Weeks later, we’re still cutting up the ficus. So far the city has filled 4 big dump trucks with pieces of that ficus, and we still have a few tons of the stump and trunk in the front yard. The wood isn’t ‘specially hard, but I’ve had to sharpen the chainsaws dozens of times since the hurricane. Ripping up the stump has become something of a hobby. The neighbors can’t understand why I’d spend a few hours a day hacking at the roots and winching it out of the ground another inch or two.

Frankly, I find this kind of labor pleasant. Taking apart a huge tree, without getting crushed under it, requires focus on detail and careful planning. With winches, levers, and thought, one person can disassemble a tree as easily as she might assemble a house. While 4 guys in a pickup can often get things done fast, sometimes they just get stuck fast in the mud.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance discusses this thoughtful approach to the physical world in the context of tending a machine. A famous passage in the book quotes a line from a bicycle instruction manual, “Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind.”

The lessons are especially well applied to any labor where a mis-step can be life threatening or potentially destructive. It is incredibly satisfying be 40 feet up a tree and drop a 3000 pound limb exactly where you aimed it. If you’re hurried, if you’re bullying the tree, if you’re not feeling the wind, the gravity, the sway of the tree, the teeth of your saw biting, the creak of the first breaks, you’ll drop that limb through your roof.