Death to Trees
It’s not that I hated the tree from the beginning, it’s just that I was mostly ambivalent towards its existence. I didn’t take things personally back in the early days because, I’ll be honest, it didn’t seem possible to me that a tree could have a malevolent purpose. They’re trees, right? They don’t think. They don’t feel. They certainly don’t appear to have any sinister motives. Why hate a tree?
Well friend, let me tell you why.
But first, I’d like to point out that I have had four large trees in my yard, so it’s not like I have some sort of problem with trees. Granted, the Oak in the backyard tried to kill me a few years ago, but I saw that as normal passive-aggressive behavior for a tree about to get a huge limb cut off, combined with (1) a profound lack of experience in cutting large limbs off trees, and (2) some small mis-calculations. Who knew that the appropriate way to remove a large limb was to saw it off into smaller, more manageable (less lethal) lengths, one section at at time, gradually working your way from distal to proximal? It seemed rather inefficient to me, especially since I could see that the limb was attached to the tree at a single location, and that with one, well-placed precision cut, I could take the entire limb down at once. Still, erring on the side of caution, I secured the end of the doomed limb to another tree (a large Maple which still pales in comparison to the Oak), with a long and sturdy rope to ensure that nothing went awry.
The “Oak Tree Incident”, as it has come to be known around my house, marks the moment when I learned how devilishly determined trees can be. Suffice to say that if a tree wants to inflict harm upon you, it can and it will. I still don’t know how it managed to swing its almost-severed limb back towards me, and most importantly, the ladder upon which I stood, against the strategically placed rope, but it did. Luckily, due to a similar incident a few years prior in which the tree whose limb I severed actually managed to knock the ladder out from under me, leaving me stranded and clinging its trunk at an unjumpable height for almost an hour while my roomate sat inside and continued drinking, wondering what was taking me so long, I already knew how fiendishly clever they were. So armed with the upper hand, I had secured not just one ladder to the Oak, but two. Obviously, if the tree tried to take out the first ladder (which was impossible of course, due to the restraining rope), I could simply jump over to ladder #2, which I had strategically placed 180-degrees opposite from soon-to-be-severed limb. Well, not quite 180-degrees, but damn near.
As it turns out, the “damn near” wasn’t “damn near” enough, and against all known laws of physics and biology, the tree swung its severed limb down, and then back (against the rope!), and then around the tree, knocking out both ladders, sending me and my trusty chainsaw to free-fall approximately 12ft to the ground. Luckily, whilst in free-fall, I had the presence of mind to cast the still running chainsaw aside, flatten out on my back, so that the maximum amount of my body could feel the pain of contact, and land directly on top of the ladder. I checked myself for compound fractures, determined that there weren’t any, and then dusted myself off with an adrenaline-fueled grin created by the realization of how close I’d been to serious injury, and yet I had escaped, unharmed. I, had won.
Now, keep in mind that this was an Oak tree, which as far as I can tell are fairly reasonable trees, and generally will not try to kill you unless they’ve been cornered. They seem to be “straight shooters”, as trees go; very WYSIWYG. [knuckles to all my computer-nerd homies who didn't have to Google "WYSIWYG"] So, in retrospect, based on my experience with the Oak, I suppose I underestimated my foe, my nemesis, and the bane of my existence, the American Liquidambar styraciflua, more commonly known as the “Sweetgum” tree.
If you go to Arborday.org and look up the American Sweetgum tree, here’s what you’ll find:
“Deep, glossy green star-shaped leaves mark the Sweetgum. Leaves turn yellow-purple-red in the fall, and stay on the tree quite late. Its shape is pyramidal, becoming more rounded with age. Avoid polluted sites. Grows 60′-70′, with a 45′ spread. (Zones 5-9)”
Dig a littler deeper, and you’ll find this:
“The Sweetgum tree, with its star-shaped leaves, neatly compact crown, interesting fruit, and twigs with unique corky growths called wings, is an attractive shade tree. It turns brilliant shades of yellow, orange, red and purple in autumn. Its wood is alternatively streaked with reddish-brown and black, making it popular for fine furniture and interior finishing. Sweetgum has become a prized shade tree in parks, campuses and around residences with space for large trees.”
But what you won’t find is this: Liquidambar styraciflua is Latin for “Soul-sucking tree-of-anguish-and-pain”. The Greeks called it, “Painus Maximus”, which, interestingly, is Greek for “Giant Asshole Tree”. (You don’t have to look it up because I already have.) And most importantly of all, what you won’t find – anywhere – is a picture that shows these little Satanic spike-balls:
Those little bastards are pointy, plentiful, and poisonous1. The average Sweetgum tree produces 6.4 x 1023 (64 gazillion) of them every week, which is enough to cover Central Park to a depth of one Smoot per day. They will puncture the skin, impale small animals, and flatten tires2. For those of you who are into the Chuck Norris “toughisms”, the picture above shows Chuck’s hand before he lost it in a futile attempt to defeat the devil-ball-from-hell in an ill-advised (I hate to say it, but I did tell him so) squeeze-contest. Chuck lost. Dumbass.
Furthermore, what nobody seems willing to admit, but which must be told, is this: The Sweetgum Tree doesn’t just throw little (golf-ball-sized), poisonous, Satanic-spike-balls at you in an effort to break your will, it also recruits the great menace of the skies, the birds. Through some sort of weird, “tree telepathy” thing, it communicates with the birds, who are still pissed about being passed by the mammals (with the exception of rodents) on the evolutionary totem-pole, and who are MORE than willing to assist it. This is true: The Sweetgum tree in my yard recruited FOUR (not one, not two, and not three, but FOUR) bird families to create nests over my driveway. And birds, as everyone knows, are only good for two things: shooting, and shitting. And since I live in “the City limits”, shooting is off the menu, leaving the birds full reign to defecate to their little soulless-hearts-content upon my driveway, and the cars parked therein. If I washed the car and parked it in the driveway (as was/is pretty much required of me), it was just a matter of minutes before the demon-fowl, fouled my handiwork. Minutes! Little, rat-bastard, used-to-wanna-be-dinosaurs flying around, shitting on my car. And, in all likelihood, shitting on your car too.
Anyway, aside from the spike-balls and eternal bird-shit, the tree certainly didn’t show any of the outward displays of hostility that the Oak tree, for example, had shown to me. It didn’t appear to be overtly aggressive. And it didn’t appear to have the single-minded, inhumanly patient focus (that it did indeed have), to drive me to the brink of insanity. But appearances, as the saying goes, can be deceptive, and the Sweetgum is the goddamned master of deception.
*Note* In case you were wondering, this isn’t one of those, “If you’re reading this, it probably means that I’ve been killed by a Sweetgum tree” messages that you so often see. I know some of you readers are deeply concerned about the well being of yours truly, and I sincerely appreciate that, so I didn’t want to leave you hanging. No, I’m not dead; the tree didn’t kill me. Once again, I won. And once again, it was by the narrowest of margins.
At first, I felt a weird sense of isolation: Who on earth could possibly relate to my own private Idaho? Who out there could possibly understand my predicament of being involved in an all out battle of wits and will with a tree? But then I realized that this was exactly the sort of negative thinking the tree was hoping for, and that to beat it, I’d have to fight through its fiendishly clever mind-games, and take the initiative.
So I did. And the first thing I found was this: “Trees that you Hate” (a forum discussion topic on Arborday.org) Not surprisingly, the evil Sweetgum tree was listed by “Big_Tree_Fan” (a nickname, I’m supposing?) as a tree that he/she hated, saying, “Also, I disliked sweetgum trees as a kid since I went barefoot all the time.”
Well color-me-green and shit-ten-kittens; I wasn’t alone after all! And I’m sure you can only imagine my elation at finding this site: http://www.treehater.com/ (“Countering the lies and evil of the sentient, rooted beasts all around us.”) Finally, I’d found support!
To keep this story from running too long (I know, it feels like you just started reading it, right?), I’ll go ahead and give you a quick summary: I won. The tree is gone; cut up into chunks and segments and lengths of varying size, drying in the June, July, August, September, and October heat, so it’ll be good and ready for the fireplace come this fall. However, in the process of moving the (usually massive – this tree was 44″ in diameter at the base of the trunk) chunks, the tree got at least one “last laugh” in. I worked for about 5 hours on an otherwise gorgeous Sunday afternoon moving the dismembered tree-chunks from the front yard to the side of the house, and subsequently strained my lower back beyond its usual duty cycle while doing so. The following week was hell; I couldn’t walk upright as late as Thursday morning, and I had a tennis tournament scheduled for Friday afternoon. I lost. But then again, so did everyone else who played my first round opponent, and eventual tournament champion.
But that’s a different story.
1) In my opinion
2) In my opinion