cottage logo
this instalment
of the
Cottage Diary:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Sabbatical, 2004
What's New?
Site Map
Contact me!

If a Tree Falls in the Woods, continued...

Dealing With The Tree

(This is the fourth part of an account of our cottage vacation in July 2002.  Click here for Part One, the beginning of this year's adventures.  The full saga actually started in July, 2001, when we inherited a run down shack in the Québec woods.)

My nephew Todd’s summer holiday started off badly, and got worse.  The first three days were spent beside Lucie’s hospital bed.  She had developed a serious throat infection which needed intravenous treatment.

Todd had planned two projects for his time at the lake: he was going to re-shingle his parents’ cottage, and Heather and I were paying him to build some stairs for us.  Now, with Lucie in hospital, the available time to do all this was being severely compressed.

The minute she was discharged, Todd was out behind our cottage taking measurements for the stairs.  Reynald, Lucie’s father, was with him   a tall, broadfaced bear of a man who moved confidently up and down the steep slope, holding the tape and discussing the project with Todd in French   a sharp Gaspé form of Jouale, of which to this point I understood not a word.

“Todd, while you’re here, I wonder if you and Reynald would look at this tree.”

Todd translated, and Reynald glanced up.  The tree loomed over him, its dying branches out of sight high above.

“C’est pas mort.” he pronounced.

“Peut être pas mort,” I said, “mais il meurt.” Maybe not dead, but it’s dying.  “Il va tomber sur ma cabane, je pense.” I think it will fall on my cottage.

“I know you don’t have time to do anything extra this year,” I added, speaking once more to Todd, “and I’m sure it will be okay for one more winter, but I wanted your opinion about how best to do it when the time comes.  For instance, I was wondering about a system of ropes.”

“With a tree this big?  Any rope you attach to it would snap instantly!” said Todd.

I was sure ropes would help guide the tree’s fall, but Todd has been twenty years in the navy, and as far as I know, navies know all there is to know about ropes, so I accepted his judgement.

Reynald said something.  Todd translated.

“He says, ‘You want it down, he’ll take it down.’”

“You guys have enough on your minds.  It can wait, I’m sure, for another year.  Spend some time with Lucie.  Do the roof and the stairs.”

“Hey, it only takes a couple of minutes!  We’d do it right now, if I had my chainsaw here.”

“Well,” I hesitated, “I have a chainsaw.”

Moments later I was showing them my brand new chainsaw, and we were all discussing the various merits of the scie mechanique.  Reynald hefted it, appearing to admire it’s lightness and balance.  Then he started it.

Soon the saw was biting into the tree.  Todd removed a single board from a handrail built into a steep section of the forest path.

“So, you think Reynald can drop it in that narrow opening?” I asked.

“Absolutely.  When I was cutting wood with him on his timber lot, every tree went exactly where he wanted it, every time.”

From what I know about lumberjack work (not much), it appeared that Reynald was placing his first cut perfectly for the tree to fall where Todd was pointing.

Which was good, because the location was ideal.  Nothing but dead brush.  I could take my time later on, cutting away the branches and slicing the massive trunk into firewood.

The chainsaw sang and wood chips flew.  My new saw seemed pretty good.

Another nephew showed up   Tyler, a tall, solid, extremely strong teenager.  A willing worker.  The women of the family   curious when they heard the saw   had also come down the path to watch.  Reynald warned them to stand far back.

Suddenly he motioned to me, Tyler, and Todd.  “POUSSEZ!  POUSSEZ!” he shouted.  And we leaned on the trunk pressing it to begin its fall.


Slowly it began to move.

In the wrong direction.

The four of us, pushing the enormous trunk with all our might, had absolutely no effect.

Majestically, gaining speed, it flowed like an unspeakably huge hammer towards the cottage.

Not the cottage, not the cottage, please!


Somebody said, “Oh my God.”

I sat down right where I was   in the rocks and twigs and leaves of the forest floor, and just stared.  Months later in my dreams a great tree would continue to rush silently toward my cottage roof.  Again, and again.

How he got there I’ll never know, but Reynald was on top of the cottage in an instant.  The tree was lying across the end of the roof, it’s upper branches caught in the trees that stand on the other side.  Like an ancient warrior in battle, his broadsword a screaming chainsaw, he cut off one limb then another, all the while kicking at the main trunk, until the whole huge carcass rumbled off the cottage and onto the ground below.

My roof   my newly-shingled roof   was now exposed, cracked and torn, a great gash open over the bedroom.

When I could stand up, I went down to the house to see the extent of the damage.  In addition to the roof, one corner of the wall was cracked and splintered, but the frame was still sound.  The entire building had shifted on its foundation, however, about an inch.

Inside, every loose book and object had crashed to the floor.

It rained that night.  I moved all the furniture out of our bedroom, and set out pots under the gash in the roof.

The rotten stump
After The Fall

Two things were immediately clear:
  1. The house could be fixed, and
  2. The tree had indeed been rotten.
Although there was little sign of it at the bottom, a diseased core ran up the interior of the tree on the side which faced the cottage.  This hollow rot had made that side of the tree the weakest side, and dictated the direction of fall.

Later that day we all sat together over a beer, and Reynald said to me   speaking slowly and in his best French, to be sure I understood   You were right, the tree was rotten, and it would certainly have come down during a storm.

Poor Todd felt a lot of responsibility for what had happened, and (generously helped by Ross and Tyler) he laboured from dawn to dusk for the next couple of days, tearing away all the distressed wood from roof and walls, then replacing it with the new material that our favourite building supply store rushed up to us the next morning.

Meanwhile, with all the furniture out of the bedroom, and as soon as the hammering and sawing was done, I completely painted the room.

Top of Page

Next: “Epilogue”....    click here to continue

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional