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The Big Spruce

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So many times people have said to me, "I wish I had a place like that where I could just go and relax like you do". I've told them the truth, that being that if that;s what you really want there are plenty of them available. They are called Lodges and for anywhere from 3500 to 6200 per week you can go to a wilderness surrounding, fish, and at days end put your feet up and relax while you reflect on the day. But the cabin on the lake? Not the spot if relaxing is what you have in mind.

If you own a place like I have situated some 75 miles off the road system there are 2 big things you worry about. One is a wild fire that will destroy all your work and investment in the course of a few hours and the other is a big tree falling on your cabin. A big tree if it has enough weight and length can and will break the spine of your building. If you have a galvanized steel roof and site built truss system the damage of a big one striking dead center will be terminal. Me? I had a big tree. Ever since I got married which is when I so to say inherited this place there have been big trees surrounding it. Had I been the builder I would have of course cleared them all back before driving the first nail but that wasn't the case. So as they say, it is what it is.

Over the years I've probably cut and split (often by hand) the big trees, maybe 40 of them but there was one that was just too good to cut. That one was the Big Spruce. The big spruce was a giant among spruce trees on the 34 acres of land and all that border it. It was tall, healthy and beautifully rooted so there was little worry of it being upset by a wind storm. Little worry that is until the Spruce Beatles exploded over the past 2 years. I could bore you with a history of this pest but will cut to the chase, the adult bores holes in large spruce trees and they lay eggs. The holes they make result in wounds in the bark and the tree bleeds its precious sap, the eggs the beetle deposits yield larva that feed on the cambium and xylem layers of the trees growth cells beneath the exterior bark. As they feed they in turn destroy the ability of the xylem cell layer to preform usual and necessary functions of growth and thus the trees die. Only trees having enough girth for the larva to bore deep enough the winter freeze are killed. Smaller trees which freeze through and through survive because the larva burst when their cellular wells are destroyed by the cold.

Enough of the technical stuff right? The long story made short was that by last fall it was clear that my Big Spruce was dying. All winter I knew it had to go. All summer I ignored the voice in the back of my head telling me it had to go. I've been fishing a river where all the big spruce have been killed and began noticing how many had snapped in the wind as they became brittle, scary number of large ones......... Finally I knew that if I didn't act the worst could or would happen so I went after it.

I hadn't been out for six weeks due to life and rain among other things, hell, it takes 3 hours just to get there by boat and if it's raining and all you have waiting is a job the fun just isn't there. I went anyway and of course job one was to cut down the yard. if you have cleared land in the Alaskan Bush it isn't a lawn, it's bush which has been rendered to a 3-4" height and in six weeks it gets a mind of its own. So you park the boat and go grab the DR Field & Brush Mower and have at it for a while.

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After a sufficient amount of quality time with the DR the place takes on that semi inhabited look you love and it's time to get to the real work. You go grab your Werner Type One 32 foot extension ladder and carry it to the tree. I'm not kidding when I say I'd have been good with that for the day because that ladder is heavy enough but this was only the beginning. I started by cutting limbs that were in your face at ground level then got the ladder into the act.

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Anyone who has ever read articles on this blog or seen threads where I posted pictures of the cabin may have noticed the big spruce ever present, standing over and quite near the cabin which itself was built from its smaller brothers and cousins on the same land. But not it only towered there in dead form and the final act had begun.

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Once I had cleared my way up to 24 feet I was able to fit my 4 foot cable sling around the trunk and hook a 115 foot cable to it.

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At a sharp downward angle 115 feet away I placed a binder chain around the base of a good strong birch tree and rigged a Come Along between the binder chain and the cable extending down from the tree.

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Now what really mattered was the notch so that when I made the slice cut I could count on this thing going where I intended. There was already a small wood pile (one of 3) in the flight path from the 12 trees I had cut over the winter and the plan was for the big spruce to miss the pile and land into a clearing I'd made with the Bush Hog. So cut the notch and apply enough tension with the Come Along that you start worrying about the cable snapping. Then go make a slice............... You slice downward toward your notch then pause. If the tension is strong enough you'll see the slice go from a saw blade wide to 3/4" and you know it's time for a deeper slice. You cut a little deeper and the slice cut is now at least 1 1/2" wide so you run like hell to the come along and crank that handle like you have a King running right straight at you because in a way you do!

You hear a loud crack and drop the come along, you go left fast and............ Swoosh Crash Thump, it's down!

It landed within a couple feet of the planed path and stretched into the woods where I was at with the come along. I knew it was tall but I ran inside and grabbed my 300' Dewalt landscape tape and measured it. From the butt end to the tip top there was 96 feet of tree and the stump measured 2 1/2 foot tall with a 30 inch diameter below the cut. Where the notch was cut the stump was a full 25 inches which I knew because I had to cut two ways with a 21" bar on the saw to span it.

Relived yes, a little sad about the less than timely and undistinguished end that this giant came to, yes to that as well. Now would come the real work, do you have any idea how many dead limbs are on a tree that size? it was substantial and I trimmed them all from the trunk then cut them all into at least 3 sections so they would fit into mu utility cart.

I had taken the DR Brush cutter way back in the woods and made about a 300 square foot clearing and can't tell you how many loads I hauled back there before it was reduced to what you could rake up. I split a great deal of it but as I got closer to the stump end of the log it was still wet inside and quite frankly I couldn't lift them without fear of injuring myself so I cut it into 10" slabs and hauled them away too. I felt bad but I must have six cords of wood already cut and split, I had to stop and ask myself what the hell are you doing?

Of course this entire operation was conducted under the watchful eyes of my head of security, Boss.

I failed to get a picture after I had raked the ground to conceal the last evidence of what had went on so this is as good as it gets.

The night I finished up we took in sunset to the Northwest looking up the lake.

Boss, believe it or not loves this stuff and I think he enjoys a good sunset based on his expressions.

All in all it was almost as much fun as rebuilding the corner foundation posts last fall The day after we finished Boss and I were on the way home but not without a white knuckle ride out of Hewitt creek. This time of year the glaciers slow down in their melt rate, the result is that the rivers shrink quickly. Along with the river dropping Hewitt lake drains fast as it seeks equilibrium of level with the Yentna River. When the creek drops you become acutely aware of how many big trees are in there previously hidden by high water. Trees, stumps and after jumping and bumping your way through 4 1/2 miles of that there's the ever popular sandbar that forms at the confluence with the Yentna. In that last 100 feet of creek water you shove that throttle all the way. The 90 horse Honda propels the ATEC to just shy of 30 before you feel the bottom and you hang on and hold your breath. Boss knows the drill and hugs the floor at times like this and the 2 of us slid albeit grudgingly over the bar and into the Yentna.

Now comes the easy stuff, just stay vigilant for sandbars and enjoy the trip, the current is brisk as the glaciated water rushes toward Cook Inlet and in a short 70 miles you'll be trailer-ing up.

Foliage was changing and I managed a shot of Denali & Foraker as we sped along .........

So there you have it. Another relaxing time as experienced by a real Alaskan Bush Person, taking full advantage of ownership of a remote property. Anytime any of you would like to come up so you can relax along with me and enjoy a nice boat ride you just let me know OK


  1. spm's Avatar
    Wow. Some fun, huh? I have no delusions about owning a cabin in the woods. I know it's a lot of work. I have a friend who has a lake house and he is always doing something. Occasionally, he'll ask me to help with a project and I enjoy helping him, but I don't want one of my own. Maybe a maintenance-free condo at the edge of town, near good fishing???

    I'm really sorry about the tree, Ard. It truly was a grandfather.

    BTW, beautiful pics.
  2. Ard's Avatar
    Hey Steve

    I failed to count the growth rings but the good news is that I cut 4 matching slabs about 2 1/2 inches thick each to make end tables for the cabin out of. I'm thinking either pedestal type bases from spruce or 3 legged type using birch.

    There are 2 others that need the same treatment but they are 55 footers or so and I was beat after getting the big boy done. Couple the tree with the mowing, the cleaning inside and I had enough for one trip. The smaller ones will go down this winter when I can burn the branches without worry of wild fire.

    Just another day in paradise brother
  3. spm's Avatar
    That's good; the spruce lives on and remains useful. I thought I saw one in the background of one picture that looked like it was going.

    Ard, you do have a piece of paradise, there. I would say that I am envious, but that would be unfair. You worked for every inch of that beautiful property. What I am envious of is your skillset. I take my hat off to what you have built.