I like my mo­torised Ex­cal­ibur

The Northern Advocate - - Opinion - Joe Ben­nett

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.

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