I'm Telling You My Dear, That It Can't Happen Here

We are all a little overconfident sometimes and think we're exempt from human rules. This blog is to serve as a safety testimonial. So buckle up for a story from co-owner Joe.

Bloody Nose
Safety Equipment
Hospital Bed

The new planting season is always a time of reflection of the year gone by. We tend to hurry through life often forgetting how short and precious it is. I count my blessings every day for another day and another opportunity to hopefully make someone laugh and leave the world a better place.

I was a child of the 70's. It was a turbulent time in this country with an unpopular war, riots in the streets and rampant drug use. It was also a time of personal expression. I can remember my first pair of bell bottom jeans and the grief I took from my friends for wearing them along with my stars and stripes tee shirt. Music was a big part of my life and one of the artists I followed was Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Zappa was very counterculture at the time and I really enjoyed the diversity of his music and his often outrageous lyrics. The title for this blog are lyrics from one of his earlier works and it pretty well sums up an experience I recently had.

I was tasked with the job of gathering some red maple rounds for an inoculation trial we were setting up and along with that, gathering the limbwood for a wood aging trial. I scoped out the trees I wanted to cut, sharpened the saw and put my safety gear on, which consisted of a set of chaps, a hard hat with ear protection and face screen, and sunglasses to reduce the glare.

I love woods working. I refer to it as my Woodland Workout Clinic since cutting wood uses every muscle group as well as your brain. I enjoy cutting down trees as I know the wood will be put to a good use and the trees I remove will release other trees in the vicinity, insuring the health and vigor of the forest. I particularly like removing red maple (Acer rubrum) as it is a native invasive species on our property and removing it releases the understory oaks from its smothering shade.

The maples I had chosen for removal were tall and straight. With a good back cut, I figured I could drop them where they needed to go without hanging them up in adjacent trees (yeah, right). Trees one and two fell as planned, but tree three landed a little too far to the right and the top wound up resting in the crotch of a multiple stem maple, about five feet off the ground. I figured it could have been worse, since there would be no need to get the tractor and chains to pull it free so I proceeded to process the first two trees.

There are always warning signs of an inevitable disaster, but sometimes the warning signs are very subtle and overlooked or if you're tired and neglect to take a break. That ever so slight pinch on the blade as I worked to the top of tree three should have been enough for me to step away and reassess the situation but after-all, it was only a slight pinch.

The next cut knocked me backwards and I recall thinking, "What the hell was that, a gunshot? As I fell over backwards the saw dropped off to my side and kept running. I recall getting up wondering "Did I just get knocked out? What the hey just happened and why was someone shooting at me?" I got up slowly and felt my nose (not broken!) and checked my teeth (all there!) and then I got that bloody taste in my mouth and felt the trickle down my face. I then knew I had an immediate issue to deal with. Of course I was working alone. I turned off the saw, walked the 100 or so feet through the brush to the truck and drove it to an area where I could turn it around and headed home. As luck would have it, Mary Ellen was in the yard as I was exiting the truck, and quickly realized all was not well. I assured her that my nose wasn't broken and I still had all of my teeth. She checked to see if I was concussed and when she confirmed the symptoms with her M.D. sister, it was off to the emergency room where things got stranger.

We live in what is called an under-served area. No high speed internet, lack of public wifi, no Starbucks (well, until recently), and a medical corps that rotates through our local hospital emergency room on a three-month stint because of their unwillingness to settle in this "remote" location. As it turned out, the emergency room doctor was not from these parts and was unfamiliar with logging accidents. Blood was drawn, pain relievers were administered and after an hour or two of waiting he came in with this assessment: I was lying. I did not have a logging accident. I was cutting wood, but had a heart attack and hit my head on a stump. Hmmm. I guess getting smacked across the face with a four-inch red maple pole might do that, but he was not convinced, and my hospital stay was extended.

As you can imagine, this diagnosis set off a whole series of stress tests and imaging. As it turns out, I am just an average Joe with an average heart condition that's to be expected for a guy my age, and for that I am thankful. I am also thankful, despite what to me seemed like overkill, for the work and professionalism of the medical staff that attended to me. Lastly, I am thankful I took that extra moment to put on all of my safety gear: chaps, vest and helmet. Just remember I'm telling you my dears, that it CAN happen here and when you least expect it. So step back and assess not only that last cut, but also the importance of all the experiences that life throws at you.

Above all, slow down and take your time and enjoy working in the woods!