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They were back again this morning. We could hear the not-too-distant buzzing from the bedroom.

A second round of tree cutting had begun by an outfit hired by the regional power company to clear its right of way. Here in the countryside, power can be iffy just about anytime it storms, but especially during the winter, when a downed line from a felled tree can put an area the size of Liechtenstein in the dark–and in a deep freeze–for days. The costs can be substantial, not only to the power provider, but to the homeowners when pipes freeze in winter or refrigerators thaw in summer.

The new policy is to clear cut from 10-50 feet of any and all lines carrying power, whether it be along roadways or across fields or forested land. They used to merely trim threatening branches, which, I must admit, failed to eliminate a regular source of outages, It also left a landscape littered with Edward Sissorhands-like amputated trees, which then continued growth to a particularly ugly maturity. Now, it’s mow them down to the stump, with the age or rarity of the tree be damned.

And I get the point, especially when it’s not literally in our backyard. But we (mostly my wife) already had to plead for whatever trees we could save (a couple) the first time the chainsaws swept through. This time it was my turn, so I dressed, laced on my sneakers and headed down our long and (still) tree-lined driveway to the road. So far, so good. Turning left, I could see the orange helmets, about 100 yards down toward the main road. I marched on.

I arrived at the same time as the crew chief, a mild mannered guy with a sheet of paper in his hand, the day’s work. On the sheet, I guess, were listed two stands of young oak trees on a hill. They would have to go, he said. I could have, but did not, go ballistic; it’s never a good idea to flip out and risk triggering a real life Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Instead, I took a deep breath. “Really? They don’t look that close to the line to me.” So we walked up the hill and stood underneath the power line, eyeing the two stands of trees to either side. They were definitely within 50 feet. A brief negotiating session ensued, during which I estimated it would take those adolescent oaks about 30 years to even approach a threat to the line. He reiterated the power company’s right-of-way.

In the end, I was able to save one of the two stands and a prolific apple tree further up the hill. But when I say saved, that is really only for now. The crew chief said the power company itself could always come by and decide that the trees had to go after all.

We have been lucky to be at home the first two times, but who knows about the next time. I don’t want power outages, and I realize there must be a price to be paid to prevent them. But maybe there’s a better way than the arbitrary manner in which it’s now done. It leaves me feeling sort of like a Colonial era subject of the Crown, getting a knock on the door informing him that he was going to be hosting a platoon of soldiers, like it or not. 

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