It’s Chainsaw Day, the day the last bit of the tree gets cut up in smaller pieces with a chainsaw, and it’s no accident I’ve waited this long. Chainsaws are dangerous, always, never safe, and no one can tell you they’ve mastered the art of the chainsaw unless they’ve hired someone else to use it for them. There are long pieces to be cut into shorter pieces, bramble to be cut into kindling, and ugly pieces to be cut down to size. I hate chainsaws. Maybe something would happen, I told myself, like a traffic accident, or winning the lottery, or some other form of drama where I wouldn’t have to use the chainsaw again, but this is Chainsaw Day, and so I drag it out of its black coffin, and hope it cranks, sort of, maybe, and if it doesn’t, oh well.
It does crank, on the third try, and I cut some of the smaller, but longer stuff and the chainsaw doesn’t try to kill me yet. The thicker stuff comes next, and I’m careful to stand out of the angle of the sawdust, and watch for the chain breaking, and watch for the kickback of the saw that shortened Tommy Odom’s leg by two inches back in 1981. Chainsaw are ridiculously easy to use, and therein lies the danger. Anyone can start one, anyone can pick one up, anyone can see how easy it is to zip through pieces of wood. Zip! Zip! The noise is terrible, but the wood piles up quickly, and they are so easy to use. Zip! Zip! But the vibration causes fatigue and sooner or later to get tired and get careless and suddenly there is a gusher and your bone has been turned to bonedust, not unlike at all like sawdust, except it isn’t the life of a tree running down your leg.
Odd, how fragile our lives are, yet the tree still lives. Some of the wood is still green, very green, and the smell of a tree’s death please some people, but I know this for what it is. This is my tree, and it’s being rendered for cremation, and it occurs to me my own cremation will be much different. Or maybe, if I donate my body to science, it will be much like this, until the last day of class, when the last of me is wheeled out and slapped into the toaster, never to be burned again.
There’s real life in the tree, even at this stage, and when I toss one of the green pieces onto the ground I can feel the strength in it, I can feel the life in it yet, and there is never a time in a human being’s time there is that much power in a life. This is real, true, energy that is able to hold up thousands of gallons of water, tons of woods, three acres of shade, and do so without breaking a sweat.
The ugly pieces are those that held limbs and branches, and because of this, I have to cut them shorter to be able to split them. I’ve gotten good again, I’ve fallen back into the groove of swinging an axe, and a maul, and pounding the wedges again. My endurance isn’t what it once was, but I’m faster, more efficient, and I realize why they say youth is wasted on the young now. I dreamed there was a hole in one of my gloves, but there isn’t. I know, I know, yes, a hole in one of my gloves is an odd thing to dream, but that’s my life. Dreams blend in, yes, I know, I know, it’s a form of insanity, but that too is my life. My fingers don’t reach all the way to the ends of my gloves, and they never have, really, because I have small hands. “It’s like dating a lesbian again, “ a woman told me once, and then there was this silence as she realized what she had said, and I realized it too, and we lay there in the dark and I almost asked, but I realized she hadn’t meant to say it, so I didn’t, and right at this very moment, no, not back then with her, but right now, while I’m splitting the twisted piece of Oak, I realize that like the wood which I split to reveal the twists and knots and hard places, that night I had split a woman, to reveal her own hidden secrets, and in much the same way, in fact. Much later, a year or so in fact, the woman squeezed my arm and said, “That’s her” and I realized she was talking about the college professor we had been speaking to at a party, and looking back there was that gleam in the eyes thing, but I didn’t ask that night, because she knew I would, and I knew she would be disappointed when I did, and I knew she would wonder why I didn’t, but that is the woman. Women love secrets, and revealing them, and men aren’t supposed to care, both generalizations false, yes, I know, but it fit then, and it worked then.
The woodpile gets bigger with these thoughts, and the analogy pops up but I need to move on. I wonder what this tree looked like the day I was born, and when it got sick and begun to die. It was dying when I got here nine years ago, and I’m dying right now, just as slowly as the Oak, maybe quicker in fact, but I wonder how many more I’ll lose before I go. How many more will I have to burn? Will I bury my dogs before it happens? Will my parents die before I do? Death, death, death, I’m stacking a death into a pile, and using a chainsaw while I daydream, and I hope the two don’t meet.
I split one more piece of wood and it looks impossible but it opens up like a woman who never smiles but secretly wants to be taken, and like a woman who is diseased with some virus, this piece is filled with large red and black ants. This is an eviction notice, and they aren’t happy at all. All these thoughts are piling up like the wood, and the comparison between the Oak and women makes me realize where the term Mother Earth came from, and I wonder if we can ever get back to being who we were meant to be before we’re cut up and burned.