I had this exultant moment, standing over the bare beast of a limb that stretched out on the sidewalk in front of me. Suddenly I was back in the mountains of Colorado, armed with my ax and chainsaw, doing battle with the hillside of infested pine trees. I spent months of my life out there, as the sun was going down, making sure that we were drawing a line in the proverbial sand. We wouldn't lose another tree. Not a single one.
But every summer, the Forest Service had politely marked the ones that had to come down. And every summer, my brothers and I followed my father up the hill to where the single line of spray paint told us what part of the forest was ours to clear. For the first year or two, it was my father's responsibility to bring the offending members down, then my brothers and I would strip them clean of their limbs, and then my father would circle back to cut them into four foot long sections. After that, it fell to us boys to make stacks of these sections. No more than four feet high, and eight feet long so that the Forest Folks could come back to spray and cover them with thick sheets of plastic. That's where they stayed, as a monument to all our hard work, and the devastation wreaked on the woods where we lived. We weren't building forts or collecting firewood. We were trying to save the pines around us in hopes that someday they might grow up and become our firewood. Or coffee tables. Or the forest that kept us invisible to the passersby on the road down below.
We called our father "Beaver," for his skills with a Wright reciprocating blade saw. His sons were all Junior Beavers, and we all looked forward to the day when it would be our turn to fell our own tree. Only once, in all that time, did my father manage to get himself into trouble. He dropped a big Ponderosa on a power line. When the local authorities showed up, he told them he had chased off some kids who "obviously didn't know what they were doing." In the meantime, we stayed inside our cabin with that had no electricity or phone by design and snickered quietly as our father got away with one. After that, we were all much more careful about which way we tipped and tottered our trees.
All of these memories came roaring back as I stood over that stripped limb of a street tree gone bad. It would no longer block traffic on the sidewalk, or keep neighbors from parking on the street. I had learned my lessons well, and as the sun began to set, I began to imagine what the next afternoon might bring. If I looked up and down the street, or searched a few blocks, I might find some woods that needed tending. It's a hard habit to shake.