He went outside one morning and said, “Pain in the ass!” There weren’t enough things to
do around this property that he’d already planned, but now one that was unplanned was
nagging at Sam.
Nora hobbled out, careful not to let the screen door slam against her body, which would
send painful shivers up her still-recuperating body, and asked, “What’s a pain in the ass?”
Sam looked up, then over at her. He marveled at how she was still alive, let alone
recovering from a broken neck suffered in a car wreck just two months previous. Some
things Sam never questioned, but merely accepted and moved on. The accident was one
of those. The pain in the ass wasn’t. “This tree”, he started. “This old maple just keeps
dying and dying.”
Nora bent her body so that her eyes could travel up the tree, hindered by the neck brace
that was keeping her alive. “Sam”, she said, “That tree died 5 years ago.”
“Well, yeah”, he answered. “But it keeps dying more and more in my mind. And if I
don’t cut it down soon, it’ll fall down. My luck is that it’ll fall either on the house, or over
to Bert’s property and take out his hydro lines, and his petunias.”
Dropping a twig on Bert’s property was risking a lawsuit, but having a 100 year old
maple fall on his prized flowers would have possibly caused Bert to resort Although Bert
was a good enough neighbour, he had a history of being protective of his property. A few
years back, local teenagers had invaded his woodpile for a midnight bonfire. Bert had
grabbed his shotgun, gone for a walk to the woodpile, and turned on a floodlight just as
the kids, loaded down with wood in their arms, were heading back to the bonfire on the
beach. One of the reprobates had been immediately accepted into therapy, and continues
to this day with Prozac. Another entered the priesthood. The third turned to a life of
crime, and is still in jail.
With this in mind, Sam was reluctant to allow the tree to fall on Bert’s property by itself,
and resolved to take it down himself. This way, he could aim the fall on his own front
yard, saving himself the wrath of Bert, and the ensuing therapy, priesthood, or jail.
Life in the country involves neighbours to the extent that city dwellers rarely see. Once
one family decides upon a project, it evolves into a community project. The originator of
the job is never entirely sure when or how this happens, but if your address is RR #
something, it is inevitable as frost on the pumpkin in October, mosquitoes in April,
Almost as soon as Sam and Nora were having this conversation over morning coffee
about getting the tree down, Bert and Stan, Sam’s other neighbour, were included. This
Craig Waugh Page 1 b9aeb06c-9438-4b79-b330-63fd0ca40637.docThe Tree.doc 11/19/201229/11/05
was not by Sam’s choice; it was the law of country living. Sam was never entirely aware
of even informing them of his intentions – he just knew that magically the next weekend,
Bert, Stan and the Woodsman from down the lane appeared at his doorstep with
chainsaws, ropes, ladders, and empty coffee cups. (“Woodsman” is the only thing Sam
ever called the guy from about ten doors down. The man had a straggly beard, always
wore a lumberman’s jacket, and always held his pants up with suspenders. At various
times in the year, he could be seen wandering around the roads with a deer rifle,
chainsaw, or fishing pole slung over his shoulder. Sam had never seen the Woodsman use
any of these implements, and suspected the man had no clue what he was doing with any
Stan arrived anticipating every emergency. He had on a hard hat, goggles, chain mail
gloves, chaps and steel-toed boots. He brought two hundred feet of heavy rope, his trusty
chainsaw, various hand saws, a couple of axes and a thermos of coffee. Sam suspected
there was a condom in Stan’s back pocket too, but decided not to ask about it. Bert
arrived in shorts, sneakers and carrying his chainsaw. The Woodsman showed up with his
Each of these experts had ideas on how to bring this monster down. Stan wanted to climb
the tree as high as possible, attach one end of his rope and tie the other end to the trailer
hitch on Sam’s car. Sam thought this an affront to his notch cutting abilities, and was
further taken aback when Stan strongly suggested that Sam climb the tree to do the
attaching. However, it was Stan’s chainsaw that was doing most of the dirty work, so
Sam relented. Bert wanted to get into the tree too, and limb it while it was still standing.
Since Sam could accomplish the entire job without Bert’s chainsaw, Bert’s idea was
When Sam had been younger he’d spent a summer helping a friend build a log cabin in
the North. His friend had taught him how to fell a tree, limb it and shape it to fit into the
scheme of the cabin. By the end of the summer, Sam had been expertly sawing a proper
notch in the spindly pines and dropping them within a hair’s breath of where he wanted
them to fall.
The science of cutting a tree is quite simple. “Notching” a tree is cutting a V into the
trunk, but it’s a V turned ninety degrees. The small end of the V is inside the trunk of the
tree, with the wide end at the bark. A back cut from the other side of the trunk completes
the operation. The shape, depth and direction of a notch will determine where and how
the tree will fall. This was the skill that Sam had acquired 25 years earlier on the
Craig Waugh Page 2 b9aeb06c-9438-4b79-b330-63fd0ca40637.docThe Tree.doc 11/19/201229/11/05
Sam’s tree differed from those pines in two important regards. First, it was a hard maple
and not a soft pine. Second, it was 4 times the diameter of the pines that Sam had been
used to so many years ago.
All of his helpers knew the theory, but none had felled a tree quite as large as this. Most
times, when cutting down small trees on their properties, they simply cut straight through
the trees, without bothering to notch.
After his team of experts had conferred, debated, drank the coffee that Nora provided,
and talked out a good portion of the first half of the morning, Sam decided it was time to
get started. He climbed up into the tree as far as his fear of heights would let him, lashed
the rope to the trunk and climbed down, shaking. The other men had cleared a path of the
intended fall had backed Sam’s car to the edge of the property to attach the other end to
his trailer hitch.
(To aid the reader, the tree is outlined in the header drawing, an X with a circle round it,
to the left of, and forward of the house.)
Nora, who had been serving coffee, dishing out donuts, and slowly hobbling around the
front yard, took refuge inside the door, behind the porch picture window. Sam fired up
Stan’s chainsaw and cut his notch the way he remembered from long ago, and knocked it
out with an axe. His team (including the Woodsman who would rather be fishing), hung
on to the rope to yank when the tree was ready. Stan shouted that he wasn’t sure about
the notch. Sam ignored him. As he was moving from the notch to the back cut, Bert came
up the yard, went inside the front door and touched Nora on the shoulder. “You know,
you might have a better view from the picture window under the second floor”, he said.
Nora looked at Bert and immediately understood what he was saying. She moved to the
other window. Bert moved back to the rope brigade.
Sam started his back cut higher than the narrow part of the V of the notch, and aimed the
saw downwards to meet it. When a tree is being felled, the saw on the backside cut never
makes it to the V. The tree, weakened by the V cut, starts to fall in that direction, and
breaks off a chunk between where the saw is and the V. If the notch is cut properly, the
woodcutter is in the safest spot possible within the radius of the tree falling, because the
tree will always fall away from where he is standing. If. If the notch is cut properly, all is
Craig Waugh Page 3 b9aeb06c-9438-4b79-b330-63fd0ca40637.docThe Tree.doc 11/19/201229/11/05
True to form, Sam had cut his notch just like he had when he was cutting notches in the
spindly pines up North. He had cut his notch the same size. For a smaller tree. For a
Sam started his back cut exactly where he wanted it, and had it angling precisely towards
the V. The back of his mind was telling him he was doing a great job. As expected, as the
back cut did its magic, the tree started to wobble. Sam continued cutting. The wobble of
tree about to come down should oscillate slightly, and then the tree should make a beeline
towards the direction of the V. Sam was waiting for this movement, but started to notice
the wobble just - well, it just wobbled, with no clear direction.
The further he cut into the back of the tree, the more the tree did nothing he expected.
Sam eased up on the trigger of the saw, and had a flash of worry replacing the earlier
thought of confidence and competence in the back of his mind. Time was slowing a bit
for Sam, and the flash started to inch forward in his mind. The Tree was not falling. It
was continuing its oscillations, and the place where Sam was cutting was definitely
getting weak, but Sam's flash was telling him that if The Tree continued this weird
movement, there was no telling which direction it would fall in, and very possibly it
would fall backwards. The more Sam considered this, the more likely it seemed. He let
go entirely of the trigger and yanked the saw clear out of the cut.
Holding onto the bar of the saw, Sam moved back one step, and looked up. That god-
damned Tree was moving in his direction. Sam turned and ran in the same direction,
because he really had no choice. He tripped over a branch, held his balance, and kept
running til he heard the Crash.
Included in the din of the Crash were a variety of other noises. The crunch of the trunk,
the snapping of limbs, a sickening thud, Bert and Stan's yelling, Nora's scream, the put-
put of the idling saw, and Sam's laboured breathing along with his now-failing heart.
Sam stood motionless, his back to the tree, still holding onto the stupid saw, which made
an now-useless noise.
He killed the saw, dropped it and steeled himself to look around and see what the damage
was. At first he saw nothing. His friends, Nora, and even the dog were gone from his
field of view. Actually he saw much more than nothing, but his mind wasn't processing
what was there initially. He needed to see human beings in one place, and focused on
finding as many alive as had been a few moments ago. Over the mass of the trunk, he
spied Stan's yellow hard hat, bobbing about 30 yards away. Bert followed almost
immediately and way in the distance he could spot the Woodsman's plaid. He rounded the
corner of the house, looked in the picture window and saw Nora's wide eyes staring at
him from the living room. The dog yapped at his feet.
Everyone was alive and in one piece, including Sam.
Craig Waugh Page 4 b9aeb06c-9438-4b79-b330-63fd0ca40637.docThe Tree.doc 11/19/201229/11/05
The Tree, and his house were a different matter. As Nora had pointed out, the Tree had
been dead for some time. Now it was deader. And looked it. The Tree was down. On his
front porch. Ninety degrees from the direction of the V. Resting comfortably with some
of its limbs nuzzling the shingles that eventually would have to be replaced.
Sam sat down hard on his cement flagstone and surveyed the scene. With 20-20
hindsight, he knew exactly what had gone wrong, but banished the thought from his
mind. Again, noises. Stan, processing a mile a minute, coming up with what had
happened. Bert, talking almost as quickly saying something to the order of: "Holy
fuckaduck, jesus, mary, joseph, the saints and HOLY HELL!"
Nora, through the window, raising her voice a bit to ask if Sam was OK. The dog, not
yapping anymore but whining, knowing something was wrong. A funny creak coming
from his porch/landing strip. The farmer's tractor behind the house, blithely mowing hay.
And tiny voice, almost hidden in the back of Sam's head, saying, "As much as you don't
want to, pal….you'd best get up and take a look and see if you still have a house"
He did that. As he rose, the others gave him some space and let him survey the damage
that Sam and The Tree had wrought on his country estate.
His first real view of the disaster was disheartening. Many of the limbs had snapped off
the dead tree and littered the porch, the deck and his roof. The roof itself was bent and
covered with other debris. The trunk of The Tree had fallen straight down onto a
flagstone and snapped it like it was ceramic.
But as Sam looked closer, and truly assessed the overall outcome, he was surprised to see
that truly very little damage was done. The roof, which had been in terrible shape earlier,
was still a roof. Windows were most of his front porch's walls, and not one of them was
broken. The house itself had suffered a major hit and remained standing. No leans or sags
were evident, other than where the tree had struck the roofline.
He heaved a tiny sigh of relief, which was immediately replaced by the need to take a
situation, that while it had not caused major damage, was still very much a threat to his
The Tree creaked on his roofline, but was holding firm. Bert, after his initial running at
the mouth, grabbed his saw and started it up. Sam grabbed Stan's saw, and Stan held
limbs as Sam sawed away at them. Nora decided the kitchen might be safe enough to
make a quick dash, grab the coffee pot and emerge out the other door to come round and
plunk the pot down for the boys when they needed a break. The Woodsman headed off
towards the lake with his fishing rod.
Craig Waugh Page 5 b9aeb06c-9438-4b79-b330-63fd0ca40637.docThe Tree.doc 11/19/201229/11/05
Stan was one of those people who can't stand to watch someone else work, even if there
is nothing for him to do. Sam's decision to limb the tree himself was a natural one, but
because there were only two saws, it left Stan without a tool. So, he held the limbs for
Sam as the saw cut through them. As was Stan's habit, he wanted to do too much, too
fast, and just be too Stan. He held the limb that Sam was sawing way too close to the saw.
Sam saw it, but was concentrating on the cut, and quicker than either one of them
realized, the blade cut through the limb and slid through the air between the limb and
Stan's arm effortlessly. Too late, Sam realized that the blade was aimed right at Stan's
forearm, and the saw, which had just cut down an immense maple, tried to do the same
on Stan's flesh. Even though Stan recoiled his arm in one direction and Sam lifted the saw
in the other, the blade still neatly sliced a good portion of top layer of Stan's forearm skin
Immediately there was a great flowing of blood. Sam once again killed the saw, and Stan
grabbed his arm to staunch the flow. Nora had spotted the accident as it happened, and
rushed into the kitchen once again to grab a clean towel. She shoved it in Stan's face, who
grabbed it, and wrapped it around the wound.
Christ alfuckingmighty, thought Sam. Is it going to get worse now? He approached Stan
and asked him to peel the towel back to assess the damage. Sam had a good reason for
this. In his mind was a trip to the hospital, but was unsure if it would be in Sam's car or
an ambulance. As the towel was moved back, Sam realized that although the cut was
bleeding profusely, it also did not appear life-threatening. He bundled Stan into the front
seat of his car, and sped off to the hospital, about 15 miles away.
In the car, Stan started to blame himself, as was also Stan's wont when things go wrong.
Sam said very little but did a mile-a-minute thinking. Stan was only helping Sam. Sure,
he shouldn't have had his arm that close, but Sam should have made that V bigger too.
Stan had owned a chainsaw all his adult life and had never experienced an accident
before. He'd also never seen a man nearly destroy his own house with a tree. Eventually,
Stan ran out of ways to blame himself, and Sam looked over at his friend.
Stan looked back, not sure what was on Sam's mind.
"Listen", Sam started. "Turn off the shit for a moment here. Your arm - well - your arm
just happened. Just like the Tree just happened. We both need fault allocation here like
we need root canal surgery. We both sorta got caught up in the moment, and we need to
fix some stuff here. Like your arm. I happen to be very appreciative that you helped in
the first place, and I am grateful has hell that you still have both arms. So, thank you for
Sam found himself in one of the weirdest situations in his life. Because he'd
miscalculated on the notch, he’d nearly lost his house. Because both he and Stan had
miscalculated on the limbing, Stan had nearly lost his arm. Sam knew that most of it
Craig Waugh Page 6 b9aeb06c-9438-4b79-b330-63fd0ca40637.docThe Tree.doc 11/19/201229/11/05
could be traced back to not entirely knowing what the consequences were of doing a job
he’d not attempted in over a quarter century. God smiles on drunks and Irishmen, Sam
When they got to the local hospital, Sam parked in front of the Emergency doors and
helped Stan out, who didn’t appear to need help, other than the now-red towel covering
his arm. A policeman, who was there getting a statement for a minor car accident,
motioned him to move his car, but Sam raised his voice, looked frantic and stated: “My
friend may DIE if I don’t get him in there RIGHT fucking now! Look at his arm – that’s
just the TIP of the iceberg. His internal injuries are life-threatening!”
It was only at times of great stress or trauma that Sam could truly tell whopping lies.
He’d tried at normal times, and been caught out each time. But when he was stressed, as
he was now, he could convince Alabamans to buy fur coats by the truckload. The cop
immediately grabbed Stan’s other arm (the one that was bleeding) and helped him
through the sliding doors into the Emergency department. Luckily, it was only a few
steps because the pressure he exerted on Stan’s injury made him nearly pass out, thereby
even furthering the credibility of Sam’s assertion.
Sam thanked the cop when they were both seated and told him that Stan owed his life to
him. Stan groaned appropriately and the cop left.
Saturday afternoons in most city emergency departments are rife with clients; kids, car
accidents, the elderly who can’t find a regular doctor, early and late drunks, and an
occasional crazy wandering around. In a small rural hospital, life is a bit slower, and the
only people ahead of Stan was the victim of the car accident, whose injuries were about
as benign as Stan’s. Marie, the Emergency nurse, spied them and exclaimed,
“Mon dieu, Sam, you were just ‘ere last week! Do not tell me you tried to drill the Formatted
Sam’s history with Emergency was legend. He knew all the nurses, a few of the doctors,
and all of them wondered how he had all five of his own limbs still attached. He’d also
tried his impeccable French on all of them, and each one had preferred to switch any
conversation with him back to Enghish as quickly as possible, no matter how bad their
“No, Marie. This time it’s my friend Stan who’s …..um…. well, he’s had a bit of a cut on
“Samuel! Did you ‘ave anyting to do with this …injury”?
Craig Waugh Page 7 b9aeb06c-9438-4b79-b330-63fd0ca40637.docThe Tree.doc 11/19/201229/11/05
“Um,” Sam started.
”I tought so”, Marie answered. “Let me see the arm, Stan” Formatted
Ten minutes later, Sam and Stan were back in the car. Stan’s cut was the best he possibly
could have had from a chainsaw. It had peeled the top layers of his skin off, but had
avoided muscle, bone, nerves, and tendons. Although it had bled profusely, that was the
extent of it, and the doctor had stitched it up quickly and efficiently. Stan had been sent
on his way with a few Tylenol 3s and Marie had admonished him for ever trusting Sam
near anything that was resembled a power tool.
When they got back, Bert had amazingly cleared most of the limbs off the tree, and none
from himself, but it was still firmly attached to Sam’s roof. Stan was mostly out of
commission because of the pain and orders from the doctor, so Bert and Sam carefully
cut the top of the tree off while it was still on the roof, rolled it off and then rolled the
remaining trunk down onto the lawn. They both quickly cut the trunk into stove size
pieces and called it a day.
After everyone had gone home, Nora and Sam sat down before supper. Sam had
showered and put on clean clothes and he was bushed. It had been a full day.
“I’ve seen you cut down trees”, Nora said. “They always have fallen true.”
Sam sighed. Although they all had been incredibly lucky this day, he also knew there
were some lessons here.
“Too big, too close to the house, too old,” Sam said.
“What was too old?” she asked.
Craig Waugh Page 8 b9aeb06c-9438-4b79-b330-63fd0ca40637.docThe Tree.doc 11/19/201229/11/05