Mark Lovewell

The first question people ask after a hurricane is, “If a tree falls in your backyard and it doesn’t make a sound who is responsible for cutting it up?” Ever since Hurricane Bob hit Martha’s Vineyard this question has been debated from one end of the Island to the other.

I was in Shirley’s Hardware Store trying to return batteries that I was hoarding during the storm, when I saw Thompson confront Bigalow. “When are you going to get your bloody oak tree out of my backyard?” he demanded.

Bigalow responded, “It is no longer my oak tree. It’s your oak tree. As soon as it fell over I stopped worrying about it. Besides it was leaning on your property for a long time so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when it fell over.”

Thompson was yelling in the store. “Don’t try to get out of it. The law specifically states that the person who owns a tree is responsible for the violence committed by the tree branches and even its sap. If that tree had hurt anyone when it fell in my yard you would have gotten 20 years in maximum security.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. If the tree fell on your house I would have been able to collect insurance for it and so would you. The fact that it hit nothing is why we are arguing. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll split the cost of the chop with you. I’ll pay for half of it and you pay for the other half, and we’ll divvy up any money we get for firewood.”

Thompson was pruning. “Why should I pay to get rid of your tree?”

“Because if you don’t it will stay there on the ground and really start to smell.”

Thompson said, “Do you remember when your cherry tree fell on my rose garden five years ago?”

“Do I?” said Bigalow. “My wife cried for a week.”

“Well I cut it up and cleared it away at my own expense and you didn’t even say thank you.”

“You did it because you had to. Your dogs were always doing things against the tree and they loosened the roots.”

“Do you really believe that?”

“Cherry trees don’t take a dive for nothing. You’re not going to use my cherry tree as an excuse for not cutting up my oak.” Bigalow said, “I don’t know if you’re a religious man or not Thompson, but when that oak tree keeled over it was an Act of God.”

Thompson asked, “How do you know it was an Act of God?”

Bigalow replied, “Because Prudential says it was. They say only God can knock over a tree, and they don’t pay for what He does when He’s mad. Thompson, there is nothing I can do for you. But I know one thing, while you’re standing there the trunk is filling up with worms and termites, and someday you’ll have nobody but yourself to blame.”

Thompson yelled, “I’m taking you to court, Bigalow.”

“It won’t do you any good. The judge has enough tree cases now to last him until the year 2000. The best thing to do is buy yourself a good chainsaw from Shirley’s. But whatever you do don’t use it while I am taking a nap. I hate the sound of chainsaws in the afternoon.”

If we hadn’t all been there to stop Thompson he would have strangled Bigalow.

Bigalow said to us, “That oak gave Thompson a lot of shade when it was standing up. He used to tell me what a fabulous tree it was. Now that it is lying down in his yard he hates it. People are sure fickle when a tree is down and out.”

Art Buchwald writes a nationally syndicated column for the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. His column is published in the Vineyard Gazette by permission.