Fall is my favorite time of the year, and I love the savory smell of wood smoke in the autumn air. When I was younger, I heated my home with wood for several years. Today, my checkbook curses me each time I pay the monthly winter gas bill, but my back curses me each time I again think of cutting firewood. Nevertheless, I do miss the rumble of a powerful chain saw in my hands, the smell of the fresh wood chips as they’re spit from the saw, and of course, the wonderfully soothing feel of wood heat that results from it all. You know the old saying, wood is the fuel that heats you twice; once when you cut it, and again when you burn it. I like to think that my prowess with a chain saw was unparalleled — once I got the tree on the ground. Up to that point, however, my lumberjack skills weren’t worth a hoot. Maybe because I am directionally challenged, I don’t know, but the trees I cut never went the direction they were supposed to go. The clearest memory from my wood cutting days is of a tree felling gone horribly wrong, that wasn’t entirely my fault. Where I grew up, our farmstead sat back a very long lane, and just as it reached the house, the lane made a sharp 90-degree turn and became a large, oblong circular drive. At that 90-degree turn, and directly across the lane from the house was a big tree, as I remember, either a wild cherry or an ash. The tree had been dead for a while, and dad had decided its time was at hand, the problem being that it leaned toward the house and the electric lines. Like most old barns in that part of the country, our barn was designed primarily for storing hay, and still had the steel track high against the roof on which the old hayforks ran. These forks were used to unload loose hay from the wagons and to carry it up high enough to be dumped into the loft. A large diameter rope run through a set of pulleys and hitched to a horse or tractor, pulled the loaded forks from the wagon up into the barn, and that rope still hung high in the rafters. We had an idea! I clambered as high into the tree as I could and secured a heavy log chain, and then came the old hay rope salvaged from the barn. One end was tied tightly to the chain, the other end to a clevis on the draw bar of the old Farmall “H.” With dad on the tractor ready to pull the dead behemoth away from the house, I began to cut. The diameter of the tree was more than double the length of my chain saw bar, so it was a slow process. I finished the notch, then moved around the tree and started cutting in from the backside. As I reached the point of no return, I gave dad the high sign, and he tightened the “old” rope. (At this point you should probably back up and review what I said earlier about my tree-felling savvy.) The dead beast began to list in his direction. Life was good. However, the smile on my face evaporated at the gnawing, snapping sounds of rope fibers stretching and breaking. I watched in horror as the OLD rope unraveled and ripped in half, leaving the outcome of this undertaking in the hands of my chain saw ability. Time slipped into slow motion as half a years supply of fire wood snapped upright again, then slowly headed for the house and power lines. We had never worried about the house, which was safe by a mile, but like a fullback protecting a football as he dove for the goal line, the power lines were tucked snugly beneath its branches as the tree crashed across the driveway. Bad enough you say? Not quite, as the calamity had torn something loose somewhere, knocking the entire neighborhood out of power. Certainly bad enough now, you think! No not yet, because it was Saturday, and the power company guys had to come out on their day off, not to mention the fact that the televised Ohio State football game was interrupted. (You K State and KU fans can understand this I’m sure) Saying all the neighborhood football fans were steamed is being kind. As I remember it, they were so hot we could have heated the house that winter with their thoughts, and let the tree stand! Since I don’t cut firewood anymore, the trusty old chain saw sets alone in the dark. The chains are dull and rusty, and I doubt it would even run. It’s probably all for the better though, because I am still as directionally confused today as ever, and to top it all off, now I wear bifocals. ... Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!
Steve Gilliland is a syndicated outdoors columnist, and can be contacted by e-mail at stevegilliland@idkcom.net.