Never trust a falling tree

John McNaughton with wife Christine and daughter RA. photo by Peter Baumgarten

TEHKUMMAH—Trees are tricky. You can never take anything about felling one for granted. At any moment they can turn on you, even when you have done everything right—ask Tehkummah farmer John McNaughton.

Mr. McNaughton spent over six months recovering from a broken leg after finding himself pinned beneath the trunk of a tree he was felling.

“It wasn’t even that big a tree,” he said ruefully. “It was a poplar.”

Mr. McNaughton has felled literally thousands of trees over the course of a lifetime spent on the farm. “This one got me,” he said.

The farmer is a stickler for doing things right. He had scouted the site of the tree, walked around the trunk and the drop zone and ensured that he knew his escape routes should something go wrong. Nothing was left to chance, he thought. But it was winter, and lying beneath the surface of the snow something lurked to trip him up.

“In a way the snow helped to limit the damage,” he agreed, helping to cushion the crushing blow that left him with a broken tibia and fibula. “But it was probably the snow that stopped me from getting out of the way.”

As the tree began to fall, the tree swung 90 degrees from the planned direction of fall. Mr. McNaughton’s carefully planned egress came to nought as he found himself pinned beneath the tree, and like many experienced small farmers, he was working alone at the time. Luckily, despite the pain and blow from the tree, Mr. McNaughton remained conscious.

“I had my cell on me and I was able to call for help,” he said.

He was to spend the next six months recovering from the accident before he could really return to work, and it was a year before things really began to approach the before accident state of normal. “The leg’s doing good now,” he said. “But it is still kind of sore.”

Mr. McNaughton said he was immensely grateful to his wife Christine, who carried a large load while he was in recovery, keeping the farm on an even keel, as well as a host of friends and neighbours who in typical Island fashion stepped up to help. “I am very fortunate with friends and family helping out,” he said.

As to advice he could offer from his experience, Mr. McNaughton paused before going on. “Never get complacent with safety procedures,” he said. Having dealt with felling trees all his life, Mr. McNaughton felt confident he knew how the day would play out. But trees are tricky.

And a serious accident brings your preparedness in case of a workplace accident on a farm into sharp focus.

“I had some insurance,” he recalled. “I thought I had enough.” But most people’s calculations of their needs tends to fall far short of reality and insurance doesn’t cover everything. “It really doesn’t,” he agreed. “I had some EI (Employment Insurance) too, but that only goes for 15 weeks.” Getting back on your feet from an accident involves more than just the physical mending—there is other rebuilding that has to take place as well.

As for the fate of the tricky poplar tree? “It wasn’t a real big one, but it has all been chopped up into firewood now,” said Mr. McNaughton.