This, Our Valley

When the bough breaks


“People are what they believe” – Anton Chekhov


I was outside watering my tomatoes when I heard what I was sure was a rabid grizzly bear beating the bushes in my neighbor’s yard. It’s hard to describe a sound, but suffice it to say that if you have seen any wild grizzly movies on the silver screen (“Night of the Grizzly” and “The Edge” come immediately to mind) you will know the ominous sound of a beast single-mindedly wanting to have you for breakfast – or dinner.

Well, that was the sound I heard over in the corner of the yard as I was tending to my veggies (which are doing very nicely, I should add). I looked up from my hydrating duties to see what was causing such a crunchy commotion just in time to see a mighty bough break off from the neighbor’s fir tree and come crashing down onto the fence separating our two properties.

The good news is that the bough was crib-less, so no “rock-a-bye” babies fell as the incident unfolded. Also, while it had been my intention to water plants and bushes where the tree limb fellå, I hadn’t gotten that far, so this baby did not have his noggin cracked by the aforementioned falling bough.

After confirming that I was still in one piece and whole in both life and limb (and heart continued beating within my own trunk – although it wasn’t beating about the bush), I went and got my wife to tell her what had happened. After all, she is the branch manager of our home. The two of us trundled over to our neighbors to let them know about the damage to the fence we shared.

I thought the tree belonged to him, but as it turns out, it belongs to yet another neighbor who, while friendly enough, declined any responsibility. “The tree is on my side of the fence,” he said, “but it was planted by someone else and is actually on the property line, so it’s not mine.”

Ah, who says good fences (or walls) make for good neighbors? Some knot-head, no doubt.

Anyway, it didn’t matter to me who the tree belonged to and, the fact is, the damage to the fence was minimal. My neighbor and I took a couple of saws and loppers to the offending yard waste and laid waste to the trespassing vegetation. We chopped and lopped everything down to size in about an hour, and then loaded everything into my pickup, hauled it to the landfill and dumped it. A few days later we replaced the broken stringer and reinstalled the fence boards and, voila, all was made whole once again.

I do worry the tree will continue to shed limbs, for it does not appear to be a healthy tree. It has a number of dead branches holding on for no good reason except to keep the world in suspense. There hadn’t been any wind the day that one big bough broke, but I give gravity credit for its fall. It had no choice; it was the Law (of gravity).

I won’t lose any sleep over the matter. No one was injured. The incident gave me a chance to get to know my next-door neighbor a lot better as we worked together. I got to at least meet another neighbor I had not known at all, and I suspect I will get to know him and his wife better as the law of gravity continues to be rigorously enforced in our neighborhood. He may deal with his tree; he may not. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. The tree is sick, to be sure, but it is also short enough it is highly unlikely it will convert our home into a treehouse any time soon.

I will admit that fences help delineate property lines, but I wonder if they truly do promote neighborliness. It took a broken fence to discover who my true neighbor is. 

A fence may give the illusion of security, but I dare say it’s only an illusion. Not only did a mindless fir crush it, but squirrels cross it all the time as they plunder Nature’s Market for their daily bread!

I’m glad God broke the fence. I’m especially glad it was God and not a grizzly here in this, God’s valley.



Keith Axberg writes on matters concerning life and faith. He can be reached at

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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