard, but as you know, pride cometh before the fall.
The crashing tree traumatized the fence and the dawg pen. And though it missed hitting Ashley Cooper by inches, I suspect she felt somewhat traumatized by the experience. One of the boys thought she had been hunkered down in a meditative position right next to where the tree fell. The crack and rumble and the ensuing thud may have increased the rate of her meditations, I wouldn’t doubt it at all. And perhaps she probably had no need to meditate anymore for the rest of the day. Hours later, she seemed still spooked by it, so she’ll probably break out with the mange again.
Cosmo Topper, thank goodness was inside the house scratching himself and putting fleas into the carpet at the time, so he missed seeing it happen. But I’m sure he heard it. So did my two younger sons who were also in the house at the time. Immediately, both boys thought the other had done something terrible that would be difficult to explain to their mother, and rushed down the hall to find each other. Once the truth was discovered, together they had the presence of mind to bring Ashley Cooper into the den before she could escape through the easement created by the tree pushing the fence to the ground.
Then, it was time to call Brenda at her office, and tell her the news, because both Nathan and Mason agreed this was the kind of thing she’d want to know about right away. Nathan placed the call, and being the diplomat he is, said:
“Better sit down, Mom. This is a big one.”
Well, you can imagine how such a phrase as that must have put her mind at ease. Before Nathan could say another word, she’d imagined every worse-case scenario in the book, and several that haven’t been thought of before. Once she was told that a tree fell across the fence, she waited to hear some explanation. She was sure they had either cut the tree down as a part of a homework assignment gone awry, or that Mason had just bumped into it causing it to fall. You’d have to watch Mason bump into things in order to fully understand how his mother might jump to that conclusion. And together with his brother Nathan, there is a powerful potential always prepared to assist things with the business of falling and breaking.
David was the last one home from school. His younger kinsmen met him in the front yard to give him the news. They used the same delicate tactfulness used to reassure and calm their mother, so before David had heard what actually happened, he mentally made plans to run away from home. He thought quickly of a few places he might hang out until Brenda and I had been given plenty of time to be assured of his innocence in whatever calamity had occurred in the house. I’m glad his brothers finally got the truth across to him, as we’ve grown accustomed to having him around.
Later I pulled into the driveway without knowing a thing about what had transpired. I was met by all three sons, each of them with a solemn look on their face. My mind raced through a series of tragic circumstances, and I must’ve sat in my car at least several extra minutes, none of which helped calm me down one bit. Dread is a good word. I’m sure in spite of curiosity and worry, I didn’t want to hear whatever it was they were going to tell me.
I glanced about for ambulances, police cars, and firetrucks, and not seeing any, I finally got out of the car. It’s hard to explain the absolute joy I felt knowing that the catastrophe was just a tree down across the fence. Nobody was dead or injured, not even the dawgs. The house didn’t have any walls or windows missing, and the sewer wasn’t backed up into the living room.
After a few deep breaths, my elation dwindled as reality set in. The fence had been the last remnant of anything in the yard that the dawgs had not already chewed up. And being a part of the property included in the mortgage, the fence was not what you’d call “paid for”. This was going to be expensive. It looked like I might need all the king’s men, whether I could afford to pay ’em or not. Additionally, I was afraid if I wasn’t careful, all the king’s horses would run away before we could get the fence fixed.
Why is it that unanticipated expenses always show up just a few weeks before Christmas? What a mess! I almost felt a little disappointed the tree hadn’t fallen on me instead of the fence. We managed to keep the dawgs inside but separated that night, considering Ashley Cooper’s condition not being such that we’d want her to have the company of the male. But in spite of the dawgs and because of them, I knew I would have to deal with that tree first thing in the morning.
Two of the King’s men are Neighborly
A family had just moved into the house across the street. I had met the lady briefly to take them a small gift and say welcome to the neighborhood, but that was all. Now it’s fair to tell you it has been my practice to never have the right tool available whenever some work might require it. And not being an extremely bashful man, a declaration totally unnecessary for those of you who know me well, it is also practice to ask to borrow such a tool instead of buying one, should there be any prospect of them being available to borrow.
I had noticed a pickup truck in the driveway across the street. That meant two things: the man of the house, it being his truck, was probably home. And, having a truck, he might also have other tools. I learned to speculate this way from having studied the theory of relativity, which I’ll explain simply: you can sometimes look at the weather and determine whether you’d enjoy a picnic or a hike in the woods under relative conditions.
Well, this was a bleak and overcast, drizzly kind of a morning, relatively speaking. Not only was it discouraging for a picnic, but for doing anything outside you didn’t have to. You can relate to that, can’t you? So I figured he would have no serious recreational plans with his chainsaw that day whether he owned one, or not. And, with a large tree down across my fence and yard, it seemed appropriate that I should raise the question.
His wife came to the door, and I asked to speak with her husband. That’s when I found out he was working night shift, and was in bed sound asleep. I told her not to wake him, but when he got up, tell him I wanted to borrow a chainsaw if he had one. I explained why I thought I might have need of such a thing, and the look on her face let me know she understood. She didn’t say he had a saw, but said she’d tell him. I thanked her, and went back to my house to see if Brenda had come up with a good plan “B” yet. She had not.
The sensible thing to do was to have a second cup of coffee, and study on things for a few minutes. I was prepared to study on it for hours if I could get away with it, which is a thing that would’ve surprised any of my old professors from school. Those professors had no first hand knowledge or any suspicion whatsoever that I might spend hours studying anything.
I walked out back to see if staring at the tree would do any good, when I noticed a man standing at the front gate of my fence. He was wearing a camouflage baseball cap, a housecoat, pajamas and bedroom slippers. In one hand was a gasoline can and a coffee mug. The other hand held a chainsaw, and a cigarette was smoldering in the corner of his mouth. I walked over, introduced myself, and thanked him for letting me borrow his saw. His name was Eueal.
Other than tell me his name, he didn’t say another word for a while. When I opened the gate, Eueal came right in, walking briskly towards the fallen tree. It became quickly apparent he had no intention of loaning me his saw. He walked over to the damaged fence, and with the cigarette still burning between his lips, fueled up the saw. I could tell right away that this was not his first rodeo.
After adjusting the choke and with a few rapid pulls on the cord, the chainsaw came to life with a roar. I’m sure I said a few things, but it was a one sided conversation. Other than the noise of the saw, Eueal worked in complete silence, and soon the tree trunk was off the fence. He looked about at the several huge chunks of limbs and trunk in my yard, took a long pull at his coffee cup, and then he finally spoke:
“Want me to cut up some for your fireplace, Mr. Brown?”
I’ve seldom known anybody so eager to help somebody else even when they knew each other. But I’d never even met this man before. I stared at him, and feeling a drizzle of rain, I thought it might be best to minimize my selfishness. He stood by in his pajamas and bedroom slippers seemingly prepared to work for as long as I would ask him to. I told him my immediate concern had been to get it off the fence so we could keep our dawgs from getting out. He gave a gander to the fence, and it was obvious that more work than just cutting the tree would be required. Without another word, he cranked his saw again, and cut up a small stack of firewood before leaving, even though I didn’t ask him to.
I think if I’d asked him to fix the fence, I honestly believe he would’ve done it. But since I didn’t yet know him, I was worrying that more than firewood was piling up, and I sure didn’t want a huge pile of debt to accompany it. So I thanked him, and walked with him back to the front gate. We shook hands and made eye contact. I thanked him again for the seventh or eighth time, and even offered to pay him. But Eueal said it would be way too expensive if I had to pay him, so we’d just let it go. As I started to thank him one more time, he interrupted:
“Any time Mr. Brown, any time,” and walked on across the street never looking back.
After watching him walk silently back to his house, I went back to the pile of firewood, and thought about the fact that the tree wasn’t my property. It didn’t belong to me. So, I thought the only proper thing to do was to call the man behind me, and tell him about it. He was not even aware that the tree had fallen, and came out to take a look. He gave it a good hard stare, and said a few words of prayer over it. I guess it was a prayer, as I do recollect he called on the Deity a couple of times. Then, he told me:
“Tree was on my property, so I’m responsible for the damage. I’ll call my agent and take care of this.”
And, he did. The next day, he called to tell me a man would be out monday to fix my fence, and that he was sorry for any inconvenience we’d had because of it. Some time later, I found out his agent said since the tree was already dead, it would not be covered by insurance. My neighbor had paid to have my fence repaired out of his own pocket. Being a generous man myself, I offered to share some of the firewood with him, but he said he had plenty on his side of the fence.
We spoke very little after that, as he pretty much kept to himself, so I seldom saw him. Not too long after that, they moved away. Though I don’t ever see him at all now, I’ll always remember that he never tried to shirk any responsibility for damages caused by his tree falling on my fence. I hope I never have to follow his example, though it was a worthy one. If one of my trees were to fall onto a neighbor’s property, I’m sure I’d deny ever having seen it before, and swear it must’ve snuck in during the night from somewhere up the road.
I did get to know, and became fast friends with the man who showed up in his pajamas with a chainsaw. I’d mentioned earlier having met his wife to welcome them. Back on that day, I’d taken a basket of fruit and a bottle of wine my wife had bought for them as a gift. The lady across the street accepted it, and said “thank you” before disappearing into her house. I did not see her again until I came over wanting to borrow a saw. After a time when we’d gotten to know them better, she told us what Eueal had said when she’d told him about our little gesture with the basket:
“Well, looks like they might want to be neighbors. We’ll just keep an eye on ’em, and see whether they do or not.”
We did, and they did, and I found out he was not a man to call up markers for favors done. Turns out, he rather enjoyed helping people. To have any kind of a friendship, folks have to make some investment in it. But in this case, while they waited to see if we wanted to become “neighbors”, he went ahead and made the downpayment.