Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Me and my Chainsaw

My chainsaw makes my heart beat faster. Even though it is dark outside and my arms are tired, I can barely restrain myself from going outside and cutting through more foliage.

I love my chainsaw. It is a 16" Homelite. Starts easily (which many of them don't). It's a bit heavy, but certainly manageable from all angles. It's a little grabby though. Our 20" Craftsman is a lot more work to manage, and I can't get any complex angles on it, but it's a lot easier to settle into a slow, meditative, butter-slicing mode with it. The Homelite is like a teenager, with one mode so far: quick and hard and eager.

Using a chainsaw is intense like riding a motorcycle is intense. It's incredibly dangerous, and requires complete focus at all times. If you lose focus, get weary or distracted, incredibly bad things can happen. It's easy to screw up--to come at a branch from the wrong angle, not think the approach through properly, disconnect from the wood--and bind the whole thing badly up and get it wedged in the tree. Getting whacked in the head or dropping large branches on your foot are also non-remote possibilities.

Getting it right requires focus, and deep connection. Trees are living things, and sentient. You must only cut when you have good reason to cut, and only fell when there is no other alternative. It is best done when the tree is dormant.

You must study the quality of the wood, the angle of the branch or growth pattern of the tree. If you are felling a tree, especially the 50-foot behemoths of unknown species in our backyard that grew too fast on a rapidly-eroding forested floodplain and are about to topple into various neighbors roofs, you must calculate precisely the angle of the fall. As you cut, you must focus keenly, every second, sensing the critical moment of shift when the branch is about to fall or the tree go over. You feel the wood in your wrists, your arms, your whole body, and some innate sense. Too hesitant, and the blade shudders. One second too long, and it can bind or even break, or you can hurt yourself badly.

As in motorcycling, fatigue is a real concern. It's important not to overextend, because your arms get tired fast, and it's too easy to lose focus. When you lose muscle strength and focus, you make mistakes--all the more so because it's such an adrenaline high.

I love the smell of cut wood, the satisfying labor of piling branches and maneuvering logs, the hyper-awareness of the relationships of objects in the environment to each other.

I love my chainsaw.

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