Besides the literary appeal, today's article can be related to two former writings some of you may remember, "A most useful tropical plant" which stated how wonderful are coconut trees and "Pruning, trimming, lopping and aerial wood-cutting," which introduced one of my professional activities as a tree surgeon. Now, as I also train people to become tree surgeons themselves I will take you today with me on a training day.
Of course it is an absolute prerequisite that you wear a helmet or hardhat with noise attenuators as we will be fooling around with chainsaws and I do not want you to lose your fine hearing nor get your skull damaged by a falling coconut. So, today's topic will be sectional felling or dismantling which is basically the removing of a tree or trunk by sawing it in bits lowered to the ground with a rope. This is done when felling from the ground (also called clear felling) is impossible, usually because of a structure in the way: house, swimming pool, fragile plants, subterranean water pipes or any other good enough reason. As the tree or palm is to be destroyed, the tree specialist can use gaffs, also know as spurs, climbers or spikes. Those are sharp steel spikes which are secured to both feet by pads and straps and allow one to climb up by sticking them in the wood, the upper body being kept balanced with the aid of a land-yard (or flip-line) attached to the hips, those devices being alternatively raised to move up. Spurs are used for palm trees such as the coconut trees although they do hurt the trees with the added problem of lack of cambium tissues in palm trees, cambium as you all know is responsible for healing injuries made to trees.
| The coconut tree to be felt...|| Getting ready to climb|
A coconut tree indeed is a useful tree as you now all know but its generosity towards man can turn into an excessive will to please, imagine one of those nutritious and strong nut falling from thirty to sixty feet up right on your skull! A green one will weight some 2 or 3 kilos (4 to 6 pounds) while a dry one will only be a third of this weight but enough to knock you out, which a falling dry leaf can also perform quite effectively so those are arguments which decide the suppressing of such a tree when growing over a public path in a zoo. Oh yes! I forgot to tell you that today you would be within the St-Denis (our local capital here on Reunion Island) local zoo...though this one is running low at the moment as it is being drastically restructured, it still keeps going with people and animals, plus the possible tree cutters! All right, back to your aim for today, this coconut tree has now become dangerous and is bending over a path. We cannot fell it in one piece as this would most probably damage the underlying pavement and probably adjacent fences as well so we will have to take it down piece by piece. First part will be to get down leaves and coconuts clusters; leaves will be sawed off and let to fall, nuts will be secured with a rope going through a pulley secured with a strap so they would not explode when reaching the ground. As most trainees have already mastered the use of spikes I will have one of them doing the job; when he reaches the top he will of course secure himself by sliding a false crotch around two or three palm base and placing his main rope. This here is extremely important as it will give him two attachment points (lanyard plus rope) in case he accidentally cuts one which can happen pretty fast when using a chainsaw...Once the coco nut tree is bare of leaves one can clearly see the ‘head' which contains the apical bud or cabbage, the active growing part of the plant which unluckily for him is also a delight for men's greediness! I guess that quite a few of the readers here have tasted palm cabbage as a canned veggie, good but a pale ersatz of the fresh thing. And the fresh ones you get in tropical countries usually come from fast growing species such as Dictyosperma album, Archantophoenix rubra (both endemic to the Mascareignes archipelago!), while mass production from usually comes from Bactris gasipaes, Euterpe edulis and E.oleracea but all those are nothing compared to the delicacy of coconut cabbage!
| On the way up, watch your steps!|| Lowering a nuts cluster with the rope|
All right, by the time our friendly trainee is back on the ground I have rigged myself out and am ready for the next step. As you can see one has to be very well organized and clear-minded in order to set all the necessary gizmos for the job; we not only wear a heavy chainsaw safety jacket, protection boots with the gaffs attached, wire-core flip line, climbing rope plus adjustable false-crotch, lowering rope plus pulley (or rigging block), chainsaw, helmet with eyes and ears protection, quite a few extra kilos. And I always add a bottle of water as the work is quite exerting. Up I go, do not stay too close to the tree please. Well, here I am on the top, nice view on the Indian Ocean, folks! But yes, you are right, I am not here for leisure so let's get back to work now. Dismantling is rather similar to felling at ground level with the utmost difference that you are attached to the trunk so there is no way to run for life if you make a mistake but the basics are the same: a notch to determine where the tree or chunk will fall and a back-cut to let it go. The notch needs some experience to be performed correctly, it consists in a horizontal cut and a sloping cut which allows you to remove a piece of wood looking like a watermelon slice, we will not deepen this as we are not loggers. Anyway here is the process; I make my notch then wrap a sling around the trunk in order to hold a pulley, my lowering rope goes through the pulley and I use a Killick hitch to secure the chunk to be lowered. I see a few frowns; you mean you forgot what a Killick hitch is? Come on, you learnt it last week! It is simply a half hitch followed by a timber hitch, now I can see on your face you know what I am talking about. The descending part of the rope will now be conducted through a friction device by my partner on the ground, for today we will use a simple figure-eight which allows the worker to lower a medium heavy load. And now the back-cut, I will not cut it straight away and have the chunk falling freely, when I see that it starts moving I shut off the engine, put back the saw on its hook, make sure my partner is ready and push on the load to make it fall. Just as it starts flipping I have to throw both hands flat on the trunk and straighten my arms as the shock loading when the lowering rope catches the weight will shake the whole trunk and make me play Woody Woodpecker for a few seconds. If you do not extend you arms you may very well kiss the trunk or more crudely smash your face on it...Everything went fine, I will now get back down and have one trainee extracting the cabbage for lunch...time flies! We will have to get back in the afternoon in order to remove the remaining of the trunk and clean the place of course.
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| Listen carefully now!|| Starting the back-cut|| Lowering the head|| Hurrah! Done!|
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| Hard work to get the cabbage...|| Almost ready to eat!|
I hope you did not get too much wood dust in the eyes, the wind was quite strong! Of course you will not perform sectional dismantling in your yard but you know that if you want training you can call me!