The Sword of Damocles Falls

By , February 7, 2012

Ever since we bought the homestead and began visiting it in 2005, I have feared a certain tree near the trail. The huge old growth giant towered above the first stretch of the trail off the bay, rising straight and true to 15 or 20 feet, then angling toward the downhill slope alarmingly. Its towering height above the angle loomed over the trail like the legendary Sword of Damocles, looking as if it might fall at any moment. Recently, it finally did.

"sword of damocles" tree falls across the trail

The fallen giant, with Mark (6' 1") for perspective (Photo: Michelle Zeiger).

Recently, most likely during the 50 knot storm on February 3rd, this tree and a lot of others in the forest fell. Some were pushed over, ripping up their root systems as they fell. Far too many simply broke at the trunk, which means they crashed down almost instantly.

The Sword of Damocles appeared, from some angles, as if it would fall the length of the trail, covering a good deal of the slope beneath it. This is what worried me most. The trail there is a chute, with devil’s club bushes on either side. If one has the time and total presence of mind, one should, of course, run perpendicular to a falling tree’s path. Running directly away from it is suicide. When it finally came down, I felt a bit of relief to see that it fell across the trail, rather than directly down it. On the other hand, the revelation that the whole section of trunk where the tree angled had rotted almost completely away inside, is chilling. The remaining stump is a bouquet of sharp, splintered points around a hollow center.


The "sword's" stump, hollowed out by rot (Photo: Michelle Zeiger).

We found that we can get around the broken base with only a short detour and a couple steps up and over the log end. That’s good—the neighbor on whose land it fell may not get around to clearing the trail for a while, as several trees seem to threaten their house after the storm. We’ll be out today or tomorrow with our hand saws to clear a way some smaller trees, but the Sword is too large for us to be effective in the short term.

But at least we won’t be glancing over our shoulders quite as much as we had before as we negotiate the final slope of the trail toward the bay. The Sword of Damocles has fallen, but we’ve been spared.

2 Responses to “The Sword of Damocles Falls”

  1. Judy says:

    Any lost tree is sad, I find, but it sounds like this tree had lived beyond its lifetime. Glad your pathway is now safer and less stressful. How far was this tree from say your front door, which would allow me to estimate how near your neighbor’s property line is located? Actually, my question is how far in distance is your front door to your neighbor’s front door? Hollering distance? Just Curious George making this inquiring!

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Judy, the tree is not lost, it’s just changed its situation! The good wood will heat our neighbor’s house for a few years to come. The slash, rotten wood, sawdust and other unused portions will nourish the forest floor, and provide cover for animals and birds. The new open place in the canopy will provide sunlight for younger trees and other forest plants. With the exception of providing firewood, it’s an entirely natural and nature-based process that’s going on all the time. We’re just relieved that this transition came while no one was passing under it . . . .

    This particular neighbor is about 3/4 mile away, at the trail head at the other end of our forest trail. Our nearest neighbor is a vacation cabin that’s just over in the next hollow–very close maybe 100 yards, but still not within shouting distance (as I learned once when Michelle accidentally locked me in the shed, but that’s a story for another time . . .). Our nearest full time neighbor is a quarter mile away.


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