Wolfe Publishing Group

    When a Tree Falls

    Several years ago a popular topic of contemplation, among folks who either considered themselves of a literary bent or had tipped too many bourbon and gingers, was whether a tree that falls in the forest makes any noise if no one is there to hear it. As far as I know, there has never been a consensus for this, and to tell the truth, I never could fathom what difference it made anyway. Most of my friends also agree it isn’t really worth a tinker’s damn. (Note: I do not know who or what a tinker is, but I like the sound of the phrase.)

    Recently, I had the misfortune of hearing what sound is produced when a tree falls … and someone is under the tree. The someone was me, and the sound produced was a very unchurchly profanity followed by momentary, shocked silence. My son Matt and I had been cutting winter wood, and a dead tree had hung up on its way down. I went in 30 feet behind this snag and began cutting a different tree already on the ground while my son worked on the snag. When he cut a section off the base, however, it dropped another three feet, teetered away from the direction it had been leaning, and fell backwards.

    In retrospect, of course, neither of us had played it very smart, though with 40 years of woodcutting experience, I should have known better than to take my eye off a “leaner.”

    My years in the Forest Service as well as horror stories related by logging friends and particularly by widows of logging friends should have made me more cautious, but in those 40 years, none of the horrible possibilities had ever visited me, and I had become complacent – even “bullet-proof.” Logging accidents were for other guys.

    This one was for me. When the dead fir with a diameter of about 12 inches crashed into my right shoulder, missing my head by a scant inch, I was bent over, cutting 20-inch lengths for my stove. I had my hearing protectors on and the saw was running, making it impossible to hear my son’s frantic warning. One second I was happily cutting away, and the next, I had been knocked violently to the ground. The first thing that went through my head was, “I’ve been shot!”

    I have no idea what happened to my chain saw in that interval, but I have since contemplated the good fortune that kept the tree from smashing into my head and the saw from removing one or more body parts I have grown very fond of.

    There was definitely more wrong with the shoulder than what the blood suggested, but after about 10 minutes, Matt and I determined there had been no spinal injury and that the best course of action was to get me to a hospital. He brought the truck as close as he could and helped me to my feet. The ride to the hospital was painful as the shock wore off, but oddly enough the thing that kept going through my mind was that this was sure going to screw up the pheasant season. I had acquired an 8-week-old Brittany, Lucy, just four months before, and she promised to be a dandy. It seemed like a great time to deplete my bank account, so in August I reserved a hunting spot at a lodge in Ipswich, South Dakota, for my three sons, two sons-in-law and me. My treat. It was going to be one of those male bonding things as well as a great start for the pup.

    When I awoke from surgery, the doctor showed me an X-ray of the plate and nine screws he had used to put my shoulder together again – one of the screws was all of four inches long. During three days in the hospital, there was a lot of pain and a lot of meds, followed by some severe constipation that was worse than the shoulder pain, but through it all, my motivation for getting well was the promise of the South Dakota pheasant hunt.

    “We’re going,” I told everyone. “I can’t shoot, but I can handle the pup.” Even as I said it, though, I was worried I was making a promise I couldn’t keep.

    Two days before the departure date and two weeks after the accident, I told the doc what I was planning. He said it wasn’t a good idea, and I told him my life had been defined by bad ideas. I shed the sling, went to Ipswich, and had a glorious time watching some of the men I love have the pheasant hunting time of their lives while the pup came of age. For three days, I followed the pup, gently exercising the arm, and when I got back home, the doc said I was three weeks ahead with my rehab.

    Once the staples had been removed, I had to face reality: I wasn’t able to swing a shotgun at all last season. I was more disappointed for the pup than I was for myself, but grateful for family and friends, all the kind words and help, and my bird-hunting passion that kept me motivated to heal quickly. I’m also extremely grateful for that one-inch difference between an uncomfortable, somewhat disappointing autumn and no autumn at all.

    Wolfe Publishing Group