Chain saw is delightfully cutting edge, in manly way

October 04, 2003|By ROB KASPER

THE CHAIN SAW WAS humming, the wood chips were flying and I was loving life.

There was a time when I believed I was a deeper person than this. I once thought happiness would wash over me as I contemplated the inner beauty of the universe. Maybe in my next life.

But I am here to tell you that last weekend, when my chattering chain saw went to work, my endorphins were flowing. Say what you will about the destructive effects of Isabel, and they were numerous, the storm did create many chain-saw moments, times when a man and his saw had free rein to clean out life's underbrush.

If this sounds like the bubbly enthusiasms of a chain-saw rookie, a guy still glowing from his initial encounter with the joy of self-produced sawdust, you are almost right.

Technically, last Saturday's escapade was not my first time with a chain saw. Years ago I rented one - a big mistake - to trim the dead limbs off a crape myrtle tree. It was a jarring introduction to the facts of chain-saw life. One of the main lessons learned was that rented chain saws are usually duller than a Tuesday afternoon talk show. Another was that the crape myrtle may have pretty little flowers, but it also has very hard wood.

A third fact of life was passed on to me by a neighbor, now deceased, who spoke to me as I trimmed the tree. He told me the reason the crape myrtle had dead limbs was because previous occupants of our home had set the tree on fire. When I asked why they had done that, my neighbor gave me an answer that I have never forgotten. "Because," he said "they were goddamn dumb." The "gddumb" explanation of human behavior has proved invaluable to me over the years.

Last Saturday afternoon, as I donned my safety glasses and held my chain saw in my gloved hands, I felt ready to battle whatever obstacles destiny had thrown in my path. It quickly became apparent that I had to dial back my urge to fell an oak and be content with trimming small limbs and shrubbery.

That is because the size of the guide bar on the chain saw was a mere 14 inches - nothing to brag about. Moreover, rather than being one of those roaring, smoky, gas-powered numbers, my chain saw was electric. Instead of being a big, bad belcher, it was a mid-sized purrer.

It used to belong to my dad, a man who brought a "mow 'em down" approach both to the pruning he did on the homestead's trees and the tonsorial work he did when he gave my brothers and me haircuts in the kitchen. In retrospect, I suspect that our mother, concerned both about the safety of her husband and the landscape, ruled that the only chain saw allowed on the premises of her home would be a sedate electric one. I took possession of it after my parents died.

It might not have roared like a Harley, but this inherited chain saw still gave me a thrill. Branches succumbed to my will. Leaves scurried. Shrubbery shuddered.

I got carried away, and carelessly let the nose, or top of the chain saw, get snagged. That caused the chain, which was not tight enough, to slide off the guide bar. Putting the chain back on the chain saw is, I later learned, a rite of passage, something a man's gotta do.

I did it, but I did it backward. Somehow, someway, when I slipped the chain on, I flipped it. Instead of having the depth gauge part of the chain leading the cutters, I had it the other way around. It wouldn't cut butter.

Embarrassed, I consulted with two chain-saw veterans, Mickey and John. Both of these guys drive motorcycles, live in the country, and have chain saws that are bigger and badder than mine. They might have snickered to themselves about this "city boy with an itty-bitty tool," but in my presence they were supportive and helpful.

They told me it "could happen to anybody."

I am not so sure. I think that when you put a chain-saw chain on backward, you are either a beginner, or maybe just "gddumb."

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