January 27

The Lopsided Tree

January 27, 2016

Personal Growth

My yard is filled with trees, mostly oak and hickory. One mature oak grew close to the concrete pad that extends out from the foundation. It was about eight feet in circumference at the base, 85 feet tall, and 120 years old. It provided lovely shade for the deck, but over the years I noticed that it was beginning to progressively and slowly lean toward the house.

Oak trees are exceptionally strong. It would take a tornado to snap one, but in our part of Georgia, they have a distinct weakness. The topsoil is very thin—as little as a quarter-inch thick in many places—after which solid clay extends for many feet down to the bedrock. The roots cannot easily penetrate the dense, nearly airless clay—usually not more than a couple of feet—so instead they tend to grow shallowly in a radial pattern extending from the tree. Dry clay anchors the roots firmly, but on occasion, prolonged rain will soak the clay completely, turning it into a viscous mass that becomes movable. If a high wind catches the tree top just right, the force can pry the roots out of the mud, and the tree falls to the ground.

I was concerned this fate might befall my leaning tree, because it was close to the house, and because it was growing at the edge of the forest, which meant that every branch grew toward the sunlight that was falling on the house and the deck. If it did fall, because of the angle of the lean and the direction of the branches, it was guaranteed to crush the deck and go through the roof of the house.

I decided to cut down the tree, which was no small engineering feat, considering how lopsided it was. It was impossible to pull directly back toward the woods, but with multiple steel cables, nylon webs, and winches, I did manage to pull it away from the house enough that when I cut it down, it fell nearly parallel to the house and did not damage the house or deck.

The tree I cut down was very strong. It was not diseased. But it was a real danger, so it had to be removed.

Many of us have large, strong trees in the forest of our lives—habits, addictions, beliefs, and more—that are strong and may seem harmless, but they’re lopsided, and if allowed to grow they can fall over and crush us. As we identify such trees, we need to remove them. Sometimes that requires a great deal of effort and care, but it must be done, or we risk losing the happiness we all seek.

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