Sunday, February 5, 2012

Severe Windfall

The weather has cleared, but the debris has not, which means that it is time to apply Clearing Theory. The storm that dumped over a foot of snow and ice pulled down billions of branches, and people are still clearing and cleaning; yesterday I saw a convoy of pick-ups and trailers filled with alder and others, headed for the city's overflow pile. Back at Mojourner Truth, I wrote about the normal windfall of alder, and how I'm one of those back to the earth freaks who welcomes the organic rain of catkins, cones, and twigs.

But the aftermath of an ice storm is a different thing. Not the normal seasonal droppings. More like the difference between the farmer whose flock drops fertile pellets and the farmer who awakes to find the pasture strewn with the torn remains of a chupacabra frenzy. My usual compulsive conservation of biomass broke down, and a couple of small loads went to the city's chipper.

Not all of the severed limbs went away, though. Surgical machete work first freed the biggest pieces, which will cook salmon and whatever else need grilling this summer. (Just a week before the storm, I'd been fretting about where the wood would come from...careful what you ask for.) I waded into the carnage, blade a-swinging, but with a mission in mind. 

I'll ramble on about Clearing Theory at length, but later. Right now, suffice it to say that what looks like a guy skittering and pausing, whacking branches and tossing them this way and that follows a plan. It's pretty basic, and boils down to a few basic decisions based on branch diameter and length. Anything as big as my older daughter's wrist is firewood, and all the smaller stuff gets chopped off and sorted into bean or hops poles (if it's long enough), kindling (between wrist and finger caliber, and with at least a foot of straight wood), and the twigs of less-than-finger diameter that will break down fairly quickly. Along the way, I stack the gnarlier mid-sized pieces for removal.

It sounds like a lot of work, but with a sharp machete, it goes quickly. I don't even bother moving the small stuff, stomping it where it falls to kick off the decomposition process. All the other piles are stacked--more or less--branches parallel. That makes the stuff I plan to haul off easier to pick up (after hacking off a few more itty-bitty ends), and lays out the bigger stuff so that a few chainsaw swipes will reduce it to the size I want. Before long, the crazy tangle is reduced to a pile of mini-logs, a stack of bean-poles, and a pick-up bed full of branches. The ground takes on a grey haze of twigs that in the coming week or so will be stomped into the dirt or tossed under the alders where the native blackberries will clamber and blanket them.

Traditional Clearing Theorists still hold that this is an anti-entropic enterprise, a transformation of chaos into order. The post-modern contingent points out that the integrity of any one branch is violated, and that the "order" is no better than Belgian colonialism. I can see sense in the first part of this argument, but the latter part is ridiculously cantilevered. Yes, the branches are cut up, and parts of them are a couple of miles away. But I'm just hastening the natural process of returning cellulose to the earth, and snagging some firewood in the process. Nobody gets rich, nobody gets abused, and there is no Kurtz lurking in the dark reaches of the far back yard.

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