My uncle passed a milestone this week. He’s no longer allowed to trim his trees. He cannot trim or attempt to trim any branches off his outdoor trees if their point of attachment to the tree trunk is more than 7 feet off the ground. Which is, coincidentally, as high as he can reach with his lopping shears or chainsaw.
Uncle is running up on 90 this year; sharp as a tack, great physical shape—doesn’t look a day over 75; terrific sense of humor, loves to cook. He also takes care of his yard. That’s where the trouble began. It was the beginning of November in Utah and since he’d recently had a very mild heart attack and was not supposed to be on the golf course he was bored. The weather was balmy and he decided to do a little work around the house.
After he’d raked the pea-size gravel in his front yard and the decapitated parts of his cactus—the prickly pear kind only without the prickles—he moved on to the tree. He decided it looked like it needed a little trimming. I’ve seen this tree. A more anemic looking member of the plant kingdom would be hard to find. This is a tree that needed every branch it had and could have used more. So, of course Uncle fixated on cutting one off. That’s just how we are in my family. Get something stuck in our heads and the obsessive compulsive gene kicks in.
The way Uncle tells it, he tried the lopping shears first. The lopping jaws opened wide enough to accommodate said branch, but Uncle had no torque, and therefore could not affect a cut. He tried a handsaw next, too much pushing and pulling. He got out the chainsaw, and when that failed he had a stroke of genius. He went to get his shotgun.
I don’t know how many of you have tried this at home, but my uncle assures me it is not uncommon to hack off a stubborn tree branch by blasting it with buckshot. At least it was not uncommon in Muskogee, Oklahoma 70 years ago when he was a teenager. Apparently everybody did it. It was fashionable, and popular. In fact, hordes of people broke out the 12 gauge on Saturday nights and went after the trees in their front and back yards. Not so much so in Hurricane, Utah in 2009, within the city limits.
Evidently the sound of a shotgun blast or two carries a great distance in the desert air. According to my aunt, police cars circled the neighborhood like bears after honey. Auntie was so mad she called the police station herself and gave them the address to the house. By the way, that’s a secret.
The police found my uncle and his shotgun in the yard. He was arrested. Auntie thought about leaving him in jail, but he used his VISA card to make bail and came home. At Uncle’s court date the judge refused to return his shotgun, and threatened to take any other lethal weapons that might be used for tree pruning. It could have been worse; the judge had talked about a restraining order to keep Uncle 5 feet away from any of his own trees which made the 7 feet limitation look like leniency. But Auntie came up with the best idea; she took away his VISA card. Next time he’s staying in jail.
Cohea, a freelance writer, lives in Beaufort and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.