“Seriously dude this is the greatest moment of my life,” Frank said as we pulled up to my brother, Pat’s, house. Or rather where his house will be in two months. “It’s like heaven without the virgins.”
“Heads up,” I muttered. A large poplar crashed across the road, sending a spray of splinters the size of daggers into the air. Dad waved at us from the fractured remains of Mother Nature. Against the ragged stump, he rested his chainsaw and chugged at a canteen (filled with sweet tea). Several thunderstorms were predicted to roll across the county later that afternoon, dissipating some of the heat eventually. However, we were not about to cut trees in the rain and so until then, we would suffer the heat.
Finished, Dad wiped his brow and handed Frank the saw, grunting as he did so toward a sixty-foot tree at the edge of the property. At his nod, I moseyed toward the chipper, where Sean and Ryan stuffed broken branches and freshly cut saplings between revolving gears and mechanical teeth. The machine gurgled and screamed as it chewed, finally spitting out its waste like a bulimic model onto growing piles of discarded chips and shavings.
Frank revved his saw and nodded approvingly. His Cheshire grin said everything: “Frickin’ awesome. Now if only I had some zombies to kill.”
Essentially, Pat and Tiff have finally decided to break ground on their new house. Their baby, the next generation of Murpheys, is due to enter Earth’s atmosphere in less than a month. Pat’s taking the stress rather well, though he keeps his wine glass full whenever he visits (Linganore’s Mountain White, a wonderful semi-sweet Maryland wine). Before we can pour the footings, the land needs to be cleansed of all flora — that is trees — and requiring experts in senseless destruction, Pat called upon his brothers to help.
Donning saw and (in the case of my brother Ryan) red flannel, the boys have become nightly lumberjacks, tree-jackers, human beavers, and other mildly suggestive epithets. Most of the woods in this area are thick with forty to sixty foot trees, the kind that might smash a man’s skull if they inadvertently fall upon his head (The trick is to run in a serpentine fashion; it confuses the Hell outta them). With the exception of perhaps my father, we were all amateurs, novices to this ancient art but as men ready and willing to cut Mother Nature down a peg or two – those with allergies were particularly unforgiving. Armed with a host of chainsaws, maul and a gas chipper, we advanced on the plot like a swarm of termites, stripping and cutting poplars and oak, reducing a small forest to nothing more than firewood and mulch.
Before I continue, it should be noted that I was not given a saw. To most it was a safety issue, if you wished to retain a leg or arm. Thus, you simply did not offer the eldest brother a working blade of any sort. Such an act was equivalent to mixing napalm and gasoline, water to acid, or gremlins with swimming pools. Trees may fall down atop our heads, fingers could tickle the inner gears of the wood chipper, our ankles might be horribly entangled in rusty barbed wire, yet this was acceptable, preferable to the damage my hands might wreck equipped with both chain and saw.
Thus, we were offered more . . . essential jobs: carting the mulch machine around the plot as it spewed miniature replicas of African termite towers. Sean, Ryan and I competed with one another, seeing who could stuff their respective branch into the machine first. Like any creature of chaos, Sean loved his role in this operation; stuffing random bits of bracken, twigs, and the rotting corpses of oak and poplar into the mouth of the machine satisfied him the same way clean jokes did not. No matter the size or shape, he sought to destroy it; I once caught him crying after stripping a particularly large stump, much too large for the machine. After fifteen minutes and several jams, we finally managed to chew it all up and spit it out. My brother quickly excused himself then, dismissing the waterworks as ‘sawdust in the eyes.’
Now as for me, I hated the damn thing. By day two I had bought a new pair of earphones and a playlist specially designed for chopping trees: Metallica mostly, some Pearl Jam and Green Day for irony. Mostly the chipper was a pain to transport. Hooked onto the back of an old Dodge Ram, we dodged the scattered stumps, debris, and falling trees, which often did not suffer a few precious seconds as we learned to drive with a hitched wagon.
Just yesterday Shannon and I got into an argument over where we had parked the Dodge and the machine. Dad had planned to fell the tree eastwards, even positioning Pat and his Bobcat on the western side of the oak to push, but center of gravity and weight planned otherwise. The rotting trunk shifted to the north, south, east and west while Dad cut. Charley, Shannon and I took bets on where it would fall. Frank removed his phone, hoping to see truck and chipper pancaked. Instead the tree chose to fall westward shifting its weight onto the Bobcat, which despite best efforts could do nothing to direct its collision path. Luckily Pat jumped from the tractor in time and only machine and tree were mortally wounded.
“See I told you!” Shannon screamed afterward. “Told you that your parking job was stupid!”
“The truck is still standing!” I exclaimed, presenting a perfectly unharmed Dodge. Kevin ran past me to check on his wounded Bobcat.
“But it didn’t fall as planned. It was a stupid place to park.”
“Like I had time to manipulate it anywhere else. Anyway, if it smashed the Dodge, we would be YouTube millionaires by the end of the day. So . . . ah!” The chipper suddenly burped up a few loose twigs and spit a dust and wood shards into my hair.
Frank on the other hand was like a little boy on Pleasure Island (The one in Pinocchio, where kids fought, tore up houses, and basically made asses of themselves — as opposed to the one you Tevoed on Cinemax last night). The chainsaw roared into life with a pull of the starter. He cut off a dead limb from the newly fallen tree, laughing manically all the while. The oaks standing near the property line shuddered partly in fear, partly because of the wind. The sky had grown cloudy.
“This is awesome, dude,” he screamed. “I’m about to sock it to Mother Nature, yeah. Screw the fifty virgins and even Scarlett Johannson. My new heaven will be a forest of redwoods and a 20 inch saw.”
He walked toward one of the larger trees, and turning his rotating blade upon the unsuspecting maple, Frank cut a wedged piece from the trunk. If cut correctly, the tree should fall on that side toward the cleared lot. Another angled cut on the opposite side would cause the tree to bend towards the gash and eventually crash. Thus, we were able to control the direction of the falling trees.
The thing is though, center of gravity, weight, incline, and wind can drastically disrupt the whole system. On windy days, treetops became giant flyswatters ready to flatten anyone within radius. On this day, Frank miscalculated the slope of the ground; the maple was leaning into the forest. Thus, when he began to cut, it fell away from its expected route, pinching his chainsaw in the process, and landed like exhausted child into the boughs of its neighbors. The tree did not fall, but remained leaning tangled in vines, twigs and branches.
“Son of a . . !” Frank began before launching a wave of invectives in Spanish (imagine a Hispanic version of The Departed and you’ll get the idea). At a nod from Dad, Kevin pulled up in the bulldozer attempting to push the tree into what we can only imagine to be a horizontal position . . . preferably on the ground. Still despite all the pushing and shoving, the tree remained quite resilient to gravity.
“My first tree,” Frank groaned to Sean. “And I screwed it up. I’m never cutting down another tree again.”
“Well, technically,” Charley began, “you haven’t cut down one yet. It’s still standing like a drunken cowboy in a broom closet.”
“Those virgins are lookin’ better and better already. I’d even settle for one slighty-used Scarlett Johansson now. I wonder who I see about changing my order . . .”