A tree fell in our yard recently in the middle of some heavy storms, and we were lucky the tree fell away from our house.
I give major props and thanks to the good man above for that huge break because we would have had some pretty serious damage to our house if it had fallen the other way. Nonetheless, we were stuck with better than half a tree in our yard.
My Dad immediately offered to come by with a chainsaw to help me deal with it since I didn’t own one, but I declined because it was raining and super muddy from days of rain.
My Dad’s about twice the man I am and would have fought rain, mud, lighting, and three packs of wolves to get it cleaned up about an hour after it fell. But, alas, I’m no such man, and frankly, I didn’t want to get muddy and wet. (See what becoming an author does to you?!)
I saw no reason for haste. And did I mention the ankle-deep mud?
Plus, I had just the inkling of an idea about the tree.
As I studied that tree in the days after it fell, while our ground grew less soggy and saturated, I began to imagine taking care of it myself. With nothing but my ax and a small, curved handsaw.
And the more I thought of it, the more it intrigued me. It’s what I imagined a Marine would do. Or a Viking. Plus, Danah always tells me she has a thing for lumberjacks, so there was that.
And day-by-day that tree lay there, and day-by-day I increasingly saw it as an epic challenge.
I imagined life a hundred years ago. What did they do in the days before chainsaws? A tree falls on some young couple’s land, and it’s in the middle of your crops. And you’re dozens of miles away from help, with no phone or Google search on “what to do if a tree falls in your garden.”
Back then, I imagined it was up to the man to deal with it. Could I deal with it? Or would I call for help?
I mean, you didn’t call for help when you lived on a mountain back in the day, did you?
No. You cut the tree up with your ax or dragged it off with your mule or horse. I didn’t have a mule or horse, so I’d have no option but to go with the ax. (Well, also a pretty sweet handsaw, which I doubt they had a hundred years ago, but stop ruining my dream! lol.)
I finally got the nerve to tell Danah that I wasn’t going to call my Dad about the tree, but would instead try to deal with it myself. She gave me that look but decided not to talk me out of it. (She knows I’m nuts and stopped trying to fix me years ago.)
I’m not going to lie. About fifteen ax swings in on that first day, I realized I’d probably made the dumbest move I’d made in several years. (Probably since I opened a newspaper at the age of 27. Or back when I volunteered to carry two packs on a forced march while serving in the Marines because one of the new guys couldn’t carry his pack any longer, and I was a Squad Leader, damn it! Set the example! Ooh-rah!)
But, I’d told Danah I’d give it “a try,” and a man doesn’t stop at fifteen swings. So I went back to chopping. And chopping some more.
That first day, I managed one entire cut through the tree — about midway up the fallen part. And it’s embarrassing to admit, but that was no joke. (Partly, it was because my accuracy was so bad that I probably hit it three times more than necessary!)
By the time I finished that first goal, I knew I’d be sore the next day, so I stopped there.
And indeed, I was the next day. But a couple days later, I was back at it. I also — wisely — sharpened my ax before starting. That second day of work got a couple big parts of the split up top hacked off and dragged into the woods.
But yet again I had to stop. Let me tell you: chopping a tree by hand is no joke if you’re not a lumberjack and you sit at a desk for a living. And no matter how many nights you spend in a gym, it just doesn’t relate.
Cutting a tree is Teddy Roosevelt. Cutting a tree will test your mental toughness. Cutting a tree is no joke.
It took a couple of days to recover from my second day of work, but I eventually returned for more revenge.
Unfortunately for me, this was when the drama picked up significantly.
My neighbor by chance saw me carrying the ax toward the tree and offered his chainsaw. It was the friendly thing to do, for sure, but I explained what I was doing. That I was looking at this as a challenge and free opportunity provided by nature for some exercise. He shook his head in disbelief and called me nuts.
“The chainsaw could do the job in ten minutes,” he said.
I agreed with him but said I had already started this challenge. And with that, I started hacking. And he, unfortunately, started watching. And of course, I had selected a tougher part of the tree. And very few chunks of wood were flying with each strike.
He offered his chainsaw again, and I wanted to melt and turn invisible. But I flexed my arms so he could see I was a man, politely declined again, and reached for the handsaw. (I nearly walked away from that tough spot on the tree to try somewhere else, but that seemed even less manly. So it was time for the handsaw.)
He lit up a grill and I assumed the drama was over. I just needed to manage one cut of about ten or twelve inches of tough wood, then I could go back inside my home with my dignity.
But the drama wasn’t over. Far from it.
Friends of his started showing up. Like 10 or 15, and now they were all watching me and asking him what I was doing. And I heard bits of laughter between my grunts and gasps for air, and I heard the word “chainsaw” from time-to-time.
There were women watching. And there were men watching. I was doomed.
At that point, I knew I’d finish the job or die of a heart attack. Even the latter would beat walking up to my house with my tail between my legs.
And in fact, I spent the next three hours killing myself, sweating, groaning, and wheezing. But in the end, I managed to get that tree completely out of my yard that very day while they watched me like I was some exhibit at the zoo.
I can’t tell you how many times I nearly quit on each of those three days I went at it. For me, it was a test. How much grit did I have? Now, perhaps if you work a lot with your hands, or do physical labor at your day job, you will see all this as petty. I get that. But for me, it was pretty brutal.
And it was made immensely more difficult because I had such an easy out. I knew I could at any moment raise my hand and say, “I’ll take a chainsaw, please.”
But Marines don’t do that. I assume Vikings don’t either.
And if nothing else, I sent a message to the other trees in our yard. You fall in my yard, and I will cut you up. Slowly. With an ax. And a lame handsaw, which was probably designed for pruning.
For those wanting to attempt a similar endeavor, I’d suggest:
- An extra bottle of Advil, unless you do this kind of work regularly.
- Hearing protection, so you can’t hear the neighbors laughing.
- And a megaphone. Because if you do pull it off, you WILL want to tell everyone.
Now, please go buy a book because I have NO future as a lumberjack, I assure you! : )
Keep the faith,
Stan R. Mitchell
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