Falling trees, emergencies, and cat-astrophies ... more in our series following one man’s sometimes funny, sometimes fraught, and oft-times very harrowing journey through a 20-odd-year career in arboriculture.

I recently acquired a PTO driven circular saw which is to form a part of my new – and as yet highly unsuccessful – business processing the wood that I’ve accumulated over the years. It is, at first appearance, a truly terrifying machine, with a blade that has a cut of around nine inches which I run from an old Fordson Major and is as archaic as it is effective. We set it up in the yard and my son-in-law was keen to demonstrate its credentials.

“NO!” I said firmly, aware that he was a new father and the machine looked quite capable of creating a single parent family. The saw spun savagely and noisily, causing me to shout, “I’ll try it …”

And so I did.

The whole wood processing experience started for me when I bought an Alaskan Mill, which was in fact a Stihl 088 in a frame, balanced on a ladder.

In 2001 we had a job clearing some massive, veteran ash, which were dying and unusually had very straight stems, probably three feet in diameter. Despite being something of a know-it-all on timber (I actually studied it at college prior to being a tree man), I opted to ignore my own expertise and try and incorporate the unseasoned lumber into worktops in our newly extended kitchen.

It’s irrelevant to the story, other than the fact that I was totally absorbed in the project, working early morning on the kitchen before going out to a day’s tree surgery and not really concentrating too hard on the whereabouts of either Dillon or Daisy.

Daisy, who was about four I suppose, had vanished the week before, escaping to a neighbour’s house and found shortly afterwards playing in their sand pit. Dillon also liked free-spirited adventures around the village, so as well as everything else, I’d spent the weekend securing the perimeter.

There was a new garden area for dogs, a new fence and a five bar gate. The fence for the dogs (two Collies) was five feet tall because I knew Dillon had a propensity for wandering, but I felt pretty confident that I could now get on with stuff without having to recapture escaped family members.

And so it was that I was lost in thought, puzzling about whether green ash would warp as it shrank, or just politely reduce in size within the limits I’d allowed, hoping to season it in place so that we at least had a workable kitchen. I’m not sure of the exact point I was at on this journey, possibly the anguished hour of realisation that the worktops had assumed a distinctive cupping defect, when I was disturbed by the front doorbell ringing.

Hoping it wasn’t yet another villager with a tree-related enquiry, I opened the door to find a large and rather apologetic policeman on the front step.

“Sorry to bother you but do you own a Border Collie?” He asked, amidst a crackle of radio noises and static.

“Yeah, there are two in the front garden,” I replied, waving a spirit level around, trying and failing to demonstrate that it wasn’t an offensive weapon.

The police officer, who had taken a step back, followed me to the front garden where I waved casually at not two, but one Border collie.

Above the barking and commotion emanating from a distinctively lonesome dog, I panicked.

“Dillon?” I asked, realising at once that the lawman knew more about the Collie’s whereabouts than me and it also dawning on me that the young Collie hadn’t seen the high fence as much of a barrier to freedom as I’d assumed.

“I think you’d better come with me, there’s been an accident …”

I didn’t need telling twice, so I ushered Tetley into the house, locked the door and hopped into the panda car, hoping that the neighbours wouldn’t think I’d been arrested but simultaneously not caring too much.

We used to live about half a mile from the A4 main road, the old London to Bath highway and I had a horrible feeling of trepidation as the officer told me that that is where we was headed.

“Your dog might have been run over, I’m sorry …”

This was awful. I’m very fond of my dogs and the short journey was a nightmare that was fortunately quick, aided by blue lights that led to more of the same at the head of a long line of stationary vehicles.

It soon dawned on me that it was Dillon; he was lying quite still behind a Ford Mondeo, covered with a smart dark blue suit jacket.

As I knelt down, in a fine mist of rain, and uncovered the beloved family pet it was getting increasingly hard not to cry, but I managed to man-up as the jacketless driver of the Ford approached.

“I’m sorry, he appeared from nowhere, I couldn’t stop and I think he went under the back wheel,” blurted the driver, who was rapidly getting wet.

Oddly, Dillon seemed to be alive, wagging his tail unencumbered now by the top half of an expensive-looking suit.

The policeman asked if I was happy to move my friend. The road was backed up in both directions and there was no real alternative, there is no ambulance service for escaped Collies. 

“Wrap him in my jacket and put him on the back seat, I’ll take you both home – or to the vets?” 

I was starting to like this chap; kindness is everything when tragedy strikes and he seemed to have empathy in abundance.

Dillon was limp and unresisting which I took to be a bad sign as we loaded him gently onto the back seat. It was getting harder to control my emotions, but I thanked the police and left them to re-open the road.

Back at home, in the land of warping ash, we carried the apparently dying dog into the kitchen in a sort of makeshift sling hammock, fashioned from the Good Samaritan’s jacket. Winnie rang the vet and passed me the phone, then made the driver – whose name I regretfully don’t remember – a cup of tea and I arranged an immediate appointment.

Dillon was still pretty lifeless, but at least he wasn’t in distress, seemingly content to just stare non-committedly around the room and occasionally flick his tail.

The driver told me to keep the jacket and I was grateful, both of us fearful that it might be concealing some horrendous injury that neither party wanted to see, though nothing of the dog had been obviously damaged that we could ascertain to date.

After a nail-biting cross-country trip I carefully lofted Dillon onto the surgical inspection table, where he lay quietly, rolling his eyes around the new surroundings and looking peculiarly peaceful.

“Hmmm,” said the vet, listening intently into a stethoscope. “He doesn’t seem too distressed, ask him to stand up.”

“Are you sure?” I was slightly incredulous, surely he had broken bones, spinal damage and maybe internal injuries, but I did as asked.

“C’mon Dills, get up.”

My Collie friend sat bolt upright, alert and cheerful.

“XXXX!” I gasped. “He seems to be okay.”

I lifted Dillon to the ground and under instruction from the expert walked him around the room, a feat the dog managed with little more than a vague limp.

“Looks like he was enjoying the attention, I think he’s just bruised.” The vet felt the patient’s hips as he said this, causing Dillon to look slightly irritated, but not in much discomfort.

There was little else to do but return home, drop off the dog with a distraught but increasingly relieved family and get on with my day, which was uneventful, or at least I assume it was because I remember nothing about that day’s tree activities.

Towards early evening I was once again interrupted by the door- bell, which was possibly a relief in itself, giving me a distraction from the ever-moving and distinctly misshapen ash work surfaces.

“It’s the chap who helped with Dillon!” I shouted to my wife and children who all bustled around the fellow who was welcomed with offers of tea and a surplus of gratitude.

“How is your dog?” he asked, obviously anxious at what we might tell him next, or possibly just nervous of Tetley, who was doing some serious guard duty.

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“Come see, you might be surprised,” I said, happily.

In the sitting room, on the sofa covered with a blanket and a teddy under his chin lay the patient. He was being cared for by the two daughters who twenty years later became veterinary nurses.

The man, who was still jacketless and slightly more ruffled than a business type should be, was as astonished as he was pleased. For some reason he’d decided to blame himself for the accident, which in my view was totally unreasonable, Dillon being a jet black Collie who had decided to cross a major road without any recourse to the highway code.

After tea and gushing thanks from the family, the kindly driver looked slightly embarrassed.

“Err, I’m sorry to ask, but do you have my jacket?” he enquired, adding that he didn’t particularly mind either way, but he wouldn’t mind it back if it was available.

It was my turn now to be embarrassed.

I handed him the rain soaked, oil stained and tarmac smelling coat, which I noticed had a large chunk of matted dog hair in the lining – Dillon hadn’t escaped entirely unscathed.
But the fellow didn’t mind one bit, nor did he want paying, dry cleaning or anything else.

“I have a Labrador, I can’t imagine how I’d feel if something happened to him,” he explained, as he left the house. I noticed that the remains of his suit were tucked under his arm, not on his body and I doubted that Mrs Good Samaritan would be keen for him to arrive home looking like a tramp, or a casualty.

Of course, Dillon is no longer with us. He lasted another ten years with no ill effects, managed to get run over by a quad bike (uninjured), and eventually went the way of all pets, which is how it is.

After we moved several years later, I noticed a skip in the drive of the old house, full to the brim with my Hansel and Gretel kitchen, which never was level, but Winnie liked it, so I made another. This current one is as out of square as the elm table I made, which matches the beech bench, all twisted and out of true.

But now, things are different.

I’ve given up tree surgery, to be honest I’ve had enough, so I’ve handed that nightmare to my son and started processing all the wood as mentioned. The new saw, which is in fact about forty years old, is as good as it is dangerous-looking.

I’m not letting Billy (the new dad) near it, nor anyone else, not because I think it is as dangerous as it looks, but because it’s mine. It fits well with the Fordson and it matches my low-tech, low aspirations where I can continue reminiscing about the good old days through this column whilst re-living them at my own leisure, with the saw mill.

They do say that old woodcutters bleed sawdust, which isn’t strictly true. I seem to be full of the red stuff, but I suppose it’s metaphorical; messing with wood is in the blood.

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So, I’ve started chopping wood into planks, some of which I hope to sell, but there is an important development learned more through experience and disappointment than college learning.

In the yard I have a stack of silver maple, a pile of oak, loads of yew, walnut and plenty of softwood which I intend to saw up, but more importantly I’ve also got a small kiln, so that one day I can manufacture worktops for the wife that stay the same shape as the day I made them.

I also still have two Collies, but living even closer to the A4 than before I also have a triple gate, high fence and hedged garden, so there is no chance of a repeat of Dillon’s tale.