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Tree Fellers In Laos

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I spent yesterday, supervising the felling of some trees on my land. It was hot and sunny, approaching 40C most of the day.


Fortunately I'm seen as old and unfit, this was to be an advantage. I usually try and help when physical tasks are about, so as to maintain the egalitarian nature that my culture raised me to have. And I would have done so here, but common sense and the fact that I was paying a not inconsiderable sum of money to the tree fellers (there were five
)had me sweating in shade instead of the sun. So the lads were not really expecting me to do any heavy lifting. Still, I pottered about the edges and observed the goings on.


Two of the tree fellers were exceptional individuals, and this will become apparent, but to describe the trees… My land has a total of 14 large trees, my family has decreed that we cut down 6. This after a long argument from me that we didn't need to cut down any. Two of these trees are magnificent. One in particular is a majestic beauty of the old school, some 120~130 feet tall and three people are required to link arms around it's base. The second is a teenager in comparison. The rest are a mixed collection, some very tall but weedy, some shorter and stout.


My family's reason for cutting the 6 down is that they will fall on the house that'll be built. To me this doesn't wash, as I said, "They're hundreds of years old and they've not fallen down yet". But as I'm learning and on consultation with others, this is ingrained in the Lao culture. They had wanted to cut all the trees down. Whist we were seated in the shade of the Cashew Nut tree, I asked "Why don't you sit over there in the sun?" the answer "because it's shady here" so I say "and if we cut down this tree there'll be no more shade". Grudging agreement. And so I eventually saved most of the others in similar arguments.


My best achievement is the preservation of the biggest, most majestic of them all. This tree now has a name, "Tane Mahuta", a Maori name given to a Kauri tree in NZ that is reportedly between 1,250 and 2,500 years old and is important to Maori spiritually as well as being important just for it's size. My family has a strong animist bent to them, particularly in the embodiment of the grandmother who lives half in the animist and half in the buddhist world. When the parcel of land over the road was sold, the first thing that happened was that all the trees went, including some larger ones, leaving a flat, vacant, scorched dirt pan. The next day I told Grandma (through translation) that I'd dreamed that a spirit from the big tree on that land, had taken up residence in my Tane Mahuta because he'd been dispossessed. A few days later Grandma was making offerings of food and candles and such to Tane. My darling, realising what I'd done, said that I'd better name the tree then, thinking that this would cause me some difficulty, so Tane Mahuta lives.


Unfortunately, the second largest had to go, the teenager. Upon examining of the rings of the cut trunk, I estimate that this tree was 250 years old. So if this is anything to go by, Tane Mahuta could be 400 or more years old. Note to self: get a plaque made for Tane.


Tree felling is and of itself a good spectator sport, watching the lads go about their business was fascinating. When they arrived it was on a posse of motos, each bearing a rope or part of a chainsaw or a machete. No axes, no safety gear. But they planned and executed the felling in a manner that only comes from years of experience, and left the site in reasonable order. The two exceptional fellers, are so, as follows.


One, an older feller, seemingly disinterested in events, sat back until his presence and the presence of his 3 foot chainsaw was required. Then he became a ballerina, wielding the chainsaw, which I would have found heavy, like a knife going through butter, twisting and thrusting and generally making short work of felling and dismembering each tree in turn. Then retiring to the shade to sharpen the chain on his saw until the next tree was up for felling.


The second, made monkeys look stilted. His job was to shin up the trees, machete roped to his waist and then trim the top and side branches of the canopy, so as to reduce the impact of the falling tree on the surrounding people, vehicles and houses. I watched as he, without aids, just hands and feet, clambered straight up a branchless trunk of some 90 feet, again, no safety gear. It's not often you see skills like this.


As part of the deal, we'd decreed that the good wood of the trees would be cut into lengths of slightly over 3 metres. So the first tree they cut down was duly chopped up into 1 metre lengths. I wasn't too concerned, as this one was rotten in the core and so was not good for using for furniture or anything else. but I had to remind them, and it was good they were reminded, for like most Lao, they understand and then forget, with equal ability.


Three of the felled trees were no good in the middle, but one was the subject of admiration, it's cut section revealed a dark heartwood that all the Lao were admiring, the outer wood was blonde and the sap oozing from the cambium layer was blood red. I don't know what this tree is, but it's valuable, I'll have to find out it's name.

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OK just one :)


For perspective, the section of log in the foreground is 3.5 metres in length



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A neighbor had trees cut down in her yard. I talked her out of cutting down some of the better ones. Like the people in your story, she was afraid they would fall on her house. Recently, trees did fall during severe weather and several houses in our neighborhood suffered major damages. They were covered by insurance more than likely. I've lived in this house for over 30 years, and quite a few times, I've been out there with the chain saw cleaning up after trees had fallen in my yard. It's dangerous work -- once, while using the chain saw, a tree trunk slid into me and I ended up in the hospital...sprained ankle.

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