I like my motorised Excalibur
Nothing screams like a chainsaw. Except sometimes its wielder. A friend who’d used one for years was obliged for the sake of a job to go on a chainsaw course. It lasted two days. The first day consisted of a slideshow of chainsaw accidents. Attendance on day two was down a bit apparently.
There was a bird on one of those David Attenborough-ish programmes that mimicked the noises of the jungle. Included in its repertoire — perfectly captured — were the scream of a chainsaw and the motor drive of a camera. Behold tomorrow — no trees, but lots of pretty photos of the creatures that used to live in them.
That said, I like my chainsaw. It’s a sullen beast. Perhaps because I use it only a few times a year it can take a dozen pulls to start.
Each pull elicits a sort of smoker’s cough. But then the blockage clears and the firing catches and the cough revs up to a scream. I lift the saw and I am holding, at the end of two clenched arms, death.
At the touch of a trigger I have a tongue of spinning teeth, a murderous peninsula jutting out half a yard ahead of me, a motorised Excalibur. And like Excalibur it needs to be kept from the ground. For if you dip its tip just a millimetre into soil every tooth is blunted on the instant. The peninsula of spinning death becomes grandma’s gums.
If you know what you’re doing a tree that has grown for a century can be felled in a minute. I don’t really know what I’m doing. But the fact you’re reading this means that on my recent chainsaw excursion I didn’t become an exhibit on a safety course.
A couple of years ago my neighbour hired an arborist to fell some pines. The neighbour is deft enough with a chainsaw but he felt these pines were a tree too far.
The arborist he hired was young, strong, recently qualified and strutting with confidence. He winched himself up the first pine to lop off the larger limbs. Then he came down to cut the stem. The felling line — a technical term I’ve just invented — lay between our two houses. He missed it by 90 degrees. The trunk skewed off at a right angle, narrowly missed the back of the neighbour’s house, then failed to miss his outdoor spa bath.
I saw it. Like every catastrophe it was beautiful to watch. Best of all was the reaction of the arborist. As the tree kicked out the wrong way he leapt from its path then just stood and stared. I was too far away to hear him but I didn’t need to. I could see it all from his shoulders. They slumped. I watched youth and confidence drain through his boots.
Time slumps all shoulders, of course, sucks away all youth and confidence, but it’s a slow process, like the weathering of rock. Here I saw it happen in a minute.
My own task was no towering pine. It was an irritating cherry. I’ve got hundreds of them. They irritate by producing inedible fruit and by reproducing. Turn your back on one and suddenly you’ve got 10 suckers. Turn your back on a sucker and suddenly it’s a sixmetre tree. It was time to take that sucker down.
When I tried to start Excalibur the dog barked at it. But when it came to life he shrank into the garage. I donned earmuffs and goggles and went forth.
I chose to make the initial cut at waist height. When wielding death at my age I prefer not to bend. There’s a name for the wedge you cut from the side you want the tree to fall on, but I’ve forgotten it. No matter. This was work without words.
Once the wedge was cut I spent minutes hesitating. I turned off the saw. I walked round and round again. I sized up angles, estimated the felling line — a technical term I have grown fond of. “You’re stalling, Joe,” I said. I could think of no answer to that.
I fired it back up. I put it to the back of the tree. I looked up, I looked down, I looked around. I heard the stem crack, I stood back. I watched it topple, saw gravity seize it and watched it fall precisely where I’d aimed it.
Yee bloody ha, I said. And grateful for all things I put my saw to bed.