Nature is a Harsh Arborist

After years of dodging bullets, thinking we still had some time to prune the live oak in the front yard, Mother Nature came calling overnight to let us know that there’s a high price to be paid for procrastination.

This was an especially cruel cut, given that we went to bed last night feeling comfortable that the predicted winter storm had merely grazed us, bringing an inch of welcome rain instead of layers of snow and ice. And, indeed, when I awoke this morning and retrieved the paper from the drive, the drizzle was continuing and the streets and sidewalks were merely wet, not frozen.

The trees, however, were a different story. (Click the thumbnails for uncropped versions, 640×480 in size, more or less.)

Photo - Ice-damaged live oak treePhoto - Ice-damaged live oak tree

Photo - Ice-damaged live oak treePhoto - Ice-damaged live oak tree

At 7:30 a.m. I was out with my trusty bow saw clearing what I could away from the street. I put in a call to the city to alert them that the blind curve was blocked, and parked the Durango around the curve with the flashers going to warn drivers. Fortunately, not many people are out on Saturday mornings, especially in such nasty weather, and I was able to clear the street in about a half hour. If you’ve never dragged ice-laden limbs, you might be surprised at how heavy they are.

As I was cutting the branches, I heard a loud crack from down the street and looked around in time to see a big limb break and fall from one of the tall pine trees a few houses away.

I never heard from the city — big surprise, right? — but I did get a return call from my tree service and they were out by 9:30 to complete the clearing, and to take the weight off the ends of the other limbs that were at risk. Kudos to Midland Tree Service for their quick and professional response. They said that our situation was repeated all over Midland and they had a long weekend ahead of them. In fact, it will be next week before they can return and finish the job, but we’re good for now.

We in west Texas don’t take our trees for granted; there aren’t enough of them for that luxury. I remember working with my dad to plant these live oak saplings in our front yard almost 25 years ago. The thought of losing one — which is still a possibility — borders on heart-breaking. On the other hand, it could have been so much worse, and life goes on.

And, as I walked back under the tree after the service folks left, I realized that the branches that broke were not the ones I would have pruned anyway. Mother Nature’s got an odd sense of humor, sometimes.


  1. It looks like some of those branches overhang the house – thank goodness those didn’t fall!
    And how very cool that you still have the trees you planted with your father.

  2. Brian, one of my primary concerns was that one of the branches was actually resting on the roof of my neighbor’s house. The tree service folks took care of that first thing. The branches over our roof don’t seem to be posing any threat…at this point, anyway.

  3. Glad the tree wasn’t too serious – I.E. didn’t fall on your house on anything like that. You’ve had a busy morning!

  4. …didn’t fall on your house or anything like that.
    Rachel, I think that’s a normal reaction, but when I think about it, we could get a roof repaired in a few days (and insurance will pay for it!) but it took 25 years to grow that tree to its present size. From that perspective, the choice isn’t as clear.
    Well, not that there was any choice involved. 😉

  5. Arghhh! Oh, that’s sad! That is a huge live oak for being “only” 25 years old. The thought that you and your father planted it makes it all the more sad. I do know first hand how incredibly heavy ice laden trees (especially those with leaves) can be…and how dangerous. And if it’s any consolation, normal pruning probably would not have prevented this outcome. Glad you are all okay.

  6. Thanks, Gwynne. You’re right about the pruning. This tree had the odd propensity of growing many of its branches horizontally, making them more susceptible to this sort of damage. There was a point — probably fifteen years ago — when we might have been able to “train” it otherwise, but I didn’t anticipate how it would develop.

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