Originally posted in my blog “The TAP”
We bought our first house three years ago and like most new home owners, we didn’t own any of the tools one uses to maintain a privately owned space. From items as small as a screwdriver to leaf and snow blowers, we started acquiring the necessary items for private dwelling upkeep from item one.
Last year I got my first chainsaw to take care of a branch that had fallen during a storm. I had tried my father-in-laws electric saw and didn’t like it. No, I opted for a moderately priced black and green thing with a mid sized blade and read enough of the manual to learn how to mix the gas and oil and start the thing.
I was a little disappointed in that they are kind of hard to start. I wanted to yank the cord in a standing position, have the saw roar to life, rev it a few times for effect, and proceed to do the Leatherface dance of holding it over my head while shaking it back and forth. I was finally able to do the dance but only after setting it on the ground, adjusting the choke, and yanking until my arm hurt. The dance was still fun but it lacked any badass horror movie villain spontaneity.
That one fallen branch aside, I’ve mainly regarded the chainsaw as a fun prop or possible weapon during an impending zombie apocalypse (though the slow starting thing has been noted so I won’t count on it as a quick draw weapon). I’m not useful or outdoorsy in the typical male sense and whenever I do have to take out the saw I wish I’d had the foresight to buy a clown outfit, a propeller beanie, and a pair of stiletto heals in my size. I mean, I look like an artsy dork so the chainsaw doesn’t fit anyway. Why not take it to the next level?
Well, today I found that the reason our power went out last night was that half a tree fell over and landed in our neighbors yard. It was my tree and I already felt bad for having knocked out everyone’s power (I know the storm did it but I still felt a sense of responsibility) so I decided I had to clean it up.I can’t stress enough what an enormous task this is. The tree wasn’t huge but at its base it had a circumference of a foot or so and there were a lot of really thick branches. Now most people in small town Minnesota would rally their friends and family together and a team of blue-collar macho men would drink beer as they labored together in the hot sun. More well to do families would hire similar guys through a local company to do the job but without the beer. Shannon’s parents aside, I don’t know fuckin’ anybody in this town and I’m poor enough that I just try to ignore the check engine light in my car. So out I went in a pair of sandals, cargo shorts, a Japanese t-shirt that spelled out the abbreviation YMCA as Young Muslim Christian Atheist, and my Buddy Holly glasses for eye protection.
The work was exhausting as the wood literally smoked as I cut it. Chainsaws vibrate like mad and while they aren’t all that heavy, you do have to apply pressure and after a couple hours my arms felt like jelly. My heart pounded in my chest, I was drenched in sweat and that I’m in my 30’s meant a heart attack wasn’t out of the question. It was time for another break (previous breaks had more to do with throwing the chain, searching for an important looking nut that had fallen off the saw, or taking care of the kids). I sat smoking, exhausted and defeated, taking some small comfort in an iced coffee as I surveyed the remaining work from my patio.
The neighbor cater-cornered to my back lot, an old guy who likes to shoot crows and squirrels with a pellet gun from his back porch and who’s name I can never remember, yelled over and asked the strangest thing, “do you want me to sharpen your chainsaw?”
There are people out there who are well prepared for adulthood. They learned about cars, plumbing, cooking, laundry, taxes, masonry, financial planning, time management, organic hair conditioners, small engine repair, and chainsaws. I, on the other hand, make shit up and actually ran my chainsaw initially without knowing they require something called bar oil (it lubricates the chain while you use it…though I’m not sure how). So I admit that while I had heard that chainsaws can be sharpened, it seemed like something I’d never need to do. I mean, that has to be for people who use their chainsaws day in and day out, and not for someone who only wants to use it in his next short film.
He set the chainsaw in a vice and using a file apparently specifically designed for this task, made his way around the chain counting his strokes on each link thingie. He mentioned his trailer was “up north” which opened up an opportunity for me to ask where someone would bring something like brush and logs for disposal. He let me in on what I regard as a small town secret: there is some private property just past the local sewage processing plant where the owner allows locals to dump grass clippings and brush. According to “old guy”, the piles of each are huge and it’s free to all. I thanked him and turned away, suddenly self-conscious about my t-shirt (a shocker since this is the sort of small town old guy I normally love to make uncomfortable with weird shit).
Oh my god what a difference a sharpened blade makes! The wood no longer smoked as I tried to cut it. Instead the saw ripped into each branch with ease. And while I was suddenly being covered with much more sawdust than before, I now understood why there hadn’t been much to begin with. The next three quarters of the felled tree was cut up in the same amount of time it had taken to smoke through the first quarter and while I was sore and exhausted, I also got to wipe sweat away with a real sense of accomplishment. I was so grateful that I finished up by getting out a rake and adding all the really tiny branches to the pile.
So I’m not a native and I don’t have a dozen friends here to help drink my beer but in some simple symbolic way “old guy” opened the possibility of maybe one day bridging the gap between me and everyone else. He also reminded me that there’s a learning curve to life and arrogant assholes like myself need to remember that crazy old people with pellet guns possess a wealth of useful, provincial knowledge. And while I never planned on being an adult, now that I’m here I need to learn things like the importance of proper chainsaw maintenance.