When we had 30 or so trees logged from our property, we became accustomed to a sound very few people ever get to hear. Treefall. Ours are mostly Ponderosas, and mostly 80-100 feet tall. They are big trees.
When one of them, for whatever reason, finds itself on the way to resting parallel with the horizon, there are three sounds. They last for mere seconds. Whoosh. Crack. Thud. There is truly nothing like it.
When I was a kid, I chopped down my share of trees. But they were never more than the diameter of my wrist and only as tall as a basketball hoop. They go silently when they are that size. So when the loggers came about 8 years ago, we sat on the deck and watched. And listened.
The saw would grind away until you'd hear it suddenly clip to a stop. Then there was a moment of silence. During those two or three seconds, the loggers are either stepping away, chins to the sky like some Midwest farmer watching a UFO, or running for their lives.
From the deck, it is just silence. And then the whoosh. The needles, branches and trunk pass through the air at an increasing rate. Wind through the window at 65mph on the freeway. Blustery autumn gusts. Steam rising hard through the hole of a teapot. All at once.
The cracking sound happens when branches snap off the falling giant. And when any trees in the way, there are always trees in the way, take an impact from the plant that has rooted for more than a hundred years. Mere seconds and then no more. A bullwhip. A dozen times. At random intervals.
Thud is such an understated word. The ground shakes. The house shakes. The vibrations rattle the windows. There is almost always a second thud. Usually from debris from the nearby trees, or as the top has snapped and follows the main tree down. Ear to a watermellon being slapped. Feet landing after a leap on a second story hardwood floor. Thunder a mile off.
The other night as Melinda and I lay in bed, window open to the warm still air, I heard it again. At first I only heard the thud. But later reflection brought back the other two sounds. The 80 footer had succumbed to bark beetles two years ago. And when wind tore off the top greenery, it stood like a telephone pole in the bottoms of Wolf Creek.
Over the last two years the giant was inch by inch eaten by ants and termites. Everytime I saw it I thought it would be good standing deadwood for our winter fireplace. But that's a lot of wood to haul up the hill. The termites finally did their work. There was no wind that night. So there was not much preventing gravity from doing its work.
Only a week before, Melinda and Lindsey were picking blackberries at the base of that tree. The trunk was as wide as a five-baptist group hug. They looked up and delecately decided to pick some distance away. Now I know that only a breeze or maybe a poorly thrown tennis ball for the dog could have brought it down on top of them. I'm all for good timing. For God's timing.
But there it was at 2am. My mind heard "Thud". And then "whoosh" and "crack". Funny that it was backwards. Lots of thoughts and potential metaphors here. I'll just leave those alone for now, thankful that it was the middle of the night and not the middle of the day when fate felled the standing dead. Mei An and I walked down there last night and stood in awe, in silence I suppose too. And for the moment, felt safe standing there.