When a Tree Has to Go

Towering pines to the right

For years, I’ve gardened under the shade of a neighbor’s soaring pine trees, it’s branches extending far over my patio, the grill, and my orange tree. Their dark, dense canopy obstructing the light from the flower beds below.  Now, the shade, the pollen, the pine cones, the needles, and the acidic air, are all gone. The change is extraordinary. The view eastward is wide open; the early morning sky, and moonrise, are visible. 

Giant Pine trees overlooking my garden

Removing a tree is a dramatic event, a choreographed dance of saws, ropes, skill, and danger. An enormous tree in a small backyard cannot be felled at the base lumberjack style. The giant trees were dangerously leaning, one toward my house and one toward the neighbors. The neighbors inherited these poorly placed trees when they moved in. Massively large, too close to the property line, and in a small space. It made no sense for me to demand the branches be hacked back to the property line. 

Engue begins the climb

Fortunately, I was confident the job would be done safely as Enguelberth (Engue,) his brother-in-law, Levi, and Engue’s sons, of Natural Arbor Tree Service, have been caring for the trees in my garden for nearly 20 years. He has trimmed and shaped my Olive trees as best he could even as the pine trees encroached. What an opportunity to see such giant trees removed. I had the best view from my balcony, and I watched in awe as the two-day event unfolded.  

Engue strapped on his climbing spikes, attached his 14 in. (35cm) chain saw, hand saw, and ropes to his belt, put on his helmet, ear protection, and began to climb. Waiting and ready on the ground, the equipment included a wood chipper and the positioned truck bed to receive the wood from the branches, a skid loader to move the trunk sections out to the dump truck, and a stump grinder to remove all trace of what had gone before.  

Engue climbs up, removing the lowest limbs, they drop, and his sons, Engue Jr, and Gabriel drag them out to the chipper. Levi runs the chipper, devouring the branches one by one.

Branches drop one by one

As the branches get larger, a rope is thrown over the branch above, the branch to be removed is tied, and the ground crew holds the rope tight. He makes the cut, gravity working with the saw, and the ground crew slowly lowers the branch to the ground. Rope released, branch carried away, and the process begins again. 

Limb by limb, over and over, up and up Engue steadily works. The dense weight of the live branches requires great strength on the part of the ground crew. Some branches are 25 ft. (7.5m) in length. The workers never stop or take a break. It is intense, it is dangerous, it is physically demanding, requiring enduring strength to wield the saw, to stand with the climbing spikes surrounding the tree. Finally, the top branch is all that remains. It falls in one last dramatic plunge.

As I watched the action, I saw a hummingbird flying around and around the top of the tree.  A Queen Butterfly lit in the branches seemingly unaware of the tree’s impending doom.

The trunk remained.  Vertical cutting now shifts to horizontal slicing section by section. Seeking a slender waist without extended outcroppings, Engue cuts a chunk about 18 in. (.45m) high.  Once cut, but still sitting atop the trunk, Engue has to wiggle the chunk inch by inch edging it off to drop to the ground. A tree 60 ft,(18m) high will require many cuts to bring the trunk down low enough to fell the remainder at the bottom. As the tree trunk circumference got thicker, the 14″ (35cm) chain saw was switched out for a 24 in. (.45cm) one.

The strength required to wield the bigger saw comes at the end of three hours of non-stop work. Fatigue cannot compromise safety. The temperature on this February day is pleasant, but such work also is done when the heat is over 100 degrees F (38C)

Wrestling the logs

Levi drives the skid loader in, and the crew wrestles the huge chunks of pine trunk into the mouth of the machine. Then Levi navigates it carefully out through the side yard to load the pieces into the dump truck. 

Driving through the tiny space

Next the remaining 15-20 ft. (4.5m-6m) stand of the trunk is tied at the top (I am in awe of the art of knot tying skills), and Engue climbs down; an angled cut at the base makes a clear fall for the rest of the tree. The ground shakes, the windows rattle. The trunk is then sawed into smaller pieces, loaded, driven out to the street on the skid loader, and dropped into the dump truck. The debris will be driven to the dump and unloaded.

Guiding the fall
Stump Grinder, sawdust flies

Levi starts up the stump grinder, sawdust and chips fly in the air. Even in my garden, sawdust covers every surface, the nasturtium leaves’ flat surfaces hold a coating of fine shavings. When the stump is 6″ below ground level, the raking, sweeping, and blowing clean-up begins continuing out to the street. The equipment is loaded and driven away. This was the first of the two trees to be taken down. The crew will return the next day to do this all over again.

Loads of debris to be driven away

This was amazing work to see, skillful, dangerous, controlled, and essential. Engue has been working in the trees for over 30 years. The first tree he removed was in 1992 on a golf course at a country club. His experience is extremely valuable. He began his own company in 2006. I admire his ability so much. He is an entrepreneur, a businessman, a man with incredible strength, a father, and a skilled, knowledgeable arborist. He takes all the risks, and now my house is safer because of his work.  Now my olive trees are the star of the skyline.

My Olive trees in full glory

Natural Arbor Tree Service serving homeowners since 2006, Ph. 602.703.8705

Enguelberth  (Engue) Serrato 
Enguelberth Serrato Jr
Levi Flores
Gabriel Serrato

17 thoughts on “When a Tree Has to Go”

  1. I wish they would visit my neighbor. She has very poorly maintained pines causing havoc on our property. This was a good article. The sounds of the saw came through but next time I would love to hear your narration.

  2. Linda, what an awesome feat! Thanks for sharing
    Even though it’s time for the pines to go, watching trees cut down in the desert is bittersweet. Thank goodness your olive tree is as large as it is.

  3. I understand. We had one of our pines removed in Dec. It was turning brown.
    We are hoping to save our other one. Several of our Ficas have the fungus that is spread through the air. Killing them from the inside out.
    Sad to see our trees and plants not make it due to our heat last Summer.
    Stay safe and healthy.

  4. What an interesting documentary of taking down a large tree. You are so fortunate to have a great arborist in your area and to know him for many years.
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. I have to show this to Greg. There is an art to more things than one could ever imagine! (Our entire social life has been made up of some very kind repairmen, workmen, exterminators etc. I think most of them know our life history by now.) Sweet olive tree, I hope it doesn’t miss the shade! We are needing shade in our backyard so badly! Afternoon sun comes straight in till sunset.

  6. Wow! This was awesome in so many ways. Your backyard is so beautiful. It will be fun to see the changes now that the tree is gone. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks for sharing. We took down a 80 ft eucalyptus years ago. A new opportunity to plant more desert adapted trees.

  8. With spring starting, what perfect timing
    to plan a “new” corner of your garden!!

    We proactively took out a pine giant last year. It was sad to take down a healthy tree, but many on ranch have overgrown their surroundings.

  9. Dramatic changes – carried out with expertise , care and with your olive tree now enjoying the fresh air. Thank you for taking us with you on another adventure.
    Take care

  10. Not everyone will see in a lifetime an activity like this, literally. I was in my 50s when I first witnessed the felling of a tree—my pine tree. There was a tinge of sadness because, after all, the tree was a living thing. Thanks for sharing.

  11. They do a wonderful job on your olives too! I will keep his info in case! I hope they are well paid for this kind of work! They deserve it!

  12. WOW, it is awe-inspiring and nerve-wracking to watch them work. The video of the section falling and Engue perched on the swaying trunk, YIKES! Happy it was such a great result for all, including your olive tree. It’s bound to flourish now!

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