He’s out there somewhere. And he has a chainsaw.
Which, at the moment, is quite effective camouflage.
In the past three weeks, the Black Hills have been alive with the sound of chainsaws as people clean up after Winter Storm Atlas. Trailers and pickups bristling with broken trees have been lined up at drop-off sites to add their loads to enormous piles of debris. Chipping machines are busy ingesting branches from those piles and egesting them as wood chips onto new piles just as enormous.
We haven’t been working as hard as many of our neighbors, but we’ve been cleaning up our own very minor mess. The pile of broken branches at the top of our driveway, ready for curbside pickup, is growing steadily. It’s still a puny little thing, though, compared to the huge windrows of branches along the curbs on many streets.
Several branches broke off of the big old pine tree that looms over our mailbox. (That’s the one where the imaginary mountain lion waits on dark winter mornings when we go up to get the newspaper.) After we cleared away those limbs, we looked at the tree and decided it could use some further trimming. One large branch in particular must have been broken years ago. Even though it had healed, it drooped toward the driveway at an odd angle, and part of it was dead. We agreed it should go—sometime, when we had the time and energy to figure out how to safely get a ladder squeezed in between the tree and the mailbox.
The next day, coming home from an appointment, I stopped to pick up the mail. The street near the driveway was littered with more broken sticks than I remembered leaving there. The top of the mailbox was covered with fresh sawdust. When I poked my head out of the car window to look up at the tree, I saw the fresh slash where the damaged branch had been. The branch itself, in several pieces, had been added to our debris pile.
I was not amused. I didn’t appreciate the idea of my partner out there by himself, balanced precariously on a ladder to cut down a limb as big around as my waist used to be. True, I wouldn’t have been much help. But at least, if he fell or cut one of his own limbs instead of the tree’s, I could have been there to call 911 before I passed out at the sight of the blood. What had he been thinking?
As it turned out, nothing. He didn’t do it. Some mysterious somebody with a chainsaw had performed hit-and-run tree surgery.
Who was it?
The mail carrier, out of fear of the branch falling on the mailbox? Unlikely. I’m sure there are federal regulations that forbid carrying chainsaws in postal vehicles. Besides, that branch had been hanging over the mailbox for years.
Someone from the city? I doubt it. The crew hasn’t been by to pick up our slash pile yet, and I’m sure they don’t have time to roam the streets in search of odd-looking branches to trim just for the fun of it.
A neighbor? More likely, but odd. Several of them were out working in their own yards at the same time we were. It was a neighborly gesture—I guess. But why would one of them come trim our tree without talking to us first?
The only other option I can think of is a random slasher with a chainsaw and too much time on his hands. Maybe it was a frustrated horticulturalist who can’t stand the sight of odd-looking trees. I can almost see him, perched above our mailbox, chortling with glee as the branch crashes to the ground. It’s not a comforting thought.
Because whoever he is, he’s still out there. He has a chainsaw. And next week is Halloween.