For Gil

by Erin Fore


Spring is siren season in Oklahoma. I’ve lived here for more than two decades but have never witnessed a tornado firsthand. I’d never seen any damage firsthand either, until I worked at the farmhouse to help clean up the horrific mess inflicted by the May 10 twister.

The house was spared; but nearly all of the older trees were maimed beyond rehabilitation. The large ones in front of the house were uprooted and lay on top of one another like dominoes–hackberries upon maples upon cedars. The winds twisted and ripped entire treetops right off their trunks.

My landlord Gil planted many of these trees 30 years ago when he bought the house and had watched them grow to maturity. The gale devoured some of Gil’s closest friends and left him without the protective, shady canopy he’d been cultivating for so long. It will take weeks to clear the fallen trees.

My work entails gathering the smaller and medium-sized branches into piles so that Gil doesn’t ruin his lawnmower by running over them; I am also responsible for salvaging the flowerbeds I’d been tending all spring. Shingle bits are everywhere, still, and must be extracted from the lawn for the soil’s sake. The only way to do this is by crawling around on your hands and knees and combing the grass with your fingers.

When the time came to partition Gil’s favorite shade tree, Treetrimmer Dave and his sidekick James did the dirty work. Treetrimmer Dave is a rugged, handsome man probably in his mid-30s with a gray buzz cut. James is about 60 and has a Louisiana accent so thick, he’s almost unintelligible. James can’t hear very well and needed Treetrimmer Dave to repeat himself constantly.

Once the duo showed up, I stationed myself in front of the house to watch.

With a toothpick dangling from his lips, Treetrimmer Dave sliced each branch away from the hackberry’s thick trunk. Then he sectioned the rest into souvenir stumps.

“Are ya tired, James?” Treetrimmer Dave asked several times throughout the job.

James stopped working. “Do what?”

Treetrimmer Dave stopped, too. “James! Are you feeling fatigued yet? Do you need a break?”

“Who said what?”

Meanwhile, Gil circled the land and lugged pieces of broken limbs away with the tractor, stopping every once in a while to check progress. He appeared heartbroken on his perch, puffing his pipe and gazing vacantly through his spectacles, clearly in pain. When he’d seen enough, Gil would haul another load to the brush pile, then drive back around to the site when curiosity got the best of him.

Looking at the lacerated limbs strewn across the lawn, my spine tingled and my arms and legs ached. Nevertheless, I couldn’t take my eyes off the ghastly sight, and stared at the damage as I would an open casket.

The trimming team finished their work on the ground, feeding whatever they could to the woodchip machine, which spit the pulp into a massive heap beside it. The two men worked like dogs while I untangled stray twigs from the gardens and separated the debris from the mulch. And though I fluffed the nandinas and irises best I could, the plants retained their gloomy dispositions.