Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Windfall Profits

A chainsaw is not just another power tool. In my hands, a chainsaw becomes a time machine.

One man’s problem is another man’s windfall. A microburst we had in July and heavy winds this past weekend offered opportunity and I took action. A few heavy oak limbs came down at a friend’s house. My cheap electric chainsaw was not up to the task and my old gas saw was beyond repair. I decided it was time for a new saw. Like so many things today, the new saws are lighter, cheaper and more powerful than equivalent models from a generation ago. It’s been fun helping my friend clean his yard and bringing home some solid oak as my reward.

I bought my first chainsaw in about 1978, when I was an idealistic, optimistic forestry graduate student. Looking back, I’m not sure why I thought I needed one at the time. I didn’t even own a house or fireplace. I probably wanted it to cut firewood at a place in the Catskills my father had but later lost to poor health and dishonest partners. I’m sure I also dreamed of using it on land of my own that I never got around to buying. This was when I still believed in fairytales.

Nowadays, I can justify a new saw on more rational bases. I have a wood stove that I love to use on late fall and winter evenings. The stove is not big enough or centrally located enough to heat the whole house, but it does a great job of warming the living room, and some of the heat drifts upstairs to the bedrooms. It’s a great pleasure to sit by the warmth of a fire and drift off into a dreamy nap while reading a good book on a Friday evening after a hard week of work. I usually burn scraps and demolition debris from my carpentry projects and small logs from limbs that fall in the yard and real firewood that comes my way from various sources. With a new, reliable, efficient saw, I would be able to help friends who might need a tree removed or who have storm debris to clean up, and at the same time I would have a more consistent source of fuel.

When the call came on Sunday that another big branch blew down in my friend’s driveway, I was happy to help. What better way to spend a clear, blustery New England October afternoon than cutting firewood? The sweet smell of oak, flavored with the scent hot bar oil transported me to my youth, a time when my dreams were still new and things still seemed possible. It brought back memories of camping trips, or research trips to the mountains. I remembered working in the woods and hoping to practice silviculture, if not as a career, then at least on my own land. The fond memories, mingled with the satisfying exertion of my labor, made for a pleasant afternoon.

At times like this, I think of Aldo Leopold and his Sand County Almanac. I was first introduced to the wonderful essays about a life in the woods as a college freshman when our botany professor would read selections to us in class. A favorite was “Smokey Gold,” a tale about grouse hunting among the golden tamaracks of a Wisconsin autumn. I found my 1972 paperback copy of this 1949 classic and studied the way I had carefully written my name in uncharacteristically neat block letters on the first page as if, even then, I knew I would be keeping this book for a long time and that it would take on value for me far greater than its 95-cent price would seem to indicate. Now, 34 years later, I can still pick up that little book and be transported to places and times far away.

I like to read the essay “Good Oak” where Leopold fells a lightning-killed oak with a cross-cut saw. As he cuts through the annual rings he is also transported through time as he describes the years those rings represent and lists the ecological disasters and conservation triumphs that happened along the way.

What could have been just another back-breaking laborious chore turned out to be an afternoon of healthful exercise and pleasant nostalgia. A windfall of good oak became a chance to do a little time traveling by reflecting on hopeful times and recalling a great book. Wood stacked in the shed is like money in the bank. Its value increases as it dries and it will soon yield dividends of warmth and more chances to dream by the fire.


At 11:48 PM, Blogger I_Wonder said...

For a few years, my only source of heat was a wood stove. There's something spiritual, soothing and satisfying about living with the seasons, getting chilled and warm and chilled again cutting and loading wood, tending a fire and feeling a sense of contentment. I remember those days with fondness. It is a "pleasant nostalgia".

At 10:12 PM, Blogger Susan Gets Native said...

Rrrroooaaarrr! Let that new saw rip, Mojoman!
You found a door into the past, just by buying a new power tool. Who says men aren't nostalgic???

At 1:11 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

We have a propane heater in our living room-- quite fashionably set up to look like a wood stove. We, of course, have considered getting rid of it and going with the real thing, something actually that burns wood. We have the chainsaw, the desire, and the nostalgia. Now we just need the stove.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Endment said...

Have a lot of oak, pine, maple and other wood here that would be benefited by a chainsaw :)
It will simply wait - we have no way to burn it :)

At 6:31 AM, Anonymous threecollie said...

I too found Leopold while in college....came across the paperback edition in the college bookstore and liked the look of the cover. Still have it, still read it.
The most lastingly memorable story for me was about chickadees coming in close when they heard someone cutting wood. I find them such companionable birds no matter what one is doing outdoors. They creep all over the woodpile when I am filling the outdoor stove.

At 3:49 AM, Anonymous John Mark said...

I found this post to be very informative and helpful. I will have to recommend you to my friends. I am very thankful to you for giving this post.


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