Beware of the Large Killer Tracheophytes!

Date: Fri,  9 Jan 98 23:25:00 GMT 
Subject: [TravLang] The Great Silent Killers...

Silent Killers: The True Story Of Deadly Trees

By Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 7, 1998; Page C01

America was stunned this week by the tragic deaths of Michael Kennedy and
Sonny Bono, who lost their lives to a silent killer.


That the public was surprised is evidence only of our ignorance and
gullibility. Americans are tree huggers. We love our trees. We loved asbestos,

Years ago, Ronald Reagan tried to warn us about trees, and he was ridiculed
for his honesty.

Trees kill. Their bite is worse than their bark.

John Sevier of Atascadero, Calif., is an accident reconstruction expert. He
investigates killer trees, or as he puts it, "deadly tree scenarios." It is
his full-time business, and he makes a pretty penny at it.

"You think of the tree as your friend," he says, "not as something that will
kill you or put you in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. But it can. And
it does."

Ask the lumbering industry. A lumberjack is about as likely to get life
insurance as a bomb squad demolition officer. The language of lumberjacks is
peppered with peril.

A "butt jump" is the official term for what happens when the hinge of a
partially severed tree snaps as the tree begins to fall. It is not uncommon.
The trunk of the tree hops off the stump, like a pogo stick from Hell. It
plops down on its severed end, which is angled back toward the man with the
saw. The tree shudders, reverses its course. Have you ever tried to outrace an
80-foot screaming mahogany monolith with branches the wing span of a 747? If
you had, you wouldn't be reading this.

Do you know the official term, contained in Occupational Safety and Health
Administration regulations, to describe a dead limb lodged, insidious, in the
high branches of a tree, waiting to fall?

A "widowmaker."

Here is another tree term: "looping root." Looping root describes a condition
in which a tree root snakes its way up to the surface, then goes back down
into the ground, leaving a loop on the ground the size of a human foot. "It's
a trap," Sevier says. He investigated one case in which a woman was tripped by
a looping root and suffered extensive hip damage.

Sevier tells of the case of the San Diego Zoo's Killer Eucalyptus, which
collapsed and killed a girl. Eucalyptuses are particularly dangerous because
they outgrow their own strength and suddenly crack and fall. "They prune
themselves, which is great in the Australian outback, but not in the entrance
to a zoo," Sevier says.

He has investigated trees that grew too quickly and blocked a stop sign. "By
spring it is no problem," he said. "By midsummer, the stop sign is obscured
and all of a sudden you have dead people all over the highway."

Item: June 5, 1997: A cottonwood in Albuquerque, N.M., dies when hit by a Ford
pickup. Its passing is not mourned. In the previous 40 years, the Killer Tree
of North Fourth Street, which presided over a hairpin turn, was responsible
for the deaths of 23 people.

Item: Oct. 24, 1989: A federal study of hunting accidents in Georgia found
that 36 percent of the hunters injured over the past decade were not shot by
other hunters. They fell out of trees.

Item: Jan. 4, 1996: An Arlington man was seriously injured in McLean when a
large oak tree fell on his car, rebounded and apparently struck the vehicle
two more times.

Item: July 21, 1993, Punxsutawney, Pa.: Lying pinned under a tree, a woodsman
with a broken leg cried for help for an hour before giving up hope. Then he
saved himself the only way he could: by cutting off his leg with a pocket

Trees' crimes against humanity are as old as humanity. Older, in fact. Three
hundred seventy-five million years ago they caused the extinction of half the
life on Earth.

According to scientists at the University of Cincinnati, as trees began
spreading over dry, upland areas, their root systems broke up the rocks. This
caused an overdose of nutrients to be washed into rivers and oceans,
fertilizing the waters, leading to an explosive growth of algae. At least 70
percent of all marine animal species on Earth were suffocated and eradicated.

And now, 375 million years later, Michael Kennedy and Sonny Bono.


This just in:

On Tuesday, in the Solomon Islands, near New Zealand, a woman was killed while
collecting fronds and branches to help secure her home against Cylcone Susan.

Cyclone Susan was blamed.

But the fact is, the woman was not killed because her house collapsed on her.
She did not drown. She was not electrocuted by a downed power line.

She was beaned by a flying coconut. No one ever blames the tree.

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