I came, I sawed, I conquered

by Greg Dixon / 16 October, 2017
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Disco Darth: the writer dances over the remains of the fallen gum. Photo/Michele Hewitson

Tree down! It’s time to pull on the fluorescent orange and crank up the chainsaw – one page at a time.

If a tree falls near your house and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?

I suspect that even if we’d been standing right next to it and it had been louder than bombs, we still would not have heard our tree fall for all the awful carry-on from the wind that night.

Fortunately, Miles the sheep farmer noticed what we hadn’t heard – and indeed failed to spot for days after the big storm: that one of the gums had come down in the Nuttery.

We marched out into the morning cold to inspect the damage. There wasn’t any. Like a good soldier, the nearly 12m-tall gum had fallen without taking any of its comrades with it, so the walnut, almond, hazelnut and fig trees were quite unscathed. We saluted this fallen Aussie trooper for its selfless sacrifice.

There just remained the worrying business of what to do with the body.

For several weeks after, I would awaken each morning and pull back the curtains, hoping the poor dead digger’s corpse had somehow disappeared in the night, taken by body snatchers perhaps. But in my heart, I knew it would come down to me cutting it up, like I was one of Tony Soprano’s crew getting rid of a dead wiseguy out the back of Satriale’s Pork Store.

Now, I didn’t come to the country completely unprepared. I did already own a chainsaw, though unfortunately it was a bit small. Also, it was electric. In the country, the owning of a smallish electric chainsaw will earn you a look like the one Miles the sheep farmer gave me. This was a face so straight it completely failed to disguise his amusement.

No, a girlie electric saw wasn’t going to cut it. What I was going to need was a proper Texas Chainsaw Massacre sort of chainsaw, something that would take your leg off if you didn’t know what you were doing. And I didn’t know what I was doing.

I sent for a book. It was called the Homeowner’s Complete Guide to the Chainsaw. An honest reviewer would certainly praise its helpful photos and step-by-step instructions but might wonder at the wisdom of including such bowel-loosening factoids as “the average number of stitches from a chainsaw accident is 110”. I read it lying down.

Perhaps, I thought afterwards, I might get a lesson. While browsing at a tool store, I enquired whether they offered instruction in how not to cut a leg off while using a chainsaw. No, said the kindly sales fellow. “But,” he continued, “someone is offering chainsaw night classes – and I don’t want to be sexist – for women. Perhaps you could go to that?”

I didn’t think he was being sexist at all.

In the end, I bought myself a brand-new Husqvarna. It’s Day-Glo orange. I also bought Day-Glo safety chaps, Day-Glo safety gloves, steel-capped boots and a Day-Glo hard hat with face-shield and ear protection. When I’m wearing it all, I look like a disco Darth Vader.

With my pulse racing at the equivalent of the average number of stitches one has for a chainsaw accident, I finally trudged out to the Nuttery one fine morning not long ago. In my hands was what the Homeowner’s Complete Guide to the Chainsaw unhelpfully calls “the world’s most dangerous handheld power tool – especially in the hands of a new user”.

With Michele standing by at a distance far enough away not to be collateral damage but still close enough to hear any screams, I began my careful and methodical dismemberment of the gum.

In the end, the poor bugger caused little trouble in its journey to the afterlife as a surprisingly small pile of firewood. As for me, well, I’ll claim a victory over my inner fraidy-cat. You might even say I came, I sawed, I conquered.

This article was first published in the August 19, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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