Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The fall of a giant

We idle three cars back from where the road worker turns the STOP toward traffic and the SLOW toward the yellow dinosaur juttering up the narrow road on its steel caterpillar tracks. All the workers wear reflective safety orange and should look burly, out-sized, like they do on the village roads. But down here in the hushed ravine, under the soaring forest cathedral, they seem almost inconsequential, furtive even. They know how the tree will fall.

It's just one more tree in a forest jammed so full. I know there are others waiting in its shadow. But this tree is not ready. In fact, there's never been a tree less ready to meet its end. Look at it and tell me otherwise. Look at how it stands there, proud without ego, strong with no effort, a sentinel along a ribbon of road, secured to a rocky stage. Think of how its gnarled and knobby roots reach down into the earth, beyond where our eyes can see, into the soul of the forest, with depth and mass that must rival what we see above.

The backhoe's bucket has been removed. Just a cylindrical metal finger juts from the end of the jointed arm. It rises up toward the prepared tree, makes contact with the wood and taps. Once. Twice. Like it's nothing more than a friendly finger hoping for the tree's attention. That's all it takes.

The first crack of the trunk's base - so big around that three of those men couldn't encircle it with a group hug, if they did that sort of thing - sounds like no more than a chicken bone, snapped in greasy fingers. Then a pause, space just big enough to take and hold a single breath before the King's Mast of a tree rends through a ringed century of growth. Boughs that towered since before these men were born, boughs that offer gentle benediction to the beech, maple and hobble-bush below, topple, whoosh and whoomp down through the arms stretched toward it. The sound never seems as big as it should. The moss and ferns, the deep years of duff, muffle the fall.

An orange, safety vest spins the STOP to SLOW.  Another catches my eye as we pass. His lips press together, his face is grim. Like mine. He nods once and I reply.

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