Tuesday, January 20, 2015

That's Why They're Called Widowmakers

A tree that falls (usually blown over in a storm, or on a windy day if the top breaks off or after it's been dead long enough to rot off at the stump) and gets hung up in one or more nearby trees before reaching the ground is known as a 'widowmaker'.  It is known as such because removing a tree in that predicament is dangerous, and is often the cause of fatal wood cutting accidents.

Unfortunately, due to the high number of ash trees in our woods, all of whom succumbed to the emerald ash borer in the last 12-15 years, we have found in the last 2-3 years that every wind storm brings us an increase in widowmakers to deal with.  Sometimes they are hanging across an often used section of the woods, and the chance of them falling on one of us as we are walking/working/hunting that area is too great for us to just leave them where they hang.  Sometimes they lean across the road in the woods, making it impassable until they are cut up.  Sometimes they are damaging the trees they are leaning on or otherwise hung up in, and must be removed in order to save the other trees.  Whatever the reason, in the last few years, DH has put himself in harms way increasingly frequently when out in the woods with the chainsaw, because of widowmakers.

And, until yesterday, he has dislodged, pulled down, and cut them up without incident.  He has many years of working with timber under his belt, and knows how to analyze each and every widowmaker before cutting it at the best angle or point for safe removal.

But, you can only deal with them so much before even a careful woodsman runs out of luck.

Yesterday morning (being Martin Luther King, Jr Day, DH had the day off from work), he was in the woods, cleaning up widowmakers on the south end.  Unfortunately, the one he was working on was a blow-over, still attached at the roots even thought it's top was hung up about thirty feet away and twelve feet above the ground.  When he went to cut it off near the ground, making a stump, and intending the weight of the widowmaker to cause it to slide free of the other trees, the tree trunk swung toward him instead of straight down, making the chainsaw kickback onto DH's foot.

Faster than DH could process what was happening, that chainsaw chewed through his boot near his ankle.  Thankfully, he hit the kill switch right then, because the chain had all ready sliced a gash 1/4" deep into the top of his foot.  Much deeper, and there would have been some serious damage.  He could have easily sliced his foot clean through.

He was able to make it back to the house, where DD2 (also home because of no school on MLK Day) washed and bandaged the wound.  Then, like the hard headed person he is, DH put on a different pair of boots, and took his chainsaw back out to the woods where he proceeded to cut up widowmakers until I got home from work two hours later.

Being the honorary doctor/veterinarian of this little place here, I got to thoroughly examine the wound (not for the squeamish--a few layers of flesh were visible, plus the dermis and fat layer), give it a good cleaning out (love me some Betadine, cleans animal and human wounds alike, and the veterinary bottle is cheaper to buy than the 'human' bottle), pack it, and redress it since DH refused to go for stitches.  It will heal just fine without them, as long as it is kept clean; it will just heal with a large scar.

It's not the wound that scared us both.  It's the knowledge that DH was very, very lucky he did not cut off his foot.  If so, he could have easily bled out in the woods, working alone as he was, and not made it back to the house for treatment.

That's why they are called widowmakers.  If they don't fall on you and kill you, you might get killed cutting them up.

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