Tree cutting

Socrates’ greatness was to be able to play with children, and to consider that his time was thus well spent…. Socrates lives a human life simply and humbly.

–Pierre Hadot, The Present Alone


Yesterday I bought bananas for Joan. She said she had plenty. Now I have four bananas to eat.

The rain from the past three days carried silt and stone from the neighbor’s yard into the back courtyard. At first, I thought the stones and such might have fallen from the sky since the fence separating the houses seemed well intact. As I cleaned up the mess, however, I saw how the rock could have passed beneath the wooden posts and settled like a temporary installation next to the august compost bin. The faux art would have to go into the rubbish bin, which is where it went, and now the courtyard is clean again.

On Sunday, Joan asked whether I could cut down an overgrown branch that might pose a hazard this winter. Calling this long arced being a branch is rather like calling a redwood a happy little tree. A branch it is not; half the tree it was, half a wishbone, half a life. I said I could come Monday and on Monday morning I put on the garden gloves, pulled out the hand saw, slipped on my sunglasses, and looked up at the branch (read: tree) like a manly man.

Let me tell you about this manly man. First he says Hmm… and then proceeds to ponder things mathematically. Should this branch fall that way, he reasons, it could very easily take out the tree beside it; and should it fall too far other way, it could smash in the other neighbor’s window. He calculates probabilities, devises a plan, and starts to cut.

I simply prayed.

I was relieved when the falling branch–20 feet long? 80 feet wide?–didn’t break the window of the brownstone next door. It fell cleanly into the middle of the courtyard. Then I cut the long branch into small logs, stacked them in a neat pile; broke the twigs, piled them neatly; swept the ground and left the patio newborn as the rain came and washed it.

Andy told Joan that he was impressed by my three stacks: leaves, small branches, logs for firewood. Joan tells me again that I am her best tenant ever. She is 89 years old. I am storing up her praise.