Lignomania

There’s a flowering cherry tree in our front yard, somewhat. The tree is dying and has lost two of the three large limbs that spread up and out from its bole, so that the canopy of the tree is now lopsided. When we moved in, the two missing limbs were not missing but merely dead. One of them was knocked clean off by the little Bobcat bulldozer that our contractor used to level our backyard. The other came off under my foot a month or so ago.

No, go ahead. You were about to ask how a tree limb up in a tree could be under my foot, unless perhaps I had taken my foot up into the tree.

A cherry besieged.

Just so. I was up in the tree. I had gone up into the cherry tree with clippers and a bow saw to remove the suckers. Suckers are those pieces of tree that grow straight up into the air from the topmost branches. They “suck” the energy out of the rest of the tree in a hasty and unruly bid for skylight, and they wreak havoc on that nice spreading shape that homeowners cherish in ornamental trees, so they “suck” in that sense as well. As it were. 

Since it was clear that the tree was dying as soon as we moved in and took stock of our arboreal assets, I never bothered to do the annual sucker pruning. I figured that by now we would have replaced the ailing cherry with a new flowering tree, maybe a crabapple or a plum. Or a ginkgo biloba, Angela likes those and so do I (like Magnolias they are primordially old).

Alack! Most of our yard-time has been spent beating back the strange growth in the backyard that looks a little like salal but acts a lot like a grease fire with water thrown on it, or like that Hydra thing that Hercules got tangled up with, so we’ve never gotten around to the front yard at all. But the suckers had become as thick at their bases as small trees, and were fouling the power lines coming into the house, so it was time to do something.

I climbed up there and chopped down all the suckers and then gave what was left of the tree a bit of a shave. Below and around me a tangle of amputated cherry covered the ground. It took me a while to clean this all up, not only because we are busy and spare time was not burning holes in my pockets, but because…well…this is what I wanted to tell you:

I think I have a wood problem.

Even before I started chopping the largest pieces into lengths that would fit into the yard-waste bin, I had been thinking to myself, “some of those bigger pieces will make good firewood when they dry out.” So I was laying those aside. but as I kept cutting and the thickness of the branches grew smaller and smaller, I kept lowering the minimum caliper for “an acceptable piece”, even as they became twigs. There seemed to be no obvious cut-off line but rather a continuum, so where would a reasonable man draw the line between what to keep and what to toss into the bin?

“Kindling,” I told myself, and kept adding to my pile.

Maybe I'll buy a fat pig, too.

In my head I heard arguing voices that said:

This is turning out to be a lot of extra work, picking these long branches out of the pile and cutting them into lengths, especially since I’ll have to stack them, and maybe even cut some of them again. 

and

Yeah, but it’ll all burn after it dries for a season.

and 

Doesn’t the scarcity of available time for this project dictate that the most important thing is to get this mess out of the front yard? Your neighbors are probably meeting over coffee and shortbread right now to decide how to break it to you that they think you’re a hillbilly and want you gone.

and  

Do you really want to be guilty of wasting this valuable natural resource?

Aside from the obvious obsessive compulsive issues here (the slippery slope upon which my consciousness is encamped) I think my wood problem may actually be part of the larger problem that someone was once helpful enough to label for me as romantic pastoralism. I am under the delusion that I am a creature of earth and soil and seasons, and that it is important to forfeit no opportunity to interact with the earth in ancient and venerable activities, such as gathering twigs.

Most of the time I rise above, keep my head. But my better sense is no match to such a large heap of twigs and branches. It triggers the mania. This is cherry wood, after all, and I’ve already gone halfway around the bend, so to speak, by chopping it all off the tree and making the pile. My ancient landsman’s blood is all up already and coursing hotly through my arteries. I have forgotten that I own a cell phone and a Subaru and that I raise my smoke less than a quarter mile from a Whole Foods in one direction and a purveyor of organic donuts in the other.

I keep rethinking it and trying to change my mind about the purpose of what I’m doing so that I can throw some of the twigs away, but even against my will I keep putting them in the save pile. You see the insanity of it. I feel as though I’ve been gripp’d by some mediaeval mindset to which it might seem completely normal to shoulder a bundle of faggots, like the peasant on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, and set out on foot for the market to sell them.

I bet the neighbors don't have stacks of twigs like this.

Well, no harm done, after all. And when it dries out, we’ll have good firestarting material for a whole season.

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8 Responses to “Lignomania”


  1. 1 Janet March 10, 2011 at 08:19

    For many reasons, there is beauty in that wood pile – is wood pile 2 words? woodpile – 1 word? or should I have said pile of wood? However you say it, I like the photo.

  2. 2 Janet March 10, 2011 at 13:08

    p.s. now I look out the window toward my neighbour’s back yard – guess what, there is a very old looking fruit tree with a profusion of suckers shooting straight up – there’s a forest of suckers out there that I really hadn’t noticed before.

    It’s not just here in Seattle that the suckers shoot up. We fought a constant battle with them on our beloved pear tree in our back garden in Dublin.

    • 3 Matt March 10, 2011 at 13:25

      Janet,
      Thanks for the vote of confidence in my woodpile, or wood pile. It sounds like your neighbor has not wanted to gird up and do battle. If your Dublin pear tree is still standing, the suckers would make excellent scion wood for starting a new tree here in Seattle.

  3. 4 marni March 10, 2011 at 16:39

    You are a man who desperately needs to see my Father’s “kindling shed” up at the beach. You may be the first person created on this earth who would truly get it and appreciate it in all of it’s glory. My dad has been searching for you his whole life. That’s a very very nice pile of twigs!

    • 5 marni March 10, 2011 at 16:41

      Oh, and I curse you for the link to the donut place.

      • 6 Matt March 10, 2011 at 22:54

        A kindling shed? That just about says it all. If Wayne ever needs me to go up there and nod appreciatively…well, I’m there for a brother.

        • 7 marni March 10, 2011 at 23:58

          It is unbelievable how much you would revel in the shed. I’m not sure it could be measured by human standards. And I apologize deeply for the incorrect appostrophe usage above. I’m cringing now reading back over it. Hope Angela survived the big “intelligence removal”. I’m there for her!

          • 8 Matt March 11, 2011 at 09:53

            Now that you’ve gone and mentioned the gratuitous apostrophe, I have to leave it in, otherwise I could have fixed it for you. Angela’s teeth gig went as well as one could hope. Quick. Easy. Now it hurts. Shes’ sleeping off too much yogurt and is no doubt dreaming of cracking walnuts with her remaining molars. She did seem less intelligent right after but that may have been the dope. Time will tell.


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