Kiss My Grass, Part 2: Speak To The Trees

The second summer that we lived in our house saw us maintaining the grass, but also beginning to tend to the trees. I'm a big believer in taking care of the trees you own. We live in suburbia, and the trees don't respect property lines. Also, they can be a safety hazard to those present in the yard and a structural hazard for buildings nearby. We have had plenty of power outages in the neighborhood because people haven't done their part. Sure, some instances are unavoidable, but people usually don't take care of their trees because it's an expense that isn't "fun."

One thing I didn't mention in Part 1 was that the grass being sunburned wasn't the only issue we came home to the July of that first summer. Before we could see the grass in the backyard, we saw a stick laying on our garage roof. The stick came from a cottonwood tree near our garage and was about two feet long and about two inches wide. It probably wouldn't have been an issue if one end of the stick didn't have a sharp, pointed "barb" on one side. We didn't know it until we tried to remove the stick, but that "barb" had put a hole in our garage roof. We had heard from the locals through social media that there was a really windy day or two while we were gone. That must be how the stick got on the roof. The stick was also pretty tough and not easily broken and would have made a great weapon. That's how it was able to pierce the roof.

Within a week of when we got back, I had my first lesson with roof repair. I had a pretty good idea of what needed to be done, but between talking to a coworker experienced in this kind of stuff and the internet, I was able to get the right supplies, tackle the task, and do a good job as well. To this day, no one can tell from the outside where the repair was done. However, if one were doing a thorough investigation, one could find a tiny hole in and a disturbance to the plywood where the stick stuck from the inside of the garage. A casual observer would never see it. I'll spare you all the process of what I did. (You, the reader, can ask in the comment section if you really have to know. Forewarning: I can over engineer things a bit, sometimes.)

The tree that the piece of stabby wood came from was a two-trunked cottonwood tree. Half of that tree, or one whole trunk, had been struck by lightning at least a few years prior (well before we moved in or the flippers flipped, because we bought a flip). It had lost most of its bark and had seemed to become a bit petrified. Hence, the super-strong stabby stick. We knew we would have to remove the trunk at some point after the roof stabbing incident. It wasn't even something we had considered when we bought the house, since we were mostly concerned with the house itself, the size of the yard, and the school district. We didn't really know what was underneath the snow nor did we take a good look at the trees, not that the trees would've been a deal breaker. I guess that's the tricky part to buying a house in the springtime in Minnesota.

The first full year in the house convinced us we weren't fans of cottonwood trees. They are messy throughout the year. Well, maybe not during the winter, but that's when they are quitely plotting their asshole-ish behavior. The rest of the year, they are either releasing cotton and slime everywhere or shedding branches large and small. It doesn't take much of a wind for the ground beneath the trees to be littered with little pieces of sticks. Fortunately, not little stabby sticks. BUT, there were a fair amount of times that more sizable branches fell and one time in particular that a large, multi-branched arm broke off and fell down. This particular branch had been a completely healthy looking branch. When that one fell, we had already cut two of the cottonwoods down. I guess I shouldn't get too much further along. Let's back up. *Record in reverse sound*

During the spring of the second year we lived in our house, we knew we wanted to remove the second of the two thin, tall trees. I'm not sure what kind of tree it was, and I haven't been able to figure it out via the Internet. Apparently, it's harder to figure out if you don't remember what the leaves look like. Never mind, my wife says it was a poplar. Either way, we knew we wanted it removed because of our plans with that part of the backyard. Plans that I'll get to at some point in this series. Due to the proportions of the tree, I didn't see any reason why I couldn't take care of it. I didn't own a chainsaw at that point in time, but I did have an ax.

My wife always thinks I'm crazy, but sometimes she is shown that I CAN accomplish things along with being crazy. I knew I wanted to have the ability for myself or another to assert some force upon the tree to help convince it where to land. I tied hemp twine to one end of a hammer and proceeded to throw the hammer around a branch high in the tree. I was successful in not only achieving this but in also selecting a good, sturdy section. There was plenty of length in the hemp twine, so there was no danger of anyone getting crushed. I then proceeded to ax the tree, alternating sides, but focusing more on the side I wanted it to fall. Since my wife was in the house attending to the kids when the tree was felled, my sister-in-law happened to be the one holding the twine taut. The tree fell exactly where and how I planned it. It was a proud moment for me.

Fast forward a little to the summer of 2014 and you will see we are getting two of our four cottonwood trees cut down. Well, two trees equalling three trunks. These trees were in the backyard. One was at about the halfway mark in the backyard, and the two-trunked one was near the back corner of the garage. Hence, its proximity for The Garage Roof Stabbing Incident of 2013. Not knowing any better, we had decided to have it done in the middle of summer. Because, it's warm. And, people do things outside when it's warm.

Apparently, it's better to have your trees trimmed or removed in the winter. The company that did the work told us this shortly after they started. One of the reasons it's better to do it during the winter is the damage it can do to one's yard. I was planning on getting a couple of dump trucks worth of black dirt anyway, like I had the year prior when we gutted the backyard, so I did have dirt available to fill the divots and trenches left by branches and trunks. So much for the effort put into smoothing out the yard for the sod the year prior. Once the dirt was added to fill in those spots, I had to regrow grass there. Hello, Scott's PatchMaster. All of this, of course, being more work I hadn't planned on doing or money I hadn't planned on spending.

We had to have the electrical wires (and those other various wires most people have no idea what they're even there for) disconnected and removed from the house, since those were in the way of the work. We had planned on going to the Como Zoo that day, so it wasn't a big deal. We loaded up our refrigerator/freezer with ice, talked to the guy in charge, and went to the zoo. They were still working when we got back, so we decided to go out to eat for dinner. They were finishing up when we returned a second time and told us that we would have to call the electric company to get the power hooked back up. I was pretty sure they were supposed to take care of it, or were going to, since they had arranged for it to be shut down. They made it sound like it would be no big deal. After being on the phone for about twenty minutes, I was finally able to get someone to stop by and hook it back up. Apparently, we were calling at the end of the shift and the operator wanted to push us off until the morning. I wasn't very happy about that considering we were supposed to be on the schedule to get hooked back up. The operator conveniently found me on the schedule after putting me on hold for about five minutes.

The main reason we chose the tree company that we did was because our neighbor to our north knew the owner and previously had work done by them. Work that was in much tighter spaces than we had. That neighbor was moving that summer and contributed $500 to the cause. They, an older couple, certainly weren't hurting for money. Also, the neighbor expressed to me that he didn't want to worry about the petrified, lightening tree falling on his house. Perhaps, he was dangling an incentive in front of me. I took him up on it. We didn't want that tree, either. No dangling needed, but appreciated nonetheless.

Another reason we chose the tree company was because they were cheap. This may have backfired on them. I noticed damage to the gutter on the back of our garage about a day after, damage that was not present before the trees were cut down. We had gutters and down spouts installed on the house the prior summer, shortly after we moved in, so it wasn't like there was really any wear and tear on them at that point. Also, it was well beyond a scratch considering the side was crushed and pushed in. It should have been obvious to a worker when it happened.

I called the owner and told him about the problem. At first, he didn't want to admit to anything and said that none of his employees had told him. He said he would talk to his crew and get back to me. It wasn't much later that he called me back, admitting that his crew did do the damage. That's when my wife and I worked on an email with pictures to him and our gutter contact. Let's just say that it took WAY too long to get resolved and the tree guy was very unhappy with what it cost to replace. It's hard to say who's fault it was for how long it took to get resolved, but it was kind of ridiculous how I could contact either of them, but they never seemed to be able to get a hold of each other.

My wife and I are teachable monkeys, so we had the other two cottonwoods (four trunks) cut down at the end of the following winter in 2015. These trees were in the front yard, with one being close to the garage and the other by the street. Realistically, any of the trunks could have taken out the garage or the house. And, in hindsight, we should have been more worried about that possibility. It was, after all, the same company that did the work for us the previous year. But, we felt the price was right and they had replaced the damaged gutter. Mistakes happen.

They started with the tree closest to the street. The tactic was to cut the middle trunk so that it fell into the street. It was a success and the workers quickly cleaned up the trunk and branches, chipping some, setting bigger pieces to the side to haul away. They then moved to the next trunk on that tree, the one closest to the street. This one, they decided, was going to come down over our driveway, so they placed a piece of the trunk cut first near the driveway to take the brunt of the impact. All was going well until the trunk decided it was going to fall wherever the hell it felt like. Where it felt like was across the street, rubbing the street light pole as it went down, crushing the four-home communal mailbox as it went. Oh, and the Bobcat that they used to grab brush and branches. The Bobcat was parked "safely" in front of the mailboxes.

The guy who was using a chainsaw to cut down the tree was the owner, and he was obviously upset. He threw the chainsaw, and I assume, he said some bad words. It was winter and the window was shut. I think the whole crew was a bit shocked. None of us were expecting that to happen, but that's what trees do. They lull you into a false sense of security. The crew cleaned up the felled trunk and branches and took stock of their Bobcat; it limped along, but it was still broken.

You might then imagine that this episode was a bit of a wake-up call to the tree company owner. I believe his strategy prior was to cut down the whole trunk and then sort it out. It's the quickest method, really. However, he must have changed his mind, because the last two trunks and branches were disassembled in a much more systematic fashion. They cut all of the branches out of the remaining trees and then dropped their trunks. (I can't help but chuckle at that last line.) Replacing mailboxes is much cheaper than a garage or a house.

At the end of the day, literally, the tree company had removed all of the wood from our property, the street, and our neighbor's yard across the street. The electric company (as I failed to mention earlier had a small role in this) returned and hooked the wire back up to the street light. The tree hitting the pole caused the glass cover to fall out and shatter on the ground, leaving the lightbulb exposed to the elements. I went out to tell the worker about this, and he just gave me a blank look and flatly stated, "Okay." I could tell he didn't care. It is now over two years later, and it still hasn't been replaced. I guess we would have been better off calling it in. Upon editing this post, my wife exclaimed quite emphatically, "I did call it in! And I contacted them online, too. They don't care."

I suppose that I should follow-up on the mailbox. The tree company created a temporary fix by mounting four mailboxes onto a 2x8 board and then mounting that to a piece of a tree trunk. It actually looked pretty cool, in my opinion. It stayed around for a few months because the ground was frozen. One of the neighbors across the street had built the smashed mailbox setup with his son the summer prior. The tree company owner was going to pay them to build another one, if they were interested. However, my neighbor was busy and didn't have the time, and so the tree company owner ended up hiring it out. The end result was a mailbox setup that was equally as nice as the previous one.

We were almost done with our tree maintenance. We had removed what we saw as the problem trees—the poplars and the cottonwoods—and we had no desire to take down anymore. What came next for the remaining trees was a haircut.

Read Part 3: The Trees Have Eyes

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