Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Chain Reaction

You can look at it finally abandoning the last of the feminine “rescue” fantasies. Or maybe it’s just a dose of latent pioneer spirit finally coming to the surface. Though Davy Crockett never had one of these. (Of course, Davy Crockett never had a pair of leopard-print stilettos in his closet either. Or so we hope.)

Either way, I bought a chain saw.

My favorite dead tree came down last week in a thunderstorm that swept through with brief and sudden fury while I was standing in the video section of Pick ‘n’ Save looking for a copy of the chick flick, “Ever After.” Not getting drenched as I dashed to the car—or alternatively, swept off to Oz or maybe just the next county—was the only thing on my mind as I made a run for it through the sheets of water flying sideways through the parking lot.

Then I rounded the last of the curve in the driveway, and hit the brakes, fast. High beams illuminated a swath of dead wood spread across the concrete, making the last fifty feet to the garage completely impassable. Bark and branches were scattered everywhere, the trunk split and broken into huge chunks. I’d have my work cut out for me the next morning. I drove my itty-bitty Honda delicately around the carnage on the grass next to the flower beds, and put the car away. I went to sleep pondering my options.

As dead trees stood, I hated to see this one go. It had died several years earlier from unknown causes, along with a dozen or more in the same stretch of the front acres. I spent the last few winters wondering just when this one would either come down on one of the cars, or just drop across the drive moments before we had to leave for work or school. But where most visitors surveyed its precarious placement and said “that’s gotta come down before it falls on something!,” I looked at it and wistfully countered, “maybe another year?”

Perched just feet from the edge of the drive, this tree came to provide more amusement dead than alive. Woodpeckers had drilled holes in the trunk, and they nested there last summer. I found this out when I finally searched for the source of incredible chattering nearby in the mornings while I was trying to catch a little more sleep. Living out in the country, the birds are never silent in the morning. But this took nature’s alarm clock to a whole new decibel level.

Process of elimination led me to the dead tree, and so I finally just stationed myself in front of it and waited. And waited. Minutes passed, and nothing happened. Finally, there was movement in the shadow of one of the nest holes. A fluffy, black-and-white head with a pointy beak popped up long enough to get a bead on me, then vanished again. Downy woodpeckers, for years frequent visitors to my feeder. Catching a glimpse of them in the hole-ridden snag became a daily game for me, sort of a “Wild America” version of the arcade game “whack-a-mole.” But now the next set of nesting woodpeckers would just have to live elsewhere.

The tree had shattered when it hit the pavement, and I separated most of the giant tangle of wood and bark by just finding the fracture lines and then snapping the branches in the other direction and dragging them out of the way. A pile of dead wood grew in the back yard, promising a blaze of glory like a Viking funeral pyre when I finally set a match to it. The driveway eventually cleared, but huge twisted branches and shattered trunks still lay across the lawn, like naked corpses waiting for burial.

Hmmmmm….what to do? Wait a month for boyfriend-with-chainsaw to get done with his own voluminous yard work and finally make me some firewood? Break out my handsaw and try to do it the old fashioned way? My shoulders and neck still ached from the rudimentary clean-up job I’d already done. It might finally be time to go window shopping.

I’d been in this position once before, a couple of years ago. Stumbling across fallen branches on the snowy footpath in the dark one evening on my way to admire the deer my son had just brought down nearby, I knew that snowshoeing was going to be a deathtrap if I didn’t clear the trail soon. I took myself to Menards the next morning, and reluctantly perused the chain saw section.

They looked big. They looked dangerous. They looked heavy, and menacing, and manly, and hard to handle. They looked like an invitation to gasoline-powered amputation. I furrowed my brow and paced back and forth. “Can I help you, ma’am?” A polite young man in a blue apron stood ready to assist. I wasn’t going to be easy to please.

“Do you have anything smaller?” I asked, already knowing the answer. Did these come in anything like a ‘Lady Remington’ version? Something stamped “SAFETY” all over it, suitable for the Sesame Street set? Something that could guarantee that I wouldn’t cut off a limb? Something specifically built for the female customer, and you know, it would look just great in pink?

“Maybe you’d be more comfortable with a hand saw,” he suggested, and that’s what I eventually walked through the checkout line with. It worked fine—and gave my back and arms a good workout to boot—for just about every woodcutting project I had until now.

I made my way back to Menards. Stopped at Starbucks first on this glorious and sunny day for a tall mocha frappucino with “half the whip.” A girl’s got to start the day right. And caffeine gives you courage. I walked through the front door of the store with no more enthusiasm than I’d had the last time. Even less, in fact. I’ve seen that episode of “CSI” where the bloody homicide scene is eventually solved by the revelation that some idiot didn’t know how to handle his own chainsaw and killed himself by accident.

I found the death and dismemberment row…oops, the chainsaw section. Made my way down the aisle once more, noting that the main distinguishing feature of all these was that some were powered by small gasoline motors (eewwww…the smell!), and others operated with an electric cord. Yes, I could foresee much in the way of disaster from tripping over the cord the same way you trip over the cord to the living room lamp.

And then I saw it. Nearly overlooked it in my gloom, and in the shadows cast by its larger cousins. Sitting at eye level, but chain facing away from me, like a puppy burrowed into a pile of blankets, was…the answer. Since the last time I was looking, Black & Decker had made a cordless chain saw. I stared in amazement. It was tiny, weighing barely six pounds. I picked it up. I have kitchen appliances that are bigger. It was rechargeable. The “bar” was only eight inches long. It looked like two bigger chain saws had had a baby. My breadmaker came in a bigger box. Despite the color scheme--a utiltarian, no, let's be honest, ugly--black and orange, it was actually CUTE.

It seemed like a perfect fit. I bought it, of course. I like being rescued just as much as the next girl, but I confess that my favorite scene in “Ever After” comes at the very end when Drew Barrymore, the beleaguered Cinderella of the story, manages to turn the tables on her odious captor and frees herself at sword point. It takes her handsome prince a bit by surprise when he gallantly shows up late for the rescue, but they live happily ever after anyway.

I suspect that when winter comes and I throw the first log on the fire that I’ve actually cut from a real tree myself, it’s going to be a very interesting moment. Definitely one to mark with a celebratory toast. In the meantime, I’m just enjoying owning my newest toy.

If only it came in pink…

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