Author Stan R. Mitchell takes on a tree with his bare hands…

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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27 Comments

Filed under Stories about my life

27 responses to “Author Stan R. Mitchell takes on a tree with his bare hands…

  1. Nancy England

    Stan, on a similar level, one which might ring a bell with your love of print:
    Imagine Gutenberg fumbling around with his hand-carved typeset, and his buddy the Monk comes along and insists that Gutenberg accept the offer of a scribe, quill and sheepskin in hand. What would have happened (OK, stretch of the imagination) if Gutenberg had said, “Sure, I just can’t cope with this daunting typesetting stuff.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stan –
    Didn’t we just have a conversation about trees and axes and stuff?
    It is indeed a great feeling to get out there and pit yourself against one of Mother Nature’s giants. Better, though, to do it out of sight of any neighbors.
    🙂
    I love splitting logs for firewood, but that is a sight easier than doing cross-cut, by hand, with an axe – yikes!
    Say hey to your neighbor.
    OG

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now, see, you’re smarter than me. I’ve split a little wood before — not in years, though — and I thought this wouldn’t be much different. But it’s not even close! lol

      Oh, well, lesson learned. And I got a story out of it.

      Plus, we know Nick Woods would have been out there even if he’d only had a pocket knife at his disposal, so there’s that!

      I do wonder what the neighbor thinks now, though!

      Like

  3. My kind of party!

    Nobody suggested det chord?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Who was it that said, “Improvise, adapt, overcome”? And next time your neighbors throw a party to watch you work, break out your sumo wrestler outfit. That’ll learn ’em. SF.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Angie L.

    Holy smokes I laughed so hard reading this! I envisioned every step of your story. I nodded my head in agreement to Danah’s “thing for lumberjacks”. I also knew damn well that a viking would have done it just the way you were doing it! Then I wondered how such a stupid decision can seem so heroic. You are indeed a masterful story teller. I am envisioning you throwing the axe on the ground, beating your chest, and throwing your arms out like a gang banger as you lunge at the corpse of that tree while yelling “whatcha gonna do now B#*%h?” as you walked away. Perhaps a fictional character would have flipped off the neighbors as well. But since this is the real world, I’m hoping you did at least give them a squinting head nod as you walked off. A GOOD neighbor would not have made it in to a circus. A good neighbor would have filmed it from a window and posted it on Youtube. Sheesh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, my!!! I never considered it might make YouTube!!!!! LOL.

      And I considered beating my chest, but I wanted to seem like it was no big deal. I cut trees up EVERY day. So I walked off with as nonchalantly as possible.

      (In truth, I barely could carry the ax back up the hill. I was spent, whooped, and beat…)

      Like

  6. Trevanell Monteith

    My dear, I am not a Marine, but I finally encountered someone as stubborn (bullheaded) as I am. I smiled as I read this story, knowing what was coming, then laughed at the end. Please buy yourself a chainsaw. You are to valuable to kill yourself being bullheaded, which most of the time equates with being dumb, at least in my case. You would think in would have learned better by this age, 75! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • lol! Loved this comment, Trevanell!

      And see, I think we get wiser as we get older, but. we. get. older. And so despite the wise part of our brains, we have the old part of our bodies. So we get even more pissed off and adamant and push forward anyway!

      Several times while working, it occurred to me that if I seriously hurt my back while trying to lift parts of that tree, I’m going to be the biggest idiot ever because then I’ve hurt my ability to sit at my desk and write. Which is, of course, what pays our bills.

      So, I definitely tried to be more careful than the Stan of 21 years old would have been. And I tried to ignore how much softer the Stan of 38 years old is. That’s part of what helped push me through, though. No way should a man under 40 let a little wood work stand in his way!

      That’s what I kept tell myself, anyway! lol

      Like

      • Treva Monteith

        Love these stories. Keep them coming. Bullheaded people Ike us have do many to share. I know you have many heart warming stories to share also. Thank you and God’s blessings to you and family!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. First of all, very happy to know that you are tougher than a rotted out, tired, old tree that couldn’t withstand a lazy Sunday afternoon breeze. Good for you.

    Secondly, I have done the exact same thing minus the crowd a few times in the past couple of years. I get it and I have come to one undeniable conclusion. I don’t need a chainsaw to take out the tree. I need to pay someone with a chainsaw to take out the tree. Much easier that way.

    rob

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Robert

    Chopping down/up a tree with an ax is work, but like with most things there is technique that makes every swing more effective. When I was young I cut down and cut up trees with an ax, too often. (Didn’t have a chainsaw) Got real good at it. Anyhow now that I’m middle aged I could still do it, but boy would I hate having to do it. It’s good to have the skill though, because you never know when you might HAVE to do it. I say watch some YouTube videos on technique and go find some of that tree and get a bit more practice, at least until each swing hits where you aimed it and big chunks fly. Sharp ax is best, but not razor sharp. Double angle edge. YouTube or Google on this too. I know you mentioned no Google, etc., but think about this, had you been a settler way back you would know these things already.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those are great points throughout! And I think I had decent technique — didn’t muscle it, but rather used long arcs and momentum — but it wouldn’t hurt to look all those things up!

      Thanks for the comment!

      Like

  9. As I am coming to know – you are one stubborn man. And you are awesome! Great job sticking it out and getting the job done.

    I once took down a huge wooden deck with a crowbar and a claw hammer. I think there’s a little stubborn in me, too. 🙂

    Like

    • Hey, a huge wooden deck with a crowbar and claw hammer might have been just as difficult!!

      And I KNOW there’s a lot of stubborn in you! Just one of the reasons I admire you so much!! (Being a hell of a writer being a strong second.)

      Liked by 1 person

    • See ‘Detcord’ Dittmer’s comment above. It works on decks as well as trees.
      OG

      Liked by 1 person

      • I would have loved to use detcord on that deck! (Where’s Dittmer when you need him?) That monstrosity went across the back of the house and around a tree. My husband nearly had a heart attack when he came home from work and saw what I was doing. It took over twenty years, but he finally built a new deck. 🙂

        Like

  10. This reminded me of a chore I set out to do for my parents fall ’14/ spring ’15: the rotted cherry tree of my youth was nearly dead so we cut it. That part was easy. But I left the stump for the spring. Come spring, I figured it’d be an easy enough job for two hours – a few good ax hits on the roots, a little prying, and some General Motors horsepower to dislodge it.

    Well… Needless to say after my old man pitching in – and a call to my brother in-law (USMC ret.) we managed to get the stump out; 5 hours, a saws-all, a long 2″ iron pipe as a pry bar, and coming at it from several angles with the rope and truck. When she let loose we were overjoyed.

    But the entire experiment reminded me of the value of manual labor, of thought put into projects (and prep) and the satisfaction of seeing a job like that come to an end.

    In the hole we found a 1947 quarter. I like to imagine some guy cutting through those old fields on his way to the mill which was a mile down the road, it falling from his pocket as he fiddled around before a 12 hour shift. I felt about as tired as I’m sure that guy did, but also just as proud.

    Great read, Stan. Good life lessons ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, your life lessons from your comment were even better!! And probably far more difficult. Getting a stump out of the ground has to be one of the most difficult things to embark upon!

      It’s just stunning how much horsepower it takes pulling, while how many roots you have to cut at the same time, and even THEN it still takes a pry bar or three and a bunch of guys nearly killing themselves. And that’s just for a cherry tree!!

      Great comment, brother! Thanks for checking in, and I’ll call you soon!

      Like

  11. mal elrod

    I would rather you had spent that time on the next Danny Acuff installment.

    Like

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