I’ve been surrounded by trees these last few weeks. You know what I learned?/ That there are over 3 trillion trees on planet earth. No, I haven’t counted them. I might’ve missed one or two that way.
A lot of the trees around me are dying. Might’ve mentioned in my last post that I’m surrounded by pinyon, juniper and ponderosa, with an understory of angry oakbrush that’s like a crowd at Wal-Mart on Black Friday to get through. The pinyon, especially, are getting hit hard, and it’s estimated that with the continuing drought trends and mild winters, pinyon and Ips beetle will kill off most of the pinyon in the next years.
So every year, I’m out there with the chainsaw. And since I’m not very good with mahcines, every year, I break the chainsaw. This year, it was that damned chain. And then when I finally got it all tensioned right, I bring it out to cut down this huge pinyon, and it whines and smokes that blue smoke and cuts black friction tracks in the bark and well, the chain needs sharpening. Of course, in the era of the virus, this is now not possible. So it’s back to the handsaw, one of the few high quality items I purchased at Wal-Mart (not on Black Friday). This thing will cut through anything, slowly.
So I’m out there, cutting and sawing. On my knee, on my ass in the needle bed. Stooped over. Maybe an hour or two a day until my arms ache and my back backtalks me. The weight of the column of the log presses down and my saw gets stuck again and again. I use the orange plastic wedge I got with the chainsaw. The chainsaw has to be good for something, right? I hammer it in with a mallot. The blade still gets stuck. I bring out a thin handsaw made for cutting other things, and make maybe a 1/4 inch of progress. I bring out the ax. I hack away bluntly and primitively at the trunk. I mean, this is the tallest, thickest pinyon I’ve ever seen, the needles browned and with more bore holes in the bark than I’ver ever seen on any tree.
Each day I’m out there, hacking away, mostly sawing. Using one saw. then the one with finer blade. Blow after blow with the ax. This isn’t a post about how to properly fell a tree, btw.
The winds are more relentless than usual this spring. The tops of the pondies sway. But the bases stay steady, unmoving. I guess that’s how all rootedness works. I get all caught up in the whirlwids and storms. I react to temporary conditions while the deeper aspect of myself that’s connected to something larger stays calm.
The hell with this pinyon. It looks like I’m not making any progress. I’ll wait til I get the chainsaw fixed. I move on through the P-J, limbing and felling pinyon that’ got a lot little less pitch. I work on a few of those. Then I try cutting some of that damn oak brush down by the fence line. I think of how hunters in many Native American tribes traditionally blessed and sometimes prayed to the animals they felled. I contemplate on how a Zen woodsman might conclude that my pinyon just isn’t ready to go down yet, on how Michelangelo, were he a tree cutter, might say that I haven’t liberated its essence from the block of wood. Fuck all that. I’ve been working at this little by little with my little dull handsaw for about 10 days now. What’s the difference between persistence required for every worthwhile accomplishment and stubbornness? I never knew that line.
In Zenlike fashion, I’m cursing it and demanding that it die as I scrape my way though the bramble that’s attached to the rusted barbed wire in the fence. It cuts like plastic. I lost my pruning shears last year, so I’m reduced to sawing oak stems, gritting my teeth and getting all emotional, swaying like the pinetops in the wind.
Up to this point, I’d been very careful about making a notch cut and a hinge, and then making a felling cut from the other side of the trunk. Beavers, they sometimes die by the trees they cut. After about two weeks, I finally just resort to hacking that giant pinyon until its all beavered all around the edges and stands like a mushroom rock on a pedestal. Don’t know how the trunk’s still standing. But I guess trees, in the face of those incessant gales from the west, have evolved to stand upto a lot. They don’t go down easy.
I’ve heard of trees corkscrewing on their way down. I’m not sure which way it’ll fall, so I plan my routes of escape. I don’t want to end up like a beaver.
I grab some rope from my garage and sling it around some of the lower limbs. I don’t bother to tie a bowline knot around the trunk like you’re supposed to. No, I only look that shit up when I’m writing up this post. I start pulling. I’d been pushing on it for days, feeling the give slowly increase. Now, I pull and it swings back. I pull and it swings back, building momentum. It’s not ready to go down yet. So I walk up to it – I named him Henry – I walk up to Henry and chop away with my crude and blunt instrument: my ax.
Now, I’m really sinking the bit of the ax into the soft meat of the bole. And I have to run away from it and back toward the gang ropes. I pull and Henry rocks back and forth, but still won’t come down.
I hack away with toe and heel (of the ax, that is). I run away from the base. Pull on the rope. The trunk loosens. I do this maybe six, seven times. Finally, after trying this for about an hour. Tim-berrrr! The familiar crack of the trunk like thunder. Henry falls in the opposite direction of where I’d planned. Abetted by the wind, I suppose.
That’s how a city boy who’s lived in the country far too long cuts down a big tree. But I did it with my own hands. That’s 3 trillion minus 1, by the way.
© 2020 by Michael C. Just
Mike’s novel, The Dirt: The Journey of a Mystic Cowboy, is available in softcover or eBook formats through Amazon.
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Mike’s other titles, including The Crippy, The Mind Altar, and Canyon Calls, are available through Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002