8 Ways Cutting Down a Dead Tree is Like Writing a Novel

Disclaimer: Some of you may have seen this post before. It was originally published on Carrie Lynn Lewis Writing Well on September 29, 2012.

Today is the two-year anniversary of the event described below, but the observations I made back in 2012 are just as relevant today. More so, in fact.

So in honor of that old tree (which I still miss), I decided to post the article here on Indie Plot Twist. Whether you’ve seen it before or not, I hope you enjoy it.

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When we moved into our current home, there was a beautiful forty-plus foot Silver maple in the front yard. It kept the house shaded during the summer and covered the front yard with leaves in the Fall. Squirrels and Blue Jays perched on branches within feet of the front windows and taunted our indoor cats.

A couple years ago, we noticed carpenter ants. Their work and two years of drought and heat were more than the tree could handle and it soon began to die. By midsummer this year, there were only a couple living branches remaining and they were fading fast.

It was, in short, time for the tree to be removed.

Cutting Down a Dead Maple Tree

We decided to do the work ourselves because Neal has an interest in urban lumbering and wanted to harvest the wood for woodworking projects.

The process began by trimming branches that could be reached from the ground or with the aid of a twelve-foot step ladder. Neal used his pole saw and could reach branches twenty feet up.

We worked this way a couple nights each of two weeks and one full Saturday. Neal cut branches and I carried or dragged them to the back yard.

Cutting Down a Dead Maple Tree

One evening, one of our neighbors came out within a few minutes of Neal starting work. He and Neal worked on the tree until dusk that night. They tried out various tools. I dragged branches off and, between times, took pictures and joined in the chatter.

On Thursday, September 20, our neighbor was off work and planned to work on the tree by himself. Neal took the day off to help and called another friend and former coworker who has experience cutting trees. He was the ‘saw man’, but the other two guys were happy with that.

Cutting Down a Dead Maple Tree

The guys spent a lot of time standing on the ground, gazing up into the branches, calculating where limbs might fall, and how best to cut them to make them fall safely out of the street. Thanks to our saw man, more often than not, the branches did fall where they were supposed to.

I didn’t contribute much to the calculations, though I spent a good deal of time gazing upward, too.

I did say more than one prayer. Before, during, and after the process. Conversations with the Holy One and our guardian angels. Seeking breaks in traffic, just the right cut, and another branch safely out of harm’s way.

Cutting Down a Dead Maple Tree

They took the tree down branch by branch, limb by limb. I carted off whatever I could carry and kept the sidewalk cleared. When parts and pieces went into the street, I cleaned those up, too. I didn’t think I was doing much, given what the guys were doing, but at one point, I heard one of the guys say, “If I were her, I’d be getting pretty annoyed by now. She cleans up the yard, and we mess it up again.”

Even I chuckled at that.

Neal made the last cuts to take down the trunk, though each of the guys took a turn working around the bottom of the trunk.

Cutting Down a Dead Maple Tree

The guys started work at 10 a.m. I went out at 11, after doing a little bit of my own work for the day.

After the guys left around four o’clock, Neal and I moved as much of the tree to the backyard as possible, then took a break for supper. Afterward, we went back outside and worked until dark cleaning up the yards in front of our house and the neighbor’s house.

Cutting Down a Dead Maple Tree

All of the tree is now in the backyard. Cut, chopped, sorted, stacked, and arranged. Neal plans to use the larger pieces for lumber (he hopes to make a Grandfather clock and other things). He cut the smaller pieces into firewood and the smallest stuff will be made into mulch and compost.

I got a few pieces to make colored pencil paintings on and maybe make a few walking sticks or staffs from. I’d also like to get an end table or small bookcase out of it.

So what does any of this have to do with writing? 

There are so many analogies in our day of tree work that I can’t list them all. Here are a few.

1. Writing novels is a lot of work. At the beginning of the process, it looks insurmountable.

2. The ideal process involves planning and spontaneity. I’ve written novels by the seat of my pants and I’ve planned novels. The ideal process involves a bit of both. The productive writer takes time to think about the job ahead (especially at important junctures), but he or she also knows when to forge ahead even when he or she doesn’t know for sure how things will turn out.

3. Keep the proper tools handy and in good working order.

4. Don’t be afraid of the grunt work.

5. There’s a lot of cleanup work after the job is done.

6. You need a small group of dedicated friends to provide encouragement, help, and support.

7. It’s helpful to have someone with expertise working alongside you. Especially at those critical junctures.

8. Prayer and meditation is the most important tool of all. At least it is for the Christian writer (or it should be). Nothing clears the mind and prepares the imagination like involving God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit in the process. There is nothing betting for equipping the writer for those bold leaps of faith, either.

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