Monkey Business

In past posts I’ve mentioned that the mature Arizona Ash tree in my front garden was permanently damaged by last February’s severe winter storm. After a June consultation with arborist Nevic Donnelly of They Might Be Monkeys (probably the best name ever for a tree company), we opted to have the tree taken down. This is dawn on the Ash’s last day.

Even though we made the decision in summer, I delayed the tree’s removal until fall migratory and blooming season were done–or mostly so–before scheduling a crew to take down this tree. They arrived before 9am on the appointed day of destruction, a week before Thanksgiving. There were three on the team, all ISA Certified Arborists: Zach, Judith, and Candace. They’d actually come by the week before with two other team members, Layla and Eddie (both ISA Certified Tree Workers) and removed much of the remaining foliage which was clustered along the lower limbs and trunk, as well as a couple of the larger limbs. What was left for the final take down day was bulk of the tree: the canopy, which was nothing but dead limbs and branches, and the other main limbs, and trunk.

Only Zach worked up in the tree itself. I noticed that the crown of the tree, where all the dead twigs, branches, and limbs were located, took the longest time to assess and prune.

Candace and Judith manipulated ropes and, as bits and bobs of tree were sawed and pruned, guided those tree parts down safely.

As the crown of the tree was systematically removed, limb detritus ended up terra firma. The crew dragged branches and limbs, large and small, to the long driveway, which served as a staging area. All of the wood eventually ended up in their chipper.

I didn’t observe the entire process, only popping outside from time-to-time to watch and photograph, but it seemed that most of the four hour period was spent pruning the upper canopy. That work was slow. But with each of my viewings there was significantly less woody mass in the tree and more woody brambles clogging the driveway.

Just so it’s clear, I’m not right next to Zach while he works–my camera has a good zoom. Trust me, I would neither want to, nor was allowed to, get close to the work zone.

I was amazed and please at the limited damage to the surrounding garden. Considering that there were large limbs with lots of attached smaller branches and twigs lowered to the ground and then moved to the driveway through the garden, the perennials growing didn’t suffer breaks. My garden certainly didn’t make their work any easier.

Once the upper canopy branches were off, the larger structural limbs and eventually the trunk followed for removal. Zach assessed where to drop the limb/trunk piece and made cuts accordingly.

I think with most of these thicker cuts, he sawed directly, though not completely, through from one side, then swiveled to the opposite side and delivered a wedged cut to meet the straight cut. That allowed the section to be perched on a angle and lowered, ropes attached, carefully to the ground.

Zach used his ropes to move around the tree as each section was pruned, working different sides to get the right cuts. He would make the cut, attach the saw to a carabiner on his belt and assess the work. He’d then remove the saw from his carabiner and make his next cut. And repeat. And repeat. The work was precise, the process patient and deliberative.

Once closer to the ground, the mid-level main limbs and eventually, the trunk, were sawed through, then shoved off with a flourish. Judith and Candace handled the wood pieces as they were lowered and in preparation for the chipper.

All those big chunks fell to the sitting area (where no one was sitting!), landing with a robust thunk.

As I noted, the branches ended up on the driveway. I took a closer look at some and could easily identify the damage from the freeze. The outer bark split during the freeze, destroying the protective layer of the tree. The tree is an older tree, so no doubt there was other damage from other storms, too.

The poor tree had no functional life support in these canopy branches after the week-long deep freeze.

The grinding of the limbs and trunk was dusty, but didn’t take too long.

I dragged off a few branches to pop into my gardens. I leave dead limbs and branches for insect nurseries and natural wood is a nice way to segment a garden. In one part of my garden, I’ve developed a stumpery of sorts.

And the tree is no more.

I’m still adjusting to the open area and full sky. The front garden is brighter and certainly in the summer, will be much hotter. The garden feels exposed and bare.

This tree was never a great tree; it was a poor choice because Arizona Ash is a weak-wooded, disease-prone, non-native tree. It was planted when the neighborhood was built in the early-to-mid 70s and was the developer’s choice because Arizona Ash grow quickly. As well, it was always shaded by the huge Arizona Ash next door (where my SIL now lives). After the devastating winter storm, neither tree will ever be more than shrubs. In many ways, I’m not sorry to see the ash go: I can now grow some plants that I haven’t grown before because of the light and there’s already a replacement tree, a small oak with a nice shape and beautiful fall color which was planted by a squirrel or blue jay. I found the oak a couple of years ago and it’s grown well. With no competition from the ash, that oak will take off.

That being said, the end of a tree is a sad thing. When my children were babies and toddlers, we sat under the tree to read, play, and picnic as the oaks in our back garden didn’t provide enough afternoon shade in those years. The ash was the nursery for countless squirrels, as well as some Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, and Mockingbirds. Titmice, Carolina Wrens and Chickadees were always working the branches for the insects they enjoy, chittering their approval of the snacks provided. In the growing season, breezes ruffled leaves, a soft serenade; in winter, the the twigs performed a gentle percussion.

I’ll miss the shade in summer.

The tree is down though and it was a good decision to remove it. I’m glad I hired a responsible, well-regarded company to do this work and I’m already re-creating this garden space. The garden is on to its next adventure–a life in full sun!

26 thoughts on “Monkey Business

  1. I know you’re excited about the sunny space created by removing the tree, even as you’re sorry to see an old friend go. We had a venerable Bradford pear removed three years ago after a large limb crashed down and we were worried other limbs would soon follow suit and do damage to property or people. It took more than a year before I could catch sight of our yard when we drove home and not feel that something didn’t look right. Your new garden should help get you through that feeling of strangeness faster than if you did nothing.


    • I think you’re right that it takes quite a while to become accustom to the ‘new’ look. My SIL lives next door (bought that house 2 years ago) and her big ash was, for many years, a really beautiful tree: well shaped, huge. Over those years, the tree declined, plus the former owner–bless her heart–had the tree pruned every year, so the tree’s age plus over-pruning rendered it less gorgeous over the years. I still am a little surprised when I come down the street, heading toward our homes and see the tree being a shadow of its former self.

      The ‘new’ garden is mostly in. I’ve been a crazed gardener for the past two weeks. (Less than 2 weeks, actually) I’m awaiting the germination of some wildflower seeds, will need to repair some soaker hoses, and eventually will mulch–but mostly, I think I’m going to be happy with the new plantings. It’ll just take a couple of years (or longer) to fill in.


  2. Looks like a good crew and great company name, I agree. Nothing like a capable professional! It is sad to see an old tree die, but such an ill wind brings some good. Have fun planning your new sunny garden!


    • The crew was great–I’m very happy with my choice of arborists. They were all business, friendly but very professional. So many “tree” companies are just hacks and I wanted a company that treats its workers well and expects and promotes education and professional advancement. I wasn’t home the first day they came, but was was impressed with what I observed on the main day.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It really is a process. I wish I’d taken photos when the same company worked on my SIL’s tree. That tree is (was!) easily at least twice the size of mine and the crew really were monkeys–impressive and slightly terrifying to watch!


  3. Yes, it is a sad day when a tree needs to come down. I had to cut down my 20 year old Weeping Bottle Brush. It was also a refuge for animals and food for pollinators. And sadly many people lost their lives during the freeze. I hope it will not happen again.


    • Oh, man–you and me both! Of course our garbage “leadership” has done nothing to improve the grid. We were very fortunate to not lose power, but gosh–upwards of 700 people died. There’s no excuse for that. Time for change, but we live in a non-voting state.

      I’ll bet that bottle tree was something to behold. Very sad to lose these trees.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That sense of disorientation caused by empty space came to me an odd way years ago. After a year living in Salt Lake City, surrounded by the ‘bowl’ of the Wasatch mountains, my first trip out of state was to Texas. As the mountains fell away and the horizon expanded in every direction, I almost became anxious: or at least felt unmoored. That passed, but it, too, took some time.


  5. Where I live in Florida, developers and homeowners love to plant Bradford Pears which are fast growers but get too big and turn into ugly, messy trees, many splitting down the middle during our many storms/hurricanes and costing a fortune to finally remove. It’s one of the few trees I’m always glad to see go.


    • Yes, we have our fair share of Bradford Pears and they’re junk here, too. I think developers are a little better now in planting for the long term, but I’m sure they choose bad trees, unfortunately.


  6. We had a large pine taken down recently by a good company although there was a little problem with one aspect but that eventually was taken care of. The person in the tree in our job was a woman, I called her Paula Bunyan, and she did a great job tying then cutting the pieces. They used a crane so she tied each piece off before the crane lifted and then dropped it. We now have two large piles of pine branch cnips and a large open space for a future pollinator garden…just below the former home of that bald faced hornet nest. 🙂
    Good luck and have fun creating a new garden in your open space.


    • Love that: Paula Bunyan! I hope you have fun creating your pollinator space! I’m mostly done with the planting. I noticed today that seeds I sprinkled out about 10 days ago are germinating, so I should have some nice wildflowers as filler for this first year or so.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. As you said – that is a GREAT name for an arborist! Love it! They seemed like highly competent in their execution – you hired well. I can totally understand how the whole space feels open and weird to you – losing a tree is sad. Alas, once shock subsides, there is always opportunity, and I’m glad to hear you’re already well on your way revamping the space.


  8. Pingback: Flowers Before the Freeze | My Gardener Says…

  9. Hello, I’m might be hiring They might be Monkeys to trim our Ash tree with freeze damaged branches. I received their quote and its steep. I love the idea of a certified arborist and Nevin seemed very knowledgeable. Are they worth it?


    • They are absolutely worth it! I know it’s expensive, but tree work–of any sort–is dangerous and the Monkeys are well-trained, wear safety equipment, and are insured. I was very impressed with them. I had an arborist for years and he was a one-of-a-kind arborist, well-known, and respected. When he retired, I despaired, because I thought I wouldn’t find someone as good as he was. He was a lone worker and that’s almost unheard of now, but this crew earned my respect and confidence. I really like a business that treats its employees well, in all regards, and They Might be Monkeys certainly seems to do that. I cringe when I see the poor guys, hired as warm bodies, doing tree work without helmets and any kind of safety harnesses.

      I will be having the Monkeys back to prune damage on one of my oak trees in my back garden. They wanted to wait a year, to give the tree time to recover foliage and so they wouldn’t damage the foliage the tree had put out last spring/summer.

      If you decide not to hire them, just be careful who you do hire. There are lots of tree-quacks out there. Quick story: recently, one of the quack “tree” companies left flyers all over the neighborhood. One of my immediate neighbors hired them to prune the dead wood at the top of their Arizona ash tree. In the course of the afternoon, the workers cut a branch, which fell and took out another neighbor’s electricity for about 24 hours. The incident also damaged that neighbor’s AC unit. One can hope that the tree company has insurance to pay for the damage, but if they don’t? It’ll come out of my neighbor’s homeowner’s insurance or the aggrieved party’s insurance. I can guarantee that They Might be Monkeys wouldn’t make such a dangerous mistake and if they did make a mistake, they’d own it.

      Good luck with your project, Lynne; these things are never much fun.


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