This is a longer post than usual because I have a true tale to tell.
Before I get to the specifics, let’s go back to the beginning of time when Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit. Part of the punishment that God pronounced was: “Cursed is the ground because of you; It will produce thorns and thistles for you.”
As soon as God spoke, don’t ya know that those vile, little cedar trees sprang up with a boing, boing, boing all over the hard-packed caliche land that would become central Texas.
Then birds ate the cedar fruits and deposited the seeds while resting atop one of the few hardy oaks in this dry, dusty land. Those seeds, made fertile by their digestive system, fell to the ground and took root. The resulting cedar trees formed a dense circular barrier around the trunks of the native oaks. Eventually, the cedars spread all across the barren crusty land of Central and West Texas.
Now, here’s where I come in. As city folks looking for a peaceful retreat, we discovered the remote place that would become our ranch. It was raw, untouched land. We had a house built and made the major move from the congested city to property that is 5 miles off pavement.
Enter the US government grant program. I heard that the government was just giving money away for clearing cedars. I don’t play the lottery, so why take this chance? No sane, rational answer.
Even the government knows that these cedars (Ash Juniper) deplete the land because each tree sucks up 16 – 30 gallons of precious ground water per day. If a person cuts the trees flush at ground level with no green left, they will not re-sprout. And viola, the US Natural Resources Conservation Service will grant a contract to compensate for cutting or pushing cedars.
My husband continues to work for the same company he did before we moved, but here he works remotely by computer. So when I suggested that we get this grant to cut cedars, and that I would gladly do the work, he thought it was no skin off his nose and agreed.
It sounded like a good plan. So I got the forms, made the application, and received the grant. A contract was signed. A warning light should have flashed in my brain, but I just saw adventure.
We had already bought a skid loader and a Tree Terminator. The terminator slices the trees off at the ground with giant scissors. That is, if the trunk is 12” or less in diameter. If it’s a wider diameter, then a process of slowly gnawing away at the trunk begins and continues for an hour or more.
After cutting the tree off at ground level, the terminator has to be tilted to use like tweezers to pick up the tree and carry it to a pile.
Before we moved to the ranch, I taught in an elementary school in a low income, gang controlled area between Dallas/Ft. Worth. It was stressful and not very fulfilling. So here I was out in the fresh open air operating what to me was a big piece of equipment. At first, I worked on week-ends before we moved here, so it started out in small doses. It was exhilarating and freeing.
Then I retired, and we moved to the ranch. The “contract” stated that the cedar cutting of 177 acres must be completed in two years. Most of those acres were thickly covered with cedars. Of course, we needed time to get moved in and settled, so I didn’t start right away. And the vast expanse of 177 acres still hadn’t sunk into my smug little brain.
When I finally got serious and started to work full days cutting cedars, the enjoyment turned to dread. Hours spent up under an oak trying to reach the trunk of a cedar, whose branches reach out toward the sunlight, hacked away my enjoyment of the great outdoors.
The native oaks are super sensitive to oak wilt which is the most destructive disease affecting live oaks and red oaks in Central Texas. Oak wilt is caused by the fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum. This complicates the whole cedar cutting process because any oak branches knocked off by the skid load leaves an open wound on the tree. These must be painted ASAP or sooner to prevent an entrance for the beetle that causes the fungus.
Then the mishaps started. First, the design of our skid loader proved problematic. The ignition key was just inside the top opening of the cage right at the edge of the door. The cage is the metal grid box we had built to protect the operator.
The problem became evident when I worked up under large cedars with long branches. Many of the cedars were 14-15 ft. tall. The branches would come into the opening above the cage door and snap off the key. Then the engine would die, and the terminator would be left in that position. The only way out of the cage was through the door, which could only be opened if the terminator was flat on the ground.
A solution had to be worked out after I had to crawl out the small opening at the back of the skid loader and twisted my foot and ankle falling 6 ft. to the ground. That resulted in a hospital visit and x-rays. So I began to carry extra keys and a pair of pliers to extract the part of the key left in the ignition slot.
Also, I carried a phone, but reception was unreliable. Plus, my husband was on the phone with his job a good part of the day, so my calls weren’t answered even if my phone worked. Then we decided that walkie talkies would fit the bill.
One time I called for help when I got the skid loader arms extended so far out in front that the whole vehicle tilted forward. The back tires were totally up in the air and the cage door was about 2′ from the ground. After trying for a few minutes to get it upright, I panicked. Gravity had forced me forward facing the ground with my knees pressed up against the door grid. This position became uncomfortable as I waited for my husband to find me.
My husband’s first words when he saw my predicament? “What did you do?” Very sympathic. Plus, I’m sure I heard muffled laughter.
Then there were the broken cables, hydraulic hoses, and metal arms. Each of these meant time lost waiting for replacement parts and sometimes hauling the skid loader on a trailer to a shop for repair.
The “contract” also stated that if the work wasn’t completed on time, 20 percent of the total contract amount must be paid to the government. Forget any payment. The 20 percent must be paid on what I would have received. The “contract” specifically points out that this is not a penalty but compensation for administrative costs and technical services.
When the deadline came, I figured that my compensation would equal to about five cents per hour.
Final verdict: Thankfully, I was given a two year extension. So I spent more time out cutting cedars and had to call in the big guns: someone with a grader to uproot cedars for me. That’s a much faster method.
Bottom line: I did receive my check but didn’t have the heart to do any calculations about actual earnings per hour.
My question to Adam and Eve: A piece of fruit. Really, guys. What were you thinking?
“Work harder on yourself than you do on your job.” Jim Rohn