By Nash Dunn
O-N-E Staff Writer
Rain droplets fell lightly on the top of my head, but came down just heavy enough to look for cover.
My left and right foot splash, splash, splashed as I glided over to the front porch shelter of Sebastian’s Design and Boutique in Conover.
My first priority was making sure my camera was dry and working, but it wasn’t too wet.
Across Sebastian’s parking lot, men were at work in hard hats and dirty T-shirts. They wielded black and white chain saws and did not waste much time as they scurried about the area in a hurry.
The object of their toil — a 200-year-old tree.
Their mission — cut it down.
Hoisted up in the air 80-feet high by a bucket truck, Randy Lingerfelt slowly moved his humming chainsaw through a thick 10-foot-long limb. It was Lingerfelt who first attracted my attention as I was driving down First Avenue North just minutes before. It’s not every day you get to see a man cut down trees from heights that surely frighten the most talented trapeze artist. And watching Lingerfelt wiggle, wobble, and bob up and down was like an industrial circus with free admission.
Screaming through another limb, Lingerfelt’s chainsaw spit up saw dust that sprinkled to the ground gracefully through the light breeze.
He shot a thumb-up to his fellow workers down below just before one more limb the size of a telephone poll began plummeting toward the ground. There was a brief silence just before the large branch slapped the pavement and bounced around playfully on the asphalt.
Lingerfelt gave another thumb-up, but leaned a little too far forward this time. Losing his balance temporarily, he threw his hands down below him and tried to remain still. After a moment of stillness, the bucket stopped bouncing, and he resumed his work. The axe man’s little stumble did not faze him at all, but it nearly gave me a panic attack.
By and by, Lingerfelt and the crew of eight or so workers had removed nearly every branch from the towering behemoth. The bucket lowered, and Lingerfelt descended to the ground. One of the crew turned the wood chipper off and the vibrating chain saws were put at ease.
The rain picked up now and each droplet could be heard on Sebastian’s front porch roof. I looked down at my camera and inspected the lens. There were only a few droplets scattered around the glass.
The presence of someone directly to my left broke my concentration.
“Why you letting it rain on us?” Lingerfelt said smiling. He wore a coarse beard that was mostly gray and an old baseball cap that was soaked. His T-shirt read Greek letters Sigma, Sigma, Sigma — the letters of a national sorority that has more than 100,000 members.
I just laughed — more at the shirt than Lingerfelt’s joking question. Leaning out from under the roof, I looked up at the tree that would soon fall.
“Yeah, that’s a dangerous job,” Lingerfelt continued. “You make one wrong move and it might be your last.” He squinted through the hazy downpour.
“You do this every day?” I asked him.
“Thirty years straight,” Lingerfelt replied proudly. “Storm season means more work most of the time.”
Severe and heavy storms had rocked the Catawba County area recently, toppling trees, damaging power lines and even blowing over a house in Newton recently.
Lingerfelt and the other Absolute Tree Care crew were taking down the large tree after a night of 70 mph winds whipped through the region.
“You ever get scared up there?” I asked him.
“I used to, but you get kind of used to it,” Lingerfelt said. “But you never get comfortable because that’s when something bad will happen.”
We continued to talk for a bit, and I got everything I needed for my story. He told me some other storm stories about lightning cracking sidewalks and driveways, and I told him about what recent stories I had covered. But just before I left, I wanted to ask one more thing.
“Why do you do this?” I asked. “You know it’s dangerous, so why this?”
He shook his head and looked up at the tree again. “Everybody plays their part, and this is just mine.”
Mr. Lingerfelt, thanks for playing your part — you’re a stand-up guy, and I could never do your job.
Nash Dunn is a reporter and columnist for The Observer News Enterprise. His column appears in the Wednesday edition of The O-N-E. Reach Dunn at email@example.com .