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Faith in Vermont: Timber!

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Posted on November 18, 2014 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



Since we bought our house in Vermont, a lovely Cape in the woods, our homeownership approach has been: Act first, think later.

This was certainly true when it came to the trees. "Oh look," I exclaimed the first time we saw the house, "there are so many beautiful trees!" (We learned later that our neighborhood sits within the administrative boundaries of the Green Mountain National Forest; beyond our acre, the woods are protected by law.)

The trees are beautiful. They are important: alive and life-giving. We are big fans of trees. We've read The Lorax -- many times.

But because we saw the house first in April, before there were leaves on the trees, we didn't think about the leaves. Or the acorns. Or the lack of sunlight. Or the effects of leaves, acorns, and lack of sunlight on the roof and wooden decking. We didn't question why there were massive trees two feet from the house (the prior owners had built an addition without clearing any additional space.)

Perhaps you can predict what I'm working up to here: This August, we had 20 trees taken down in our yard.

Twenty. When we moved here four years ago, I would never have allowed such a thing. But after four years of trees breathing down our necks, my husband and I reassessed the situation. "You know," we agreed, "there are still plenty of trees out there."

The trees we chose to take down were the bare minimum -- the sick, the dead, and the dangerous. That the total count came to 20 gives you some idea of the prior situation. It was a difficult decision, and not without its heartbreak; the morning when the chopping began, our daughters made tearful rounds of the yard, hugging their favorite trees goodbye.

They spent the rest of the morning with their noses pressed up against the window, watching in awe as a fearless crew of tree-removal experts -- and a lot of heavy equipment -- climbed and sawed and swung. "Mommy, are there any girl tree cutters?" one daughter asked, and I felt that strange parental mix of pride and fear.

We chose to outsource our deforestation to professionals for the following reasons:

1.    Most of the trees were enormous.

2.    At least two local pioneers were killed while chopping down trees. William Douglass, one of the original settlers of Cornwall, died in 1783 while cutting down a tree with his two sons (his tombstone is located incongruously, next to the 11th tee on the Middlebury College golf course), and in 1775 a tree instantly killed Amos Story, husband of the local Revolutionary War hero Ann Story, while he was clearing land in Salisbury. Did I mention that they were pioneers?

3.   My husband and I are not pioneers.

It took four days. When the job was done, the first thing I noticed was the light. The view out our windows wasn't much different -- there were still plenty of trees out there. But now our house was surrounded by a strip of sunlight. I rushed out to the nursery and upgraded to "Part Shade" plants for the first time since moving here.

The thing about felling 20 trees is: That's a lot of wood. This is where not thinking comes into play again. We heat our house with wood, so naturally, several months prior to the Great Tree Massacre, we'd bought and stacked (well, my father-in-law had stacked) six cords of wood.

There were probably about seven cords of wood laying in our yard, but we had no room for it.

It had to go somewhere, because that's a lot of wood. Our property looked like a lumber yard, criss-crossed by enormous tree trunks, carpeted with sawdust.

Our first solution was to pay the tree company to remove the wood.  That's right: pay money to dispose of perfectly good wood that we could have used instead of the firewood we'd already paid for. I'd like to say that I've never felt so idiotic in my life...but that wouldn't be true.

At the eleventh hour, a better solution presented itself: We learned that a neighbor might be interested in taking some of the wood to heat his house. Of course! Why didn't we think of that? We have many friends and neighbors who heat their homes with wood, and who know their way around a chainsaw. We'd give the wood away!

The funny thing about trying to give something away is that it's kind of like trying to pay a contractor to do a job.  Here, let me give you this thing that you want and need! -- and they don't call or show up for weeks. "Just so long as it's gone before the snow," I said.

Three months later, the snow is starting and we still have one enormous tree trunk and several piles of partially-cut wood in our yard. Four people have showed up so far to take wood off of our hands. We were happy for them to have it and grateful for their efforts; it's a lot of work to cut up 20 trees.

Another thing we have a lot of now: stumps. "What are you planning to do about the stumps?" my mother asked the first time she saw our yard post-treepocalypse. I looked at her blankly.

I guess that's something else we should've thought about....

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone labradoodle — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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