Trees have dominated my thoughts the past couple of weeks.

Normally, that wouldn’t be a bad thing; I’m very pro tree.

Unless they threaten property.

It all started Wednesday night, June 17, when the barrage of severe thunderstorms that included three tornadoes rocked parts of Roseau County in northwest Minnesota. A tornado destroyed a good friend’s pole shed about a mile from my family’s property. We lost several trees, including two large spruce trees, and about half a million willow branches, but no buildings were damaged.

While cleaning up the fallen trees and branches a couple of days later – friends from Grand Forks came to help – we noticed a massive spruce tree that towered above the trailer house in the yard appeared to be leaning a bit more than it had been before the storm.

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The lean didn’t seem too bad at first glance, but when I walked to the south side of the trailer, I saw the tree had a significant northeasterly lean, most likely driven by the southwest gale that had been clocked at 90 mph during the storm.

Why the tree didn’t topple during the storm and demolish the trailer house is nothing short of a miracle. Still, it had to be cut down – and soon.

This was far beyond my level of expertise.

I contacted a local tree service I’d worked with in the past and was told it would be four to six weeks before he could get there. As stormy as this summer has been, I didn’t think I could wait that long.

Fortunately, the son-in-law of my friend who lost his pole shed is a logger with a wealth of experience at cutting down big trees.

Yes, he said, he could take the spruce tree down.

He also recommended cutting down the tangled mass of huge, ancient willows in the backyard. While filled with character, the willows shed their branches in copious quantities every time the wind blows, and I’ve hated them as long as I can remember. One of the willows also threatened a pole shed.

Yes, I said, take them down; take them all down.

Last Thursday afternoon, June 25, I got a text message with a photo showing the first of many willows cut and on the ground.

“The fun has begun,” his message read.

The fun continued throughout that afternoon and part of the next day. The logger took down about a dozen huge willows, many of them hollow and rotting at the base of their trunks.

They definitely needed to go.

The logger’s father-in-law – the neighbor who’d lost his pole shed barely a week earlier – came with a tractor the second day to help steer the trickiest of the willow trees where they needed to fall and tackle the Leaning Tower of Spruce.

By early afternoon, the spruce was the only tree left to cut.

About 1:15 p.m. last Friday, I got a message from my neighbor saying he was going to climb the spruce to attach a long length of cable, which would extend to his tractor, in turn steering the tree away from the trailer and safely onto the ground while his son-in-law manned the chainsaw.

He also sent a photo showing the spruce was leaning even more than it had the previous week.

I tried not to think about the YouTube videos I’d watched of tree-felling operations gone awry as I waited for the outcome.

A photo and text message arrived about 15 minutes later confirming the tree was safely on the ground.

Despite the extensive lean, which I’d estimate at about 10 degrees in the wrong direction, the logger and his father-in-law had steered the tree exactly where it needed to go; it couldn’t have gone any better.

The Leaning Tower of Spruce was no more.

All of the trees now have been cut into log-size chunks to be split and stacked throughout the summer (and likely beyond). Branches are being tossed into a debris pile that we’ll burn sometime next winter.

Cleanup will be an ongoing process, but the trees are down, and the nerve-wracking part is over.


Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to

Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken