Thursday, September 26, 2013

Once a Tree

It has to start at the beginning, so I guess it starts with this tree.  It lived in my childhood as a "flag tree," one of those colossal white pines that grow along lakes and ridges in the Northeast. that are shaped by the prevailing winds, laden with branches on one side and a bit bare on the other. This one lived on Lake Placid in the middle of the Adirondack Park, and it was part of my view as I grew up. It stood through storms; it must have watched over me as I played in the river that touched its roots; and it lived not far from where my father died in July of 2001.  When it blew down in 2008, I had an image of building a small building out of one tree, and through the process I have learned some things. The tree is now a building of sorts, and it includes the addition of some scavenged materials, and some stories, stories of helpful people, of near disasters, and of my own sense of bliss that comes from creating something from scratch  It is pictured above being towed across Lake Placid in the fall of 2010 with the help of my loving sister Kate.  It is one of four fifteen foot sections that it unknowingly donated to me when it fell.

The image below is of another of the logs after it escaped from the shoreline the previous fall. It traveled over to the dam on Lake Placid and was trapped in the outlet in a November snow.  So in thirty degrees and the snow falling I got to wade through the water and pull it back to its resting place at my mother's house on the lake where it would spend another winter in the soaking in the water, getting heavier and heavier as I envisioned how to transport these to another home, a problem I later solved.

One of the fun parts of the salvaging of these logs came on a Saturday.  With the help of a few far more experienced chain saw experts, the tree had been sectioned. It had been leaning at a steep angle over a trail with its root fan hoisted in the air, and the Shore Owners Association of Lake Placid had needed it removed. The sections were lying a short fifteen to twenty feet from the lake, and my first task was to get them in the water.  Four thousand pounds of wood needed to be moved, and it ended up being quite fortuitous that the tree was on a well used walking trail on a busy Saturday.  There's something in such a project that draws men, and so in the eight hours I needed to move the logs, I met some interesting people. This was now five years ago, so the names are lost on me, but the experience and the intimacy of contact and quick friendship is not.  

The project required some creative solutions, the first of which was how to pull something into water.  I used to whitewater kayak, and so the power of water is something of which I am respectful.  It is obviously heavier than the wood I was trying to pull into it, but until it froze there was no way I was going to wrap the links of a chain around it.  My options lay beneath the surface, and so I found a rock twenty feet out and, mindful of the potential for underwater accidents, wrapped the chain around it and ran it to shore, which is when the social life started to surround the project. 

Men walked by.  They'd stop and watch.  Then they'd inquire.  Then they'd say "Ya need any help."  The answer of course was obvious.  I was trying to move these behemoths uphill across broken rock into the water, but an invitation was needed, so I'd say "sure," and pretty soon I had a crew of three people suddenly willing to wreck their clothing to help me get four logs into the water.  They had no image of the future, these men, they did not share my vision of this log emerging as a building, but they were motivated, it seems, by the mere presence, or ambition, or absurdity of the need to move the logs.  One man was over seventy and his role was to move levers and pivot points.  In the process, he abandoned his wife for three hours. In all, we got the job done and I chained the four logs together and swam them the 300 yards to my mother's house. Swimming logs is something I highly recommend.

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