Tree Removal Guys (and Gals)

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Four weeks ago tomorrow, the storm came through our neighborhood. Both damaged and living trees continue to be cut down and chipped or hauled off. (Four weeks! Have I mentioned that we lived in a heavily wooded area before the storm knocked down our trees?)

The tornado/ 100 mph straight line winds struck here at 4:29 Sunday evening on May 29. Within a couple of hours, neighbors and relatives of neighbors were out with their chainsaws, getting some of the branches off of houses, clearing some of the trees to make a single path along the road. This was a bit nerve-wracking to watch, especially with across-the-street Mark’s grandkids running around, and occasionally parents yelling at them to get out from beneath the limbs they were sawing.

Although no injuries happened at the time of the storm, that dark Sunday evening (without power, naturally), as our next door neighbor’s son-in-law was chain-sawing a large limb from one of the several trees on Rob’s house, the limb’s weight swung around and knocked his feet out from under him. He fell 20’ to the ground and got a large gash on his head and didn’t know where he was. The fire truck and ambulance had to park two blocks away because of the fallen trees across the roads. Watching in the twilight as the EMTs rolled that stretcher down the debris-strewn road is an image I won’t easily forget.

The next day (Memorial Day), our son came in from Milwaukee with a new chainsaw and sawed away for his 24-hour stay. Ironically, seven years ago, when we moved from the Black Hills of South Dakota to Michigan, we’d given away our own chainsaw because we were moving from the Hills to a city in a populated state. We’ve needed a chainsaw here a lot more than we ever did in the Black Hills.

For the two weeks following the storm, professional tree removal services crowded our narrow little street with no painted lines upon it. There were literally dozens of companies represented both from town and from all over the state. We have no curbs and gutters. Our lawns near the road became muddy parking areas filled with heavy trucks.

The day after the storm, we called the local C&D tree service, recommended by neighbor Mark. We could never get a hold of them. Whenever a tree removal truck drove past, we all watched it like salivating dogs. Please come take the trees off our houses. On Wednesday, a woman canvassed the neighborhood, taking down names of people for Joe (not his real name) to come and remove the trees from our house. Four days later, after my husband called Joe to find out when he’d be coming. Joe got mad at him and grouched that he was different from all the other tree removal services because he completely finished one job at a time before moving on, but he’d be there the following afternoon. That evening, an out-of-town man knocked on our door. (Contractors and roofers and tree and stump removal companies knocked on our door from 6:15 am, at the earliest, to 9 pm.) He talked us into at least getting a bid on our tree removal, even though Joe was to come the next day. Joe hadn’t even seen our house and yard. He hadn’t made a bid for removal. He was just going to come cut trees away and haul them off, and then tell us how much we owed. This out-of-town guy was friendly, happy, and gregarious. Although he seemed expensive ($4,000), we liked him, but we had made this verbal commitment with unseen Joe. Neighbor Sue gave us the name and number of their company, coming Wednesday, no, Thursday, no, Friday. We were discovering that there was no uniform way of contacts with tree-removal people, with some giving bids, and some not.

The following afternoon, Thursday, we received a generator from friends who had power restored to their neighborhood. The C&D company we’d called, but never could get a hold of, was cutting the part of our tree which had fallen on neighbor Julie’s house. They had stopped at our property line, which was what we’d expected. It would be less tree for our own people to remove. My husband and I went into the basement doing generator-related things. When we emerged an hour later, we’d discovered we had a ten foot trunk stump in our front yard. They had cut the rest of the tree off our house! Yay! But… Surprise! My husband went out and negotiated the full yard, then cancelled grumpy Joe who was to come later that day, or whenever.

So, we went from trying to contact one company, to agreeing to Joe’s removal service by some woman (never sure about her relationship to Joe), to actually getting a bid we never used, to the original company cutting off our trees without our knowledge.

We’ve had convicts remove shoulder-high brush hauled to the roadside. We’ve had another city come to remove our hickory tree close enough to the road to be considered city property. I’ve seen two wooded lots, across the street and to our west, harvested and bulldozed down. Our eastern next door neighbor sold two of the three surviving living trees bordering our yards and providing welcomed shade. (I’ve heard people can get paid $2,000 to $5,000 per tree, if they like it. They didn’t like any of ours.) Our neighbor’s two trees were harvested and removed in one afternoon. And now it seems we’ve returned to family and friends cutting down trees. The remaining oak, about twenty feet from our living room picture window, is being removed by volunteers from their church.

Two days ago, these young people (at first I thought they were the youth group) put up four levels of scaffolding surrounding the tree and cut off the lower branches damaged in the storm. It’s now day three of continual working and music playing, including cutting some of the fallen trees at the back of the property. I’m guessing our neighbors are gone for this, since the workers have asked to fill their water bottles from our outside spickets, which is fine with us. Have I mentioned that these trees are huge? Up beyond the scaffolding, they have nailed sections of 2” x 4” strips to the trunk as a ladder. It reminds me of an old way of getting up to a tree house, but those were closer to the ground. Then, these people drag a chainsaw with them as they climb and sit on a limb to saw a higher limb. No helmets. No goggles. Fuddy-duddy me simply can’t look. I’m waiting to find a human limb falling from 100’ instead of a tree limb. I’m waiting to find a once-youthful body impaled on our chain link fence far below.


My writer-imagination is worse than reality. (I hope.) I just can’t decide whether to draw the drapes and ignore them, or keep a nonchalant eye out on them, with my phone nearby, of course, ready to dial 911 if necessary. Maybe I should just write – I mean, non-blog writing.

Bzzz. Bzzzz…

Gotta go.

Summer Solstice Forest

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Happy Summer Solstice, everyone. (Officially at 1:16 p.m. EDT around here)

I remember last year becoming depressed at summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Why, you ask, would that make me sad? It’s the day of most sunlight! The reason was because I knew from that day on, until the winter solstice six months away, that the days would get shorter, and dark would come earlier and remain around longer.

This summer solstice, I think about trees. I miss my wooded neighborhood.

My husband and I came home at noon today for lunch. At 12:20 p.m., we heard a house-rattling thump. We stared at one another for a moment. It was a familiar sound; last heard three weeks ago when the tornado pushed trees onto our house. Today, there was no wind or rain outside at 12:20, so we looking out our windows to investigate. Seems our next door neighbor decided to sell his three remaining, living oak trees to the tree-buying guy who canvassed our neighborhood after the storm. One, he didn’t want any of our trees. Two, besides our little red-bud and smaller dogwood, since the storm those three 100’ trees in our neighbor’s yard were the only morning shade for our backyard. Our neighbor on our other side, who owns the once-wooded lot separating our two houses, also sold his living and fallen forest to the tree-buying guy. My two little flowering trees look very, very lonely.

The three trees being felled are on our neighbor’s property, right next to the boundary line. They are his trees. They belong to him. So why did I start crying when I realized living trees were getting cut for money, not just the storm-fallen ones?

I think a part of me truly relates to T.A. Barron’s Tree Girl.

It’s painful to me to see (and hear and feel) mature trees cut needlessly – just for money. I wouldn’t do very well in the Rain Forest area – unless I could play in the forest. (I’m thinking Fern Gully here, too.) I love the woods. I miss the woods around where I live. I don’t really think of myself as a radical tree-hugger type. I’m just a lakes and woodland girl. I need to remember this feeling.

That said, … I need to change my thinking, and plan what to plan in my now-prairie yard. It’s comparatively a blank slate. I’m thinking veggie garden… with tree saplings on the east and north sides which will grow tall in the future.

Our Catastrophe Saga Continues… Contrasts

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Today at 5:23 p.m. WE GOT INTERNET!  *dancing, dancing, leaping and giving myself a high-five and landing on my face*

It will take me a long time to catch up, but I “needed” to get out a post today. Still partial power in our house (for most likely months), but we also have running water (more dancing). The irony of having the Internet up and running is now being able to see the storms coming this way over the next couple of days. I’m not saying I’m a worry wart, but…

I’ve found this storm and recovery full of contrasts.

Remember how the day before the tornado, I walked about my yard picking up a couple handfuls of 3-4” twigs, and the next day trying to figure out how to pick up the trees from my lawn?

Well… Yesterday, I decided after 11 days without rain, and with most of our yard chopped up by falling timber, tipped root balls and stumps, trucks, bobcats, etc, that I would water this one section out near the road. It looked so pretty this morning. The grass perked right up, a lovely, beautiful, healthy, living green.

This morning we came back from prayer meeting (we can use all the prayer we can get these days), to find a tree crew from a nearby city (Charlotte) taking down our leaning hickory tree.

Backstory: As it was only 3’ from the road, and as I’d “heard” that if a tree is within 30’ of the center of the road, it was city property, last week I’d called our city Tree Foreman to find out if the city would take it down, or if it was our responsibility ($$$). I never heard back from him. I suppose he was a mite busy this past week with a few thousand other trees and the fact that Battle Creek only has four men working in the tree department.

But when we came home this morning, there they were, those wonderful guys from Charlotte,  cutting down that 100’ tree right where I’d watered the night before. (Hopefully I’ll put photos on my FB page tomorrow.) They told us that Battle Creek “had a doozie” for them to remove today. They were professional and skilled and awesome. Their extended chain saw from their fully extended cherry picker only reached about 30’ from the top of the tree.

It was difficult to take my eyes off of them as 200 pound chunks of trunk thunked deep holes into our lawn. I felt rather giddy – not about the bit about our beautiful green lawn with huge dents in it, but the thrill of it 1) falling such a great distance and 2) the sound of the landing and ground shaking even from up near the front porch and 3) not killing anyone in the process. I thought how those little orange hard hats wouldn’t make a hoot of a difference if the cherry-pickin’ guy up in the sky lost control. He didn’t. Everyone was safe. It was still a thrill, although not so much for my poor lawn, nor for my jealous neighbors who drilled me on how I got the city to respond. Of course, I told them the truth: you have to be an hysterical damsel in distress about a city-owned tree, leaning at a forty-five degree angle threatening power lines which were only recently restored. Wish I could have given them more helpful advice. It worked for me.

Now… on to some more normal life of luxury (a home-cooked supper and maybe watch some tv, ’cause, we got tv when we got Internet *dancing*).

More Tornado Stuff

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We’re still without internet — 11 days and counting. This is killing me. It’s difficult not to be able to communicate in my normal, daily way, using my normal, daily workspace. Right now, I’m using my husband’s work computer while he is off on a staff retreat. Which reminds me, thanks to the many people who have offered their homes for my internet communication addiction.

Before I speak about yesterday’s events, I want to say how furious I feel towards thieves, especially thieves who take advantage of tragedy victims. Strangers are canvasing our storm damaged neighborhoods, asking for down-payments for tree removal ($500 to $2,000), and then never returning. I knew of things happening like this from after Hurricane Katrina. I thought everyone knew that. Maybe not. Maybe it was just because I’d helped out down in Mississippi, and therefore heard lots and lots and lots of stories. But this I know, if any stranger comes to our door asking for a down-payment before work, he’d better have his cell phone ready for a 911 call because I’ll be all over that guy! (Actually, our trees are now off the house, and the rest in process of being removed, so these thieves probably won’t bother knocking on our door. Oooo. But if one does…)

Yesterday (Tuesday), three major things happened.

1) Our official insurance claims agent came out and spent three hours assessing our damaged property.

2) Garbage. I need to back up this story two days, to Monday. I called first the disconnected number in the phone book, let City Hall’s number ring 15 times, then called the number to ask for a dumpster, figuring they could direct my call. I was dead-set on speaking to someone about our missed garbage collection. I learned for the first time in living here seven years, that this job is outsourced, out-of-town. I was put on hold  for 45 minutes (not letting that wiggling fish at the end of the line get away this time), waiting, waiting, waiting, with no speaker phone. Four days previous, half of our street was collected. I can only assume tree removal and construction trucks blocked their way on our regular garbage collection morning. But with homes in our neighborhood having cleaned out our refrigerators, and after four days in 90 degree heat (visualize waves of stink rising from each driveway end), and animals starting to dig into the bags, not only did the 8′ piles of tree debris on our lawns block our view of the pavement, but  the garbage piles made it tricky to pull out. 45 minutes later, and then grilled for details, like my waste management number (didn’t even know we had one) and exactly how many bags did I have out there, I was told they would pick it up the next day. They did. My neighbors call me “The Garbage Police.”  I call me desperate.

3) At noon, with the temperature hovering at 90 degrees, one of the many still-leaning trees around here took out a transformer box, leaving hundreds of homes and businesses in my area without power. The lights flickered on and off about eight times before they went off entirely.

It got me thinking about different people (and therefore character) reactions. (This IS supposed to be a writing blog, after all.) My sister would have said, “Let’s get out the flashlights.” My father would have said, “What the &%#@!” and then gone to check our fuze box. My mother would have sighed, then looked disgusted. Another may have stared at the light, blinked, and then waited for his spouse to tell him what to do. Others may have said, “Oh, well,” or “Here we go again.” (This is a great writing exercise, by the way: take any situation, and then have each of your characters respond/react to it in their own way.) My reaction to the this incident? I know it was still daylight. I knew we had gallons of tap water for flushing, and bottled water for drinking. We’d just gone through six days without power, and knew all the what-to-dos. But, actually, that was the point. We’d JUST gone through six days without power, and only had it on for three days. While the light in our hallway flickered, I went from ut-oh mode to hope each time it flashed back on. But then, when it went off for good, I tried not to burst into tears in front of our insurance claims agent, continuing business as usual. It was only off for four and a half hours, but somehow, I was still rattled — cool, calm, collected me, rattled at a daylight loss of electricity.

Well… I may not be doing the novel revision work I’d planned on doing this week, or this month, but I sure am gathering writing fodder for future stories. I have 71 journal pages (mostly random thoughts and facts) and counting, and that doesn’t even count my blog words.

I hear rain and wind storms are coming the next couple days. Why do I feel shaky when I think about that?

Battle Creek Tornado, Post #2

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On Sunday, I wrote four pages of observations on notebook paper before deciding to write tonado-related things in my pen and ink journal, including important phone numbers, notes, priorities, and even scattered half-phrased thoughts. I’m now on my 25th tornado page in that journal. I figure, as a writer, someday I’ll return to those pages for future stories/articles. For now, it’s simply a central location for stuff my brain is too shaky to retain.

Five points to today’s post:

1) We still are without power and water. Yesterday, there were still 31,000 people without power, with the plan to have everyone restored by 11 pm tonight. Even so, our wires are pulled away from our house and under a large oak, so unsure of when this applies to us.

2) Son John had his own tragedy happen a week before ours. A drug-crazed stranger threw a 50-pound boulder through his car window, then proceeded to rip apart the dashboard before threatening John’s life. Far away carless John is in his own survival mode, but wishes he could help as well. There will be stuff for him to do later. No worries.

Monday, Jeff called Son Peter, who lives 5 hours away. As soon as he found out the extent of the devastation, he drove here with a chain saw, lots of bottled water, tarps, and nails. We had a list of three major things he could help us with during his overnight stay. They were all accomplished two hours after he arrived. It was like Jeff and I were taking baby steps in shock, while Peter comes in as a triathlon athlete (which he is, actually). He whipped through a project, then said, “What next?” His time was not only a physical boost to us, but definitely an emotional boost.

3) Our yard went from 90% shade a week ago to 90% sun this week. Sunlight comes through windows which hasn’t seen sun in our seven years here.

Related to that: With downed trees all about, it took Peter four attempts to get to our house. Even so, the neighborhood looks so different, he started to drive past our house when he saw us out front. Yesterday, Friend Francie, who was out-of-town during our storm, drove down our little street (a whopping 20 or so houses), and became confused when she realized she’d reached the end of the street and had to of have passed our house.

4) People keep asking what we need. This morning I broke down for the first time and cried with “Cuz” Dale called from Mississippi, saying how she touched she/they were when members of my church and I went to help with Katrina clean up, and asked “If there is anything at all I can do–” I answered, “Dale, you already have.” It’s the care and concern and compassion, and being a friend — that is the BEST thing anyone can do for us. Just be our friend. Thank you.

5) Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to work on some photos at home to post on FB tomorrow. Hopefully. It’s hard to plan things more than a few minutes ahead of time.

Love to you all. We sure feel it coming at us from you.

August Writing Challenge Followup

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YIKES-A-ROONIE! I just realized today that earlier this month, I put out an August Writer’s Challenge of writing 10,000 Raw (first draft) words by September first. How you doing? Surprisingly, I may make that goal. I know I have nearly 10,000 words started on a new YA (young adult) fantasy, but I’m not sure if I’m going to leave in certain bits to make it into a MG (middle grade) story or not, yet. I THINK I wrote nearly all those words this month, but I may have started in July, too. I’ve been a tad bit scatter-brained this summer.

Has this summer been crazy for other people as well? Family, travels, cleaning oil off of turtles… well, maybe everyone hasn’t been doing that last one, but I’d encourage you to help if you can… heat, humidity. There are lots of summer distractions for writers.

So… how have you done on the August writing challenge?

No more excuses. There are still six days left in the month. Get writing, already!

Time, Priorities and Discipline for Writers

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I missed the last day of the WriteOnCon. Out of town. Out of internet availability. I have had nearly a week to catch up. I listened to some of the talks, but now that I have them just sitting there, waiting for me, I have allowed myself to get distracted by other things in my life – big things, like cleaning turtles from our very own river oil spill, to the more mundane, like mowing the lawn, doing laundry, or meal prep. Each of those things are important in their own rights. (Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention making and canning the salsa today before the tomatoes overripe.)

Discipline and priorities involve decisions in our every-day lives. We only have twenty-four hours in a day, and we do need to eat and sleep and get a bit of exercise; besides that, most people need day jobs in order to eat and sleep with a roof overhead.

How serious are you when it comes to writing? Are raw writing (first drek-drafts), or revising, or learning more about the craft and the market, priorities for you? Or do you say you’ll get to it “someday soon, as soon as xx is over”? (In my opinion, the only “xx” excuse to keep yourself from discipline, is family, especially your children. They grow up way too fast to ignore them.) So… be disciplined. Write!

Rejection Before Even Submitting

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     A member of my critique group sent me a message two weeks ago about a small press which seemed perfect for one of my completed MG novels. I checked out their website, and agreed. They would indeed be perfect, IF I cut some words. So.. I’ve been snatching moments of company time — company which can be very distracting to a writer — to revise and cut 2,500 words in order to fit within their press specifications.
     Since this small press only does quarterly reviews, I decided to call to find out when their next review was, so I wouldn’t be waiting two and 3/4 months before they even take a look at it. The result: The guy said they are no longer accepting manuscripts because of the economy.
     The down side of this? I’ve got a story without a home  — yet.
     Double down side? A rejection is a rejection, even when I didn’t submit it. I.e., For a few days I’m sinking into W.R.F. — Writer’s Rejection Funk — until I can poof-up some writer’s courage back into me. (And, yes, I made up that acronym, too. Although, it sounds an awfully lot like a wrestling acronym, which may also be appropriate in this business.)
     BUT… The up side of this adventure? It’s actually a stronger story.

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part III — Some More Solutions

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One very important thing I failed to mention concerning writing when there are others around, was/is personal discipline.

Besides my husband working in the den of our house for much of his work, we have company at our house now — for about 10 days. I’ll have a 3-day break at the end of next week before we get in a different set of company (family — hurrah!) for two weeks. I’ll have company in our house 24-7 for most of this month. It’s a might distracting for the writer.

It’s now 7 days into the month. How much writing have I gotten done so far this month? Confession: very little. Excuse: entertaining guests and traveling to touristy places. However, I have done some writing, and I’ll share the reflections of my experiences.

How to write when there are others around? Unfortunately, I’m not rude enough to shut myself up behind a closed door. Besides, when I do that, I inevitably get distracted by laughter from the next room — which I’m SURE was some great writing fodder story which I’ve lost out on. So…

1) Sneak away for a five-minute writing break. It feels glorious. You may feel sneaky and somewhat guilty, but glorious all the same. I know this. I am a writer. I need to write each and every day. If I end up not writing, I make Oscar the Grouch look as singing-sweet as Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

2) When you do get the chance to sneak away, do not — I repeat, DO NOT — spend your glorious writing minutes with checking your email, catching up on FaceBook, LinkedIn, favorite blogs, how far the Gulf Coast tar balls have drifted, etc..

3) Enjoy your company. Relish in visits from family. Love them to pieces. And learn to delegate. (e.g., “Oh, say… how ’bout if you folks clear the table and wash the dishes?” Then go sneak in your cherished writing minutes.)

4) Microize your normal writing goals. (I sure hope I made that word up instead of used some swear word or laser weapon. No time to research it now. Remember? I’ve got company in the next room.) Instead of giving yourself 3 hours to spend in revisions, limit yourself to one chapter a day. Microize your normal writing goals.

5) When company leaves, and there are sheets to wash, floors to mop, toilets to scrub, mountains of laundry to do, etc., don’t forget to work back up to your normal daily writing schedule. W.E.D: Write Every Day.  (Rats! Another made up word.  I sure hope that isn’t some acronym for a porno site. No time to look it up.)

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part II — Some Solutions

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The problem: How to not be distracted when others are around, distracting you from writing.

The solution: I’m really not that vain to say there are solutions, but just hints of what might help you be less distracted. That being said, here are a few things which come to mind or which I’ve heard at writers conferences or in books or networking in general. But first a few general good writing habits:

1) Have the priority-attitude of actual writing time be important to you.

2) Take up the Book-in-a-Week phrases: BIC, HOK, TAM. (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard, Typing Away Madly)

3) If you have difficulty writing a whole novel in one sitting, do as Anne Lamott suggested in her book on writing, BIRD BY BIRD — break the task into smaller units. You don’t need to (nor can you) write a novel in a day, but you can write a page a day.

4) Have a writing space which you only use for writing — no reading, no emails, just plain ole writing.

5) Take breaks. Do mini exercises for your neck, arms, fingers, legs, backside, etc.

On to suggestions to limit or deal with external distractions of other people:

a. If you have young children, tell them when you have your writing cap on (get an actually cap specifically for this purpose), that you can’t be interrupted except in cases of emergency. I used to define “emergency” to my students as fire, blood or vomit, but you may quote your own definitions.

That lovely first suggesting being said, I need to add here that I have always felt that family ALWAYS comes first. The kids are young only once. In my family book, I mostly only wrote when they napped or watched “Sesame Street” or were at school. But by the time they started school, I went back to a paying career with energy sucking emotions which drained any writing enthusiasm. Still, family comes first.

b. Turn off the phone ringer, and refuse to answer your doorbell. Yep: hide and ignore.

c. One writer friend hired a baby sitter twice a week so she could write undistracted by her children.

d. Set a timer for your writing time — even just 15 minutes! This is for both for you and for your family members. Explain you MAY NOT be disturbed until the bell dings. And it’s probably a good idea to keep the timer near you just in case little hands like to play with time.

e. I want to say “shoot the ice cream man,” but I realize that sounds terribly wicked. You see, we have an ice cream truck which is driven S-L-O-W-L-Y through our neighborhood twice a day. Only a couple measures of a familiar child’s tune is played over and over and over again. Also in this category are the industrial strength leaf blowers and professional lawn care people next door. I think for this grouping, a good pair of headphones or ear plugs are in order. I know some people listen to tapes of white noise to filter out the outside distracting noise, but I could just type next to our air conditioner if I wanted that type of noise.

f. Family comes first. When your spouse wanders in and out, and in and out again, remember, family ALWAYS comes first.