Don’t go out on a limb |

Don’t go out on a limb

Nathon Foster of Low Sierra Tree Care in Auburn topples an oak tree in Grass Valley recently. Homeowners are cautioned to think twice before tackling such a project themselves.
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God bless the Internal Revenue Service. That may be the first time (and last) you’ll ever see those words together in a truly congratulatory fashion, but they’re sincere.

You see it was a temporary slowdown in business, probably brought on by folks emptying their savings accounts in mid-April to pay taxes, that brought Chet and Nathon Foster of Low Sierra Tree Care down the ranch driveway asking if we needed any tree trimming or removal.

And it just so happened that we did have a large oak tree that was gradually rotting out at its base next to a parking area. And if it fell, chances are my wife’s pride-and-joy one-ton pickup would be a victim. All you husbands know whose fault THAT would be.

In typical do-it-yourself fashion, I’d thought about leaning our long ladder halfway up one side and using the chain saw to notch one side to direct its fall, then cutting from the other side to bring down the top. Then I’d work on the bottom 10 feet from ground level – and probably spend the better part of two days on the project.

I happen to believe in guardian angels, though, and mine said: “You’re 63 years old and walking on mending knees. Hire a professional.”

We have a friend whose guardian angel must have been on sabbatical when (to save money) he headed up into the lofty branches of an oak tree with a chain saw. I never asked for details, but he came DOWN from that tree much faster than he went up. In addition to several years of suffering, his total medical bills came to nearly $500,000.

Our tree came down in manageable pieces, with 24-year-old Nathon secured to the tree with safety equipment and his father on the ground, feeding slash into their large chipper and helping with various other tasks. In about 90 minutes, the tree was down, litter was cleaned up. and we had a jump on next winter’s firewood pile.

Somewhat shamefully, I confessed what my plans for removing the tree had been.

“A lot of times people make the big mistake of going up on a ladder,” Chet said, shaking his head back and forth. “But if you do, you want to secure the top of the ladder to the tree (something I’d never thought of) and when you get up there, you want to throw a line around the limb and yourself, too. Then be careful you don’t cut the limb you’re tied to. It is dangerous. You can save a little money, but if you fall and hurt yourself, it will cost much more. Leave it to the experts.”

And even they may learn hard lessons: “I had a ladder experience,” Nathon admitted, “when I leaned a ladder against an oak limb, just a little above it. When I cut off the bad part of the limb, it took enough weight off so that the stub bounced up and left the top of my ladder suspended in mid-air. And all of a sudden, BOOM, I was flat on my back. I bounced right back up, but it was scary.”

As happy as we were that the Fosters’ ( chose our driveway for a “cold call,” we did the smart thing any property owner should do and made sure they were properly licensed, insured and bonded. If some free-lancer out to make a few bucks falls from one of your trees and is injured, your financial responsibility may last a long, long time.

Dick Tracy is an award-winning garden writer and photographer, Master Gardener and former president of the Foothills Horticulture Society. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

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