Cut down a notch


Back Home by Chris Hardie

Chris Hardie, Journalist

Experience is the teacher of all things.

These words from Julius Caesar proved all too true recently when I tackled what I thought would be a simple task on the farm. The job at hand was to remove a limb from a rotten maple tree that was hanging over the driveway.

It’s the same tree where two limbs came down in December after a heavy snowfall and this limb was leaning like a sailor in a saloon at the end of shore leave. It was ready to topple at any moment.

I’ve slain many trees over the years after learning the art of felling from my father. While sometimes predicting the path of the fall can be tricky, this was a no-brainer. The branch looked like a rainbow and would fall in its arch.

It was that arch, however, that was going to put lots of pressure on the base of the trunk. So I knew that I needed to cut a big notch in the direction of the fall to avoid trouble with pinching the saw.

Experience taught me long ago that one never heads into the woods with only one chainsaw. But since this tree was in the yard, I figured one saw would do the job. But after a few seconds, it was apparent that the blade was too dull to get the job done and couldn’t be sharpened anymore.

I went to get the other saws, which were stored in a shed. Thanks to some recent rain and warm weather, the gravel floor had turned into a block of ice. Frozen in the middle of the ice were my two other chainsaws.

I fetched a pail of hot water, melted the ice and pulled them free. I grabbed the bigger of the two saws and headed back to the tree. The saw was out of gas and my can was empty, so it was back to the shed to mix more fuel.

Fueled up, I pulled and pulled on the saw. It would not start. The third saw started, but I thought it was a little small for the job.

I then implemented my third backup plan. I would put a new chain on the first saw. That plan was scuttled when I discovered that my new chain was for a 20-inch bar. My saw had an 18-inch bar.

Back to the shed for my fourth backup plan. I retrieved a new 20-inch bar and chain which I installed on the first saw.

A few minutes later, I was up and running and I set about to carefully cut the notch. But the old maple fought back and pinched the blade, leaving the chainsaw stuck into the side of the tree.

I simultaneously cursed that saw and said a blessing for my little saw, which was my last option.

I now had to cut from the other side of the tree, being careful to avoid the stuck saw and hoping that the notch would be sufficient to still guide the tree away from the house.

It didn’t take long. After cutting just a few inches, the trunk snapped off above the notch. It fell to the ground with the other saw. The entire inside of the trunk was rotten.

The saw and the house were fine. I started cutting up the trunk. The new chain was working like a hot knife through butter. That is until it almost came off the bar. Somewhere in the pile of snow and branches, one of two nuts that holds the bar came off.

Being a nut short could be the story of my life, but I was not deterred. I borrowed one from the other disabled saw and was back to full nut strength.

I started to feel a little proud of my flexibility, tenacity and ingenuity.

Older and wiser was I.

A lesser man may have given up.

I finished cutting and started splitting. It was going so well that I thought maybe I would even start cutting down another trunk, as there are four others on the tree that need to go.

Oh, the price of pride and vanity.

I bent down to lift a large chunk and felt a twinge in my lower back. I tried to ignore it and continued to split the wood.

I managed to at least clear the driveway before my back stiffened up.

The pulled muscle defeated my wounded pride. I was done for the day.

I put the saws away and limped back to the house, wincing a bit with each step. I had won a small battle but was paying a heavy price. It was no easy and fast victory like the one Caesar witnessed his army take in 47 BC in the Battle of Zela in Asia Minor.

I came.

I sawed.

I whimpered.

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at [email protected].