Poplar Fellers

Poplar Fellers

It took 50 years to grow and eight hours on Labor Day Weekend to come down.

It was the “tree monkey” that first caught my attention bringing down the 80 ft. poplar tree with the skill of a surgeon. This is what the landscaping crew affectionately called the 40-something Ontario Hydro skilled tradesman. ‘Electrical Forester,’ by title.

Steve operated as most true experts do – with total confidence. The pictures I captured in my backyard attest to the kind of confidence required for such a profession because his life hangs, literally, in the balance every minute of every day he performs his airborne magic.
On one of his few breaks, Steve told me the average death-per-worker statistic in Canada was 3 in 1,000. In his profession, it’s 20. Much more reason to respect what he so skillfully does, day in and day out.

My attention soon turned to Bob, the owner of the landscaping company retained to pull down this wonder of nature. Very soft spoken, and I would guess about sixty, it took awhile for him to warm up. Some glasses of cold water and freshly made banana bread helped that process. It was all banter about his profession, which he obviously loved.

At age 40, branches of the Populus dry out and die and become a danger to all living things below. Made sense because this tree had recently shed large branches during inclement weather, only feet away from the patio. So sadly, it was time to go.

And go it did, in style. No movie rental or other entertainment was required this day. The backyard was the venue as neighbors gathered to watch Steve dissect large sections of this mammoth marvel.

Bob returned alone on the holiday Monday to cut the felled trunk up into bite-size pieces which were then placed by the road for drivers-by to pickup for their fireplaces and backyard fire pits. I brought him some juice and asked if he wanted to rest for a bit. He welcomed the invitation.

I told him about the drycleaning business I owned (and sold) and we were comparing notes on business in general. I asked him how many people he employed. He said, matter of factly, “there was just me and my wife but when she died I had to hire the other two guys.” I could tell by the look on his face this had happened not all that long ago and I asked him if he would feel comfortable sharing what had happened.

What a horror story! Speaking very softly and slowly, but with more passion, he laid out what had happened. Misdiagnosis, misinformation and medical mistreatment, including a long stay in the psychiatric ward after no one believed how intense her pain really was. She had a very rare disease. She died a most horrible death.

He then took out a desk-jet printout of a picture of Cathy, and I was floored by her physical beauty. The picture oozed of her zest-for-life, and I could now clearly understand the formidable “team” they had made together. I then fully understood the compliment Bob made taking two strong men to replace her.

Can you imagine a lumbering lumberjack asking, “I’ve never asked a man to do this before but I write poetry and I’m hoping you’ll listen to a poem I wrote about my wife.”

Of course, I felt honored to listen, and what this mourning man uttered in absolutely perfect poetic cadence was one of the most beautiful poems I have ever heard. I don’t know whose eyes were wetter.

From a backyard perspective the view has been vanquished, the wildlife is adjusting to the loss of the behemoth and all that remains is the four-foot-in-diameter stump.

Bob’s final remark was that the last tree he and Cathy felled was over six feet.

Author’s note: One year later, over Labor Day weekend, Bob and crew returned to take down the two remaining poplar giants. On one of my short visits with Bob I recounted his reciting of the poem he wrote and it didn’t really surprise me when he sat down on a log and shared two more he wrote in honor of his wife that were just as beautiful.

©Rick Beneteau

Poplar Fellers

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