Sunday, July 19, 2015


If you look for my house on a satellite feed, all you’ll see is trees.  You can spot the Southern Baptist Church next door because they cut down all their trees and wanted to cut mine, too -- that is, the ones on the property line.  Zillow claims my house is worth $125,000 which is laughable.  The county taxes me for $40,000;  I paid $30,000.   What I have learned about old houses is that you will need an equal amount after buying the house because so much maintenance has usually been deferred.  They’ve often been granny houses or rentals.

The north side of the house is full of trees, volunteer poplars that I like to call “populars.”  They aren’t big around but there are quite a few of them and they crowd up against the house.  Lately one has grown a branch over that lies on the old original cedar shakes and when the wind blows that branch beats and pries.  It’s a little bit too high up for me to get it with a ladder.  If the shakes are stepped on, they split.  Also, they are VERY slippery.

The south side of the house has the big cottonwood that is so important to me and that the minister from back East wanted to cut.  It’s a silverleaf cottonwood.  There are a lot of them throughout small Montana towns, brought in by some ambitious person from their home ecology, which is down in coulees along creeks.  On this dry windy prairie they are always a little stressed, especially if not regularly watered.   The high parts die easily, pronging into the sky and tempting the lightning.  If they are cut down or fall down, they will grow a new trunk or rather multiple trunks.  I suspect that a tree expert would know what year that fellow selling trees came through, because most of them are about at their growth limit.  My guess is that it was in the boom after WWI.

My populars are much smaller trees, in a grove that planted itself.  In fact, if I let the volunteer starts of both species just grow, I would be in a jungle.  I knew I had to somehow get rid of that branch that thinks my house is a drum.  But I didn’t know how much it would cost and at 76 I don’t handle heights well anymore.  (I’m also at about my growth limit.)

I was reading the newspaper -- I get to it late in the afternoon  after my blog is written -- when I slowly realized that what I had thought was a weed eater was actually a snarling chain saw.  Quickly I scrabbled around for outdoor shoes and straw hat, piled into the pickup and began to search the streets of Valier.  I figured someone was limbing trees and they might be willing to swing by to deal with that destructive branch.  Too late.  Only a neat pile of sawed branches.  At least they had done a respectable job.  Some people confuse trimming with assassination.  Control over a living thing!  Bwaaaahaaaahaaa!!

In a day or two I heard the saw again, or maybe I didn’t.  I couldn’t find any crew.  Finally I found a woman who had gotten some work done.  She couldn’t remember the name of the outfit or the phone number, but she had contacted them by putting a sticky note on their parked bucket truck.  And she was pretty sure they were going to a place next that was only a couple of miles out of town.  They were, I found them, and they soon drove up.  In fifteen minutes the offending branch -- plus a few others that had died in last winter’s lethal weather were on the ground.   

The arborists were two young men from Missoula, each with a fairly new powerful truck, sharing a red Australian heeler dog named for a Norse warrior (“Thor,” I think.) but as benign as he was muscled.  Sort of like Brad Pitt. The truck license numbers began with “4” which is Missoula and below is their flyer.  The phone number is their “mission central” where they check in for assignments.  Whoever made the flyer evidently had the idea that a bonsai might need trimming, and I suppose they do, but it’s not necessary to have a bucket truck or a chain saw.  Manicure scissors will do.  If you fail to write down the contact number, they show up all over Google and even Facebook.

The bucket truck has been parked in front of my house overnight while they go back to their motel.  They quietly drove off a while ago.  I’ve begun to wish I had a bucket truck.  Think of being able to go high to take photos or pick kittens out of trees.  I didn’t interview these guys much and now I have mixed feelings.  I’d like to know more about them but I sort of like the mystery.  It’s a summer tale.

Maybe I’ll invent a story: two brothers inherit a bucket truck and take off across the continent.  It would be a road trip that includes a lot of stuff about the geography of trees, species distribution and the practice of prairie vegetal architecture: shelter belts, wood lots, homestead groves, erosion control, pheasant and deer habitat.  You could make it sinister if the guys compete for a woman they meet and one sabotages the bucket.  But maybe it would be better to play it romantic and describe making love in the bucket.  Sort of like Canadians making love in a canoe.  Carefully.

Back to reality: I have a pile of gnarly branches in the back yard that I’ll gradually break down and burn on rainy mornings, which do come in summer, interrupting the heat briefly.  High prairie mixes its seasons.  At the moment we have one of those arctic intrusions that are deadly in winter.  I had to put my extra comforter back on the bed.  But fifty degrees is pleasant sleeping weather.

And it makes me sleep a lot better to know there’s not a tree knocking on my roof, wanting to get in.

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