Tender Things

I once helped a friend mark timber on his client’s small ownership near Auburn, Alabama.  Timber marking is forester lingo for painting a mark on each tree to be cut from a designated area of a forest.  It is a select cut or partial harvest, as opposed to a clear cut in which all trees are removed before reforestation.

The middle-aged landowner lived alone in a rustic cabin that he had designed and built himself.  He was a factory worker by day and a musician in a local band by night.  I would describe him as an “artsy” type, but I could just say he was an old hippie.  He gave us a quick tour of the cabin’s interior which was decorated with framed concert posters from the ’60’s and ’70’s, some of his own original paintings, and even handmade furniture.  I thought it was all pretty amazing, but I excused myself to walk the woods while my friend discussed business with his client.

Against my friend’s counsel, this nice man insisted that he wanted to sell only the largest, most valuable pine trees on his land.  He wanted none of the other trees cut or damaged in any way.

I suppose he was a gentle spirit with an empty wallet.

My friend chuckled a little as he gave me my instructions. “He wants you to mark the pines so that they can be cut tenderly. Those were his exact words. “I’d like it cut tenderly.'”

Now I am a forester by profession but I’m also a word-man, and though I wasn’t a part of the conversation with the owner, I would been compelled to teach a brief lesson in semantics.

Allow me to explain, dear reader.

Some tender things:

  • a mother’s touch;
  • a baby’s bottom;
  • a lover’s caress;
  • a butterfly kiss;
  • a nice filet;
  • a sprained ankle;
  • a broken heart.

Some things that are not so tender:

  • a cockfight;
  • a right uppercut to the chin;
  • a grizzly bear with cubs;
  • a T-bone steak at Waffle House;
  • a hornet’s nest;
  • a half-time speech when you’re down by three touchdowns;
  • a hickory switch;

And most importantly, a 90 foot tall pine tree when it is severed from the stump.

A pine tree this large will break, smash, cripple, maim, annihilate, or otherwise destroy anything it touches as it proceeds from the vertical to horizontal.  Don’t blame the logger, blame gravity — it’s the law, you know?

I have a feeling the musician sang the blues when his trees were cut.

I, however, sang a little tune as I marked them.  It went:

“Softly and tenderly
timber is falling,
Falling for you and for me…”

You have to be an old Baptist to get that joke.


A version of this story appeared here in 2009.

12 thoughts on “Tender Things

  1. I am not an old Baptist, or a Baptist of any age, so I do not get the joke. My paternal grandfather would have, I guess.

    But if the property owner had concert posters from the ’60s and ’70s hanging on his wall, I think “old hippie” says it better than “artsy type.” However, middle-aged is not old to me. It’s just middle-aged. Young even.

    I like the story, especially the sprained ankle in the tender category.

    1. Your grandfather would have sung it for you. It’s an old standard among church hymns.

      Age is relative, I suppose. You seem to be a man in very good health, which certainly helps you stay “young.” Your “sprained ankle” comment is a good analogy. Although I’m considered middle-aged, I bet
      you would recover much faster than I.

  2. Ha! Reminds me of us kids singing “Bringing in the sheeps”
    But I miss those old hymns, they were better than what we sing theses days.

  3. 🙂 Come home, come ho-o-ome, yea (yee?) who are weary come home …
    Sang that one at my grandparents Baptist church in Oklahoma and also at my Lutheran church at home up here on the tundra.

    Have you read ‘Overstory’ by Richard Powers? I think you’d like it.

    1. That’s the one. I probably sang it a thousand times growing up. I doubt I’ve heard it once in the last 30 years.

      I have not read Overstory. I’ll check it out (no pun intended).

    1. This is humorous – today there will be people all over the country who have ‘Softly and
      Tenderly’ as an ear worm. Bet that’s a first!

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