Harley Hay

Does a tree falling in a forest make a sound?

There’s a famous philosophical existential query that goes something like: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?” Well thinking about that kind of so-called “thought experiment” makes my head ache a little bit but I do know that a tree falling over right in front of you does in fact make a pretty awesomely dramatic crashing-type noise.

I found this out in person this summer when a friend of mine (whose name starts with K and rhymes with “jerk”) responded kindly to my constant whining about not having any wood for our backyard fire pit. The Better Half and Rotten Kids and I enjoy a backyard fire, especially if it’s safely contained in our fire bowl thingy, but it irks me no end to purchase a small bundle of split wood for a large price at a gas station or a 7/11.

“Come on out,” K says. “I need to cut down a couple of trees and you can buck some logs.” “Pardon me?” I say, thinking he’s being a bit rude as usual. “You can cut the fallen trees into logs. It’s called ‘bucking’.” And so with a glad heart, away I go, out to his tree-laden acreage albeit with a smidgen of trepidation on account of adventures with K hardly ever turn out like you expect them to.

I’m impressed that we both have all the necessary tree-felling PPE: safety glasses, boots, gloves, 18th century suit of armour, bear spray, case of beer (OK just kidding about a couple of those) and I’m relieved to see that K is lugging a rather fancy chainsaw. I had visions of myself attempting to swing an axe a couple of times before putting my back out and K having to summon an ambulance. I didn’t know then that bucking around with a heavy chainsaw can be even worse.

The doomed trees in question looked quite dead, or at least not feeling that well, but they were still imposingly tall. I am pretty sure they were spruce, or perhaps oak or maybe even Manitoba maple. I didn’t even ask.

It almost looked like K knew what he was doing as he fired up the chainsaw and cut the notch on the front side of the trunk and then began slicing the other side, saw roaring, sawdust flying. I was peeking out safely from the bush about a kilometre behind him. He kills the chainsaw, stands back. The tree creaks and wobbles a bit, then… finally, it starts slowly to fall. Backwards. Right at him and the large shed that stands along the road to his house.

Without thinking (obviously) K runs up and begins pushing mightily on the tree, trying to convince it to fall forward as planned. This desperate move (amazingly) actually works and down the spruce/oak/maple comes with a mighty groan and a thunderous cracking crash.

It’s laying there, the far end propped up on some deadfall. K hands me the chainsaw. “Cut upwards so that the blade doesn’t hit the ground and ruin it,” he says in no uncertain terms. The saw is surprisingly heavy, and cutting up is surprisingly challenging. Also surprisingly painful in the tender area of the ole sacroiliac. Yet when it comes to K, a good friend who always enjoys being on the giving end of a wicked practical joke or relentless teasing, I dare not show weakness.

I managed to buck about eight small logs before my back gave out and I gave up. I couldn’t stand up straight or walk right for a week.

I think it made K’s day.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. Send him a column idea to harleyhay1@hotmail.com.