The rear axle smoked. The rear tires howled and chewed through the soil like furious demons. The whole body of the car trembled and rattled in fear. Nervously, the engine shrieked as its cylinders pumped and fired. White knuckled, I grasped the steering wheel and wrenched it back and forth maniacally as the ruts behind us grew into chasms. Against all probability, the taught line from the towing hitch held fast, anchoring the car and I on the precipice of physical existence. It also threatened to snap and send us flying into a horrendous flaming wreck. The engine was red-lining. Ten feet in front of us, several large non-old-growth white birches waited patiently to smack us with their branches and cast us into oblivion in fair revenge for my actions.
It had all began earlier that morning at six, with this simple phrase:
“You’ve used a chainsaw before, right?” My Grandfather asked.
He was a grizzled old man of some seventy years, tough as nails, and missing the hair to prove it. I considered telling him snappishly, “Only in Doom.”. But that would have been a bad idea. Grandpa was the type of man to take that kind of flippancy seriously, throw down the gauntlet and challenge me to a fist-fight, and probably win it, because even though he was much older than me, he had roamed the continent hunting all creatures that walked on the surface and swam in the oceans and lakes, fought in the war, and done several other million things that I had not, and did not take sass from anyone, not even his favorite Grandson. So I kept my mouth shut and shook my head negatively.
This had led to a half-hour crash course in chainsaw operation and mechanics. After that, there had been no exam. In his opinion, I was ready to use it, and even if I mutilated myself horribly using it, I would have good form in doing so. This was Day Three of my vacation up on the thumb of Wisconsin with my family at my Grandfather’s pride and joy, his summer residence. Day One of the trip had been spent attempting to capture all of the adult fish in Lake Michigan. Day Two had been an introductory lesson in how to properly clean and load a rifle so that I too might someday stalk wild game on any of the seven continents, or at the very least, take down some very dangerous paper targets.
When the knock came at 5:45 on the morning of Day Three, I was already half awake, suspecting that something was going to happen, even though I would have preferred to be sleeping like the rest of the family. Once dressed, I met him out by the garage as he had directed.
“We need more wood.” He said simply, and then with the same matter of fact tone, “So we’re going to cut down a tree.”
It wasn’t as bad as it sounded. The multi-acre plot of land was full of trees. After all, it was a forest. Even better, he had been reseeding acres of land with saplings to compensate for the ones that had already been slaughtered. I didn’t ask what we needed the wood for. We wouldn’t be doing arts and crafts that morning, nor the next day. The wood was going into the hungry maw of the massive stone monolith that pillared through the center of the house, and roared with furious flame each summer night. The fireplace.
Since I warmed myself in front of that monster fire each night, I had no grounds to complain. I mused that since there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of other trees on the property, it wasn’t a commercial logging operation, and as we weren’t engaged in massive environmental degradation, it was probably not an ethical issue. With these thoughts in mind, I steadied my hands for war crimes against the vegetative community. As I picked up the chainsaw, noting its hefty weight and notched blade stained with the blood of many a branch, trunk, or other plant appendage, I heard a collective rustling of fear run through the myriad bright green shoots and leaves in the forest.
“So – what are we going to cut down?” I asked, surveying the area. I pictured a small sapling, ten, maybe fifteen feet tall succumbing to our mechanical might.
“I’ve had my eye on one for quite some time.” He responded pithily. “This one over here.” He then pointed to one a little up the dirt track that ran into the property. It was easily a good forty feet tall, with a massive trunk.
“That one?” I asked incredulously. Its very size seemed daunting.
“Yep.” He said as we strode to it. “Well, what are you waiting for?”
I felt like I should say a word, or at least show a moment of respect for the massive monolith that we presumed to destroy, since I came from the “Take only memories, leave only footprints” school of thought. All that came to mind was the thought: I hope it doesn’t fall on me and squish me like a bug. After all, it was waiving its branches rather forebodingly in the mild breeze. I then noticed I was getting the fisheye from my Grandfather. Without further ado, I yanked the chain on the contraption’s engine.
Bzzzzzzzzaw! The distinctive sound of the chainsaw firing up and running slashed through the early morning silence. Instinctively, I looked behind me to make sure that I wasn’t being chased by a maniac waiving one at my arm like any cheesy B-rated horror movie from my youth. There was no one there. I quickly realized that the only villain – to the trees, at least, was me. I was their worst nightmare. If trees watched movies, the title would be something like: Sapling Chainsaw Massacre IV or Deforested IX. I made my last minute checks of the instrument, and took a minute to think about what I was about to do.