Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It was a still, full moon night

Old Fred Astaire movies were on TCM, and we had been watching the beautiful full moon rise. Farm Boss went outside to photograph it. Then I heard what sounded like firecrackers and him yelling for me to get outside the house NOW! Without the cats? I yelled but went out.

So there I stood wearing only my nightgown and in bare feet in our new garden asking him why the heck I should get out and repeating what about the cats. He said our big oak tree was falling on the house, about to destroy it, and it going down was the sound I heard. I can't describe the feeling from hearing that, as it's as if your world is safe and mundane one moment; then the next-- could it all be destroyed?

I knew these oak trees were nothing to take lightly as they are well over a hundred years old, one we know has an invasive rot at its base. At over a hundred feet tall, they have substantial weight. Such trees have killed the unwary when a tree suddenly falls for no known reason other than some crucial dynamics were finally met. I've heard huge crashes along the creek with absolutely no wind and only one possibility-- a mighty tree has fallen. When hiking in the woods or wading up a stream, pay attention to small sounds. They often are precursors.

We had been meaning to get an arborist out here to check on the one with the rot but just hadn't yet done it. We had also been meaning to have some of the big limbs cut off but again it's finding the right person as those limbs are way high and would be dangerous for the wrong person to remove. It takes an expert. We know people who were killed or crippled by a mistake where it comes to big trees.

To make a long story short, I walked down through the vegetable garden, which is on the safe side of the house, broke into our bedroom screen door, got dressed, and did what he said-- went to the trailer where he felt it'd be safe. He brought one of our three cats (the one he could catch) who thought it was a nice, if nerve wracking adventure as he alternately purred and bit me lightly.

About that time, Farm Boss decided the banging sound and his seeing the big tree trunk shaking had actually only been one big limb splitting, and it would be safe to go back inside for the night. Reality is that tree would only take out the kitchen, utility room and maybe his office if it totally split or became uprooted (something oaks can do especially very old ones).

So back to the house we went with the one cat, got the other one in from the garden, fenced yard where she had run when I left the screen ajar for her to get out if she couldn't be caught. The old one, who is on his way out of life, never knew anything happened.

Farm Boss was pretty sure the tree itself wasn't about to fall but just to sleep better, I asked him to turn the house power off. I figured if the tree did violently split in two or fall toward us, fire would be our biggest danger.

Anyway next morning we called our insurance (boy is that useless for such a thing unless damage to roof and structure amount to over $10,000 which means we should up our deductible to that, i guess) and then calling places who can look at trees for health and with the equipment to remove the biggest limbs-- like the one now laying on our roof.

I have treasured these oaks. I've sat many hours on the deck looking up into the mysteries of their heights. Their beauty never ceases to touch my heart. They are part of the essence of our property here. The house nestles into them with great naturalness and beauty. I have though never underestimated their potential danger. They say watch in the spring that all have the same time leaves first appear as that would be the first warning of a tree about to die.

Not long after we moved here, we heard how these oaks had had metal bands around them back when horses and wagons crossed the creek at the ford near our home. The metal bands had made sawing them down particularly difficult as the bands became part of the inner tree. The trees and this crossing have a history. Living on a pioneer homestead has these aspects.

Their history is important but so is life and letting them be this close to the house (two are twenty feet or less) is something that has to be evaluated seriously. The other aspect is they form a grove which means in a windstorm they protect each other. So take down one or two and what will that mean for the rest?

It will definitely require someone coming out to remove the heavy limbs that still overhang the house, certainly the one that split and landed partly on our roof; but this is the first time I have seriously considered cutting any of them down. Thought of a huge tree crashing into your home will do that for you.

Interestingly we have had plans to take the trailer on a little Oregon vacation. We have put off leaving for assorted reasons-- consulting work for Farm Boss, family fun, and ranch related responsibilities. If you didn't know, ranches, even the small ones, take a lot to get ready for owner absence. However, if we had been gone when this happened, it would have been a bad thing; so that's a good thing that we were here and can deal with it-- assuming we can get someone with the right skills out here. As for that vacation, it might just get postponed again...

Photos were all taken morning after the limb split. The one above shows the tree with the rot and you can just see the trunk of the one where a limb split and landed on the roof.


Hattie said...

Those trees have such a lovely shape. But to tell you the truth it would get on my every last nerve to have huge old trees like that so close to my house.You could have a huge windstorm or an earthquake that might topple them.
Our tree situation is quite a bit different from yours, of course. We do have a lot of luck finding people to help with their maintenance. It's an expensive business but necessary.
Our next door neighbor has one (1) tree, because taking care of trees is a nuisance and besides they block the view.
The prize tree of the neighborhood is on our rental property next door: a huge poinciana that could be the largest one in the world for all we know! It has been pruned numerous times and is still huge.
Anyway, I'm glad that you are all safe! And hope you can find some good tree trimming experts.

Celia said...

So glad you are safe. Hope you find an arborist soon. You have my sympathy. There's a 100 foot Silver Maple of great age in front of my house. Right after I moved in it dropped a huge branch of nearly a foot in diameter on the front sidewalk. It's a miracle no one was hurt and nothing was damaged. We got someone in to prune it. Right before they arrived a wind came up and knocked another branch down that took off the power service of the house next door.

Rain Trueax said...

We have two coming out for opinions today and hopefully we can soon get the heavy limbs removed. I look up at their heights though and think what a huge task it'd be to take one of them down without damaging anything. I've heard it can cost $5000 per tree. So we'll see what they say. Heavy downward limbs though definitely have to go. I actually have never feared them, don't really now but I do have a wariness about them. Having heard big trees elsewhere go down suddenly will do that for you.

Kay Dennison said...

I'm so glad that it wasn't worse, Will be keeping good thoughts for you!!!

robin andrea said...

Just a few weeks ago a large oak came down in a Yosemite camp. The camp counselors were outside, and one (a student from UC Santa Cruz) was killed instantly by it. I'm glad you are having someone come and take a look. These old oaks are beautiful trees, and they do have a lifespan. Good luck, and keep us posted.

Rain Trueax said...

The expert had the same goals we did-- can we save the trees? He suggested ways to do it by careful pruning and some supports. He called them treasures and said that to keep the low ones over the house could be healthy for the tree's overall health. So sometime in the next week or two (there goes vacation again) a crew will come out and do the selective pruning.

I also learned that the dry spell is what led to the white oaks splitting and he's seen four in the last week or so. Irrigating is good for them but not frequent irrigating instead it should be every three weeks and go deep.

So pruning, supports, and they can all stay. He thinks they are two hundred years old and can live one hundred more years. I liked how he called them treasures. It's what I have felt and protecting them is part of our responsibility for owning them. Happiness is... well other than a lot of $$$$s floating away ;)

1:06 PM

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Oh, I hope you are able to sort it all out and will be able to keep the trees. When you said that this gentleman said these trees were treasures...I thought, How Wonderful! Keeping my fingers crossed, my dear Rain.

Rain Trueax said...

It's our plan, Naomi. They have asked little from is in the years we have lived here. We will spend the money and hope that makes a difference for their length of life. He even understood the beauty of the low-hanging branches. A true arborists.

Lynn said...

Your post is so relatable, Rain. I’m sorry your trip must be postponed. Unfortunately the hourly rate for an arborist is the same as a doctors. Glad you and yours are safe.

Rain Trueax said...

I don't mind paying a high rate to deal with the trees, Lynn as it's dangerous work and requires special equipment. His advice and what he told us about the trees was valuable but it was the price of an expert for sure. He won't be doing the cutting but he said he could tell the men what to cut. We could have gotten by cheaper with a local logger friend but felt the risk to him as well as our desire that it be the best ones for the tree, made us opt to pay more.

Ingineer66 said...

Summer limb drop is fairly common in oaks and you are right it is expensive to have a good tree guy do the work, but you get what you pay for.
Too much water is bad for them that is why on golf courses on TV you see bare dirt around the drip line of the tree. Enough to keep grass green is too much or too often for them.

Rain Trueax said...

Ingineer, that's what I thought but he said with the white oaks the drought is what led to this and hence four of them with limbs that split, healthy limbs. So he said water deep every three weeks. The problem with trying to keep grass green is it's the wrong pattern for the white oaks. They need the deep watering but not so often. We'll know better in the future.

Mark said...

Having big trees near the house is a tradeoff. We have a group oaks on the east side of the house that give us good morning shade. Unfortunately, this particular kind of oak has a proven history of falling in our area.

Rain Trueax said...

Mark, it is a tradeoff but he gave us some good suggestions to protect the house and do better by the trees. I am relieved we can keep them awhile longer. It's not without some risk for sure, but we can minimize it.

la peregrina said...

"I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree."

Joyce Kilmer was right and I'm glad you and Farm Boss are in agreement with him. Destroying those trees would be a great loss.

Rain Trueax said...

What was interesting was when he said if we took off the low lying, heavy branches, they would make the tree less healthy for its own oxygenation proccesses (any biologist knows the right word but it escapes me at the moment). I worried that more weight would be high and that'd be bad for wind. So propping those lower branches, taking some weight off them, that's the ticket. Then watering quite deeply every three weeks when it's been a long dry spell like this one. They split with drought. Who knew ;)

Lynn said...

Rain, this post has been so informative. Having six old growth oaks, I’m learning a lot. I hope we are able to follow the process all the way through. Happy weekend.

Ingineer66 said...

Glad the hear that it mostly turned out good for the trees. Other than you being lighter in the wallet.

Rain Trueax said...

they haven't gotten anything through the years, ingineer; so pro-rated, this isn't bad ;)