Where your mind goes, mid axe-swing

The Compass - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc — Twit­ter: @ Wanger­sky.

I knew it was a bad idea. I mean, I knew it was a bad idea when I was at the point where there was noth­ing left to do about it but hope that things would turn out all right.

Check­ing on dam­age af­ter a ma­jor wind­storm this past week­end, I found a ma­ture spruce tree that had sheared off about four feet from the ground, leaned into its po­plar neigh­bour, and was caught hang­ing, tight, branches against branches, wait­ing to fall. A big enough tree to have arm-thick branches, old enough to have thick hang­ing tufts of dead­man’s beard lichen hang­ing from those branches.

Mis­takes were made. A num­ber of mis­takes.

It was noon­time, I hadn’t eaten any­thing, just a cup of cof­fee on the way out the door. It was cold, and it was windy, and ob­vi­ously, I wanted to be done. If I left the spruce, it would con­tinue to lean into the po­plar, and last week­end’s winds clearly showed how poplars can shed their crowns. Not only that, but there would be a hang­ing, creak­ing dead­head wait­ing to fall across the drive­way — on the elec­tric me­ter-reader, on any­one else. I could come back in a week, and hope things would be fine.

The wind blew, the spruce rocked back forth — one of the two trees creak­ing like a hinge with ev­ery rock­ing swing. But it gets worse.

I had a chain­saw.

I was alone.

The road where I parked my car was empty and nar­row and coated with globs of ice, and I’d left the car well up the road so I wouldn’t block the sin­gle lane that hadn’t seen any­thing like a plow. It would be hard for any­one pass­ing by to re­al­ize I was even there.

The tree was cold, the air was cold, the wind was cold, and I was go­ing to have to notch the tree with the saw on one side, then cut from the other, so it wouldn’t bind on the saw. When I had it cut, I took an axe and swung it, blunt-end first, to knock out the now-cut sec­tion. As I did, a thought flick­ered through my head: this is how peo­ple die un­der fall­ing trees. Es­pe­cially, I thought, 50-ish-yearold guys who don’t cut down many trees.

Time stops. It ac­tu­ally stops. Some small part of my head thought, in that in­stant, that a tree can fall any­where in 360 de­grees, and all I re­ally had to do is to avoid some 10 of those de­grees, that the other 350 would be fine — sort of like a physics pro­fes­sor cal­cu­lat­ing how to dodge an al­ready-fired bul­let.

An­other part of my head just thought — run! Fol­lowed by, run where? Yes, time stops.

And then it speeds up so fast that you’re still stopped and ev­ery­thing else is mov­ing.

The axe kept mov­ing. But­tend of axe struck length of tree, the jar of it straight up my arms.

Tree came down. Not where I ex­pected — not, luck­ily, in the 10 de­grees I was in­hab­it­ing at the time.

I ex­pect any­one who makes a re­ally bad de­ci­sion has that mo­ment. That mo­ment where they are in mid-ac­tion and re­al­ize just how badly, how very, very badly things could sud­denly go. Need­less to say, know­ing what I know now, I would have done things dif­fer­ently.

But here’s the point: leave some space in your heart for stupid mis­takes and the peo­ple who make them. Be­cause we do make them, and some­times, we’re crushed to paste by hun­dreds of pounds of fra­grant, sap-wet spruce. Other times, we’re not.

The hor­ri­ble things that can hap­pen to us all prob­a­bly hap­pen mid­way through the thought: this is the best op­tion.

The best op­tion – un­til it isn’t any­more.

The tree was cold, the air was cold, the wind was cold, and I was go­ing to have to notch the tree with the saw on one side, then cut from the other, so it wouldn’t bind on the saw.

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