“Do you need any tree trimming?”

I had just pulled into my driveway when he hailed me: a young man in work clothes and a knapsack, coming up the walk. He handed me a badly Xeroxed leaflet and explained that he was a tree cutter and needed work.

I live in a neighborhood of mature–overly mature–trees. The handsome maples on the easement are the city’s problem, but there are plenty of overgrown trees in my yard.

It was the end of January, snow was knee deep, and the temperature was in the teens. The tree-trimming stranger surveyed my yard. “Is that birch tree starting to die? Thought so, they aren’t very good trees. That Japanese maple is scraping the garage and will be worse in a few years. The spruce in front would give you a lot more light if you took some lower limbs off.”

He was right on all counts, but I was getting cold, and I was having trouble deciding how much tree trimming to trust to this stranger who had just appeared from nowhere. “Come inside, and let me think a minute,” I said, making a welcoming move toward my door.

“Ma’am, if I were a plumber, I’d be inside looking at your pipes, but I’m a tree trimmer, so I’m outside looking at your trees.” He remained rooted to the spot.

He eyed a thirty-foot fir on the back corner of my property behind the garage. This is such a stupid tree, I don’t even like to think about it. It was planted about six feet away from a maple, and now that they’re mature, it grows right through the maple’s canopy, doing nothing except occupying space that might otherwise make a nice shade garden. It’s also dangerously close to a nexus of power lines. “That tree shouldn’t be there. I’ll take it down for $100. Please. I really need the work.”

I could see how this could be a dangerous bargain. I should be thinking of liability issues; he should be thinking of being fried by a power line, impalement, or a thirty-foot fall. Instead, I found myself saying “Deal. When?”

“Now. It will be gone in a few hours. I’ll stack the branches on the side of the street.”

I looked around for his truck and prepared myself for the roar of a chainsaw. Instead, he opened his knapsack, took out a bow saw, grasped the lowest limb of the tree, and climbed to the top. Quietly and efficiently, he sawed off branches that floated down into the snow. An hour and a half later, the tree had been reduced to a pile on the easement and a ten-foot-long pole lying next to my garage. He assured me a friend of his would come pick it up unless I knew someone who wanted it.

He hadn’t asked to be paid in cash, but was appreciative when I offered. He put the saw back in his knapsack and disappeared.