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I am a mother, a teacher, and a nature lover. I grew up on a mountain we called Owls' Knob in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The first seven years of my life were spent living in a log cabin, far from a store or streetlight, without electricity or running water and after twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live on a hill by a small lake and work at a public garden. These are stories about nature written from a women deeply influenced by place.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The old oak tree

I grew up swinging from the limb on an old oak tree in our yard. I loved that tree. 
I would leap off the porch; swing out over the driveway, past the staghorn sumac, above the flowering dogwood, until my toes touched the low-hanging hickory branches beyond. I sat, for a moment. Suspended at the pinnacle of the pendulum. Reaching for the sky. The inevitable force of gravity pulled me away from the hickory canopies, the flowering dogwoods, past the staghorn sumac, back over the driveway, and as I leaned backwards as far as I could, my long blond pony tail would lick the roof of the log cabin my father built.
But like all things, the tree died. She stood for years as nothing more than a skeleton, beautiful even after death. It was hard to cut her down, like pulling the plug on my own grandmother.
Finally we felled her. But it wasn't easy. All of the branches that reached for the house had died recently and the far branches were hollow. She wanted to fall on the house.
In those final moments, the tree swung. She swung back, paused, and swung out.
She licked the roof of the log cabin my father built with her long bare branches. She balanced for a moment at the pinnacle of the pendulum. Reaching for the sky one last time. The inevitable force of gravity pulled her away from the cabin. Shadowing the driveway, crushing the staghorn sumac, splintering the flowering dogwood, and breaking those low-hanging hickory branches, she fell. 

For the past two years her massive body has been sprawled across the yard. Her wood is dense and massive. I told myself we would use her wood to build my son a bedroom. I told myself this over and over again even after I stopped believing it would ever happen. But watching her rot pained me. I hated to admit that I might have to watch her decompose in my yard for years to come.
Yesterday, the process of turning a log into a board finally began. Her body will be honored and her beautiful red wood will be used as walls in my son’s room. 

It was a bigger job than any of us imagined. First John chained the tree to his truck and drug it across the yard. Then he and my father rolled it. Trying to roll something this big took all their might. Levers and wedges were used to control the beast. They rolled it up to the ramp of the saw mill. 

Getting it on the saw mill took a while. They tried various tools. They pushed it with the truck and pulled it with a wench. In the end a system of sticks wedged into the ground to keep it from rolling back and a wench with a chain pulling it up got the log onto the mill.  

At last it was time to make the first cut. None of us knew what to expect. The battery had to be jump started and the engine warmed up. The blade drove itself through the wood. Slowly it crawled through the log, cutting a layer.

They were pleasantly surprised at the smoothness of the cut. The red grain was left undamaged and the cut came out perfectly even. 

They quickly set up the machine to make another cut.

It drove itself, but a little pushing helped the process.

          The first board was lovely, wide, symmetrical, and smooth. So useful. You can’t buy something like this, it is priceless. This is a step towards sustainability. We can cut a tree off our land and turn it into wood that can be used for building. It is a small step, but an important one

For me, it is just special to know that the oak tree I loved so dearly growing up will be part of my son's life.
 A board for my son's room from the tree a grew up swinging on. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow Roslyn and John!! That's flippin' awesome. You go guys!!