I found myself sitting smack in the middle of Hurricane Sandy—or “Superstorm” Sandy, or whatever they’re calling it now—last week. The problems I experienced during and after the storm were far less severe than those of other people, so I’m not going to write about anything super profound here—and I’ll save the appeals for help for people until the end of this. I want to talk about something I learned from a tree the day after the storm hit.
Where I was staying, we weren’t flooded or damaged badly, but the power went out—and it stayed out for a week. Couple that with a few other relevant facts: there was a massive gas shortage, nobody could get to work—if there was even anywhere to go—and there was really nothing to do but start cleaning up and seeing if your neighbors and relatives needed anything. And again, they needed plenty and still do, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Right at the very beginning of the storm, a big pine tree went down in the backyard. It didn’t damage anything, because the winds were blowing east-to-west—which blew the tree over parallel to the house. It was a pretty big tree, though, and it made a very loud noise when the trunk snapped and it hit the ground. This was actually a relief, because it was one of two or three trees we figured could cause some serious damage. I went outside, took a quick picture, stuck it on Facebook, then went inside and sat in the dark with my flashlight.
The next morning, when the shit died down, I went out to find coffee—which was no easy feat—then came back to listen to the radio and hear how bad everything was. Again, you’ve all seen a lot of this on the news, so I’ll stick to my story about this tree. I drank my coffee, listened to the radio, and tried to figure out what I was going to do that day since I wasn’t working or coaching or anything else, and I wasn’t able to go anywhere. I looked out the window and decided I was going to get rid of this pine tree. This presented me with a few problems.
1. It was going to take a while, because although there was a chainsaw in the garage, there was no gas in it.
2. Pine trees suck because you have to cut through a lot of needles and branches and crap to get to that main part.
3. All I had available to me was a small pruning saw.
When I went outside, everyone in the house was telling me to relax—that they’d call someone and have it removed—but I didn’t see it that way. I had nothing to do, I needed to kill some time, and the presence of the pine tree in the backyard had begun to offend me on some level I don’t think I understood at the time. Along with everything else happening on the streets, I think it took something away from the sense of order that I need, so I figured I could at least restore order to this backyard by removing something that wasn’t supposed to be there.
I resolved to get rid of this thing, piece by piece if necessary. Several hours later, all those pieces were sitting on the curb in front of the house. I learned some significant lessons from doing this.
1. UNLESS IT’S A CRISIS REQUIRING IMMEDIATE ACTION, DON’T DO ANYTHING UNTIL YOU STEP BACK AND ASSESS THE PROBLEM. First, I had to figure out what tools I had for the job. Then, I had to figure out the potential problems I’d run into. I have calluses on my hands and I like to work, but I knew all that manual sawing would rip my hands open, so I found some gloves. Shit like that. Once you’ve laid out the tools to solve the problem, you need a plan of attack. I knew I couldn’t get to the main trunk of the tree, and that the sections would be a bitch to carry with all the branches on them, so I started at the bottom and started sawing them all off.
2. STAY ORGANIZED. As I sawed all the branches off, I put them into an organized pile, all facing the same way, so I could come back later and carry them out. I put the pile in a spot that was easy to throw them to from where I was standing, but that also gave me easy access to picking the branches up and hauling them out.
3. BREAK UP THE WORK. I looked at this tree like a football game. I split it into eight sections I thought I could carry, with every two representing a “quarter” of a football game. That way, I always knew where I stood, how far I’d come, and how much work I had left. I also broke this down into subtasks, telling myself, “Just chop off four or five more branches and see where you’re at then.”
4. ADAPT AS PROBLEMS ARISE. The trunk of this thing was too thick for a pruning saw, I’d make some decent progress, but as I started getting some depth, the saw would just come to a stop. The only other tree-cutting tool available in the garage was a little hatchet, so I developed a system where I’d chop out a few inches, then saw, then chop, then saw. When I got into a rhythm, shit started happening.
5. KEEP CHOPPING WOOD. You hear that from football coaches all the time, and since I’m not exactly an expert woodsman—at least in the logging sense—it really hit home. With every stroke of the saw or chop of the hatchet, you’re making progress. If you stop and take breaks, or you just quit altogether, you stop making progress. If you simply keep going, the job eventually gets done.
6. WORK FOR SOMETHING BIGGER. I kind of went outside and started the job for narcissistic reasons—because I just wanted to kill off a day—but after a while, it because a point of pride because I was doing a real favor for the people in the house. They had a problem, and I was solving it. After an hour or two, I wasn’t just working for myself anymore. I was helping someone else—like on a team, get it?
7. REAP THE REWARDS, AND UNDERSTAND, AT THE BEGINNING, WHAT WILL HAPPEN AT THE END. Honestly? It was worth it to spend several hours doing this, if only to hear the people in the house say, “Man, you’re out of your f*****g mind” when I came back inside. That actually made the whole thing worthwhile. If I knew how good that would feel before I started the job, I would have finished up even faster.
Everyone who knows me knows my connection to the New York area, especially Long Island. People there need help right now, and they need it badly. My particular connection is to a place called Long Beach, NY, and Long Beach needs help immediately. The city was absolutely decimated by Sandy, and thousands of people are now homeless, having lost their houses, cars and all their possessions. I’d encourage everyone reading this site to donate to the Red Cross, or to Google ways to get goods and services to all the shore areas in the New York and New Jersey areas. Of particular importance are warm clothing (for adults and kids), medical supplies, baby care items, batteries, flashlights, generators, shovels, extension cords, etc. It’s not hard to figure out what you’d need if you were homeless and cold.
Any donations for Long Beach can be sent to the ice arena there. You can Google the address, but I think it’s 150 West Bay Drive, Long Beach, NY 11561. If anyone seriously wants to donate anything, email Amy Wattles on Facebook and she’ll get in touch with me to try to set something up to make sure everything gets to the right place.
Also, go to a Facebook page called “Long Beach, NY Hurricane Information” for other information about how to help.