It’s our anniversary. Break out the chainsaws.

It seems to be customary across cultures to plant a tree in honor of the birth of a baby. And it makes sense – a new life for a new life. Well, yesterday was our wedding anniversary, and we cut one down.

It’s not like we sat down and decided that this would be a great way to mark our six years as a married couple, given that wood is the traditional gift for the sixth anniversary.  It’s just that a tree needed to come down, and we had the time.

Cutting down a tree is an enterprise fraught with peril. First, you have to be really sure that you want the tree to come down, because if you change your mind afterward it’ll take forty years to correct your mistake. Less abstractly, there’s the potential to kill someone. Or crush your house, your car, or your chicken coop. That last one was a particular concern this time, as it was close enough to the tree to be in harm’s way.

One of the many things living in the sticks has taught me is that wood is heavy. If you’ve ever hauled logs, it doesn’t take much imagination to extrapolate to the weight of an entire tree. Trees and danger don’t, at first blush, seem to go together. A nice red oak looks harmless enough when it’s swaying in the breeze, shading your hammock and oxygenating your atmosphere, but once it starts falling it’s an absolute menace.

We had one thing going for us yesterday – the tree to come down, a thirty-foot oak, was already leaning in the right direction. Kevin surveyed the area, moved the cars, and headed out with a chain saw.

I wish I could tell you exactly what he did, but it’s hard to note the details from forty feet away. Basically, he followed standard tree-felling procedure. He cut a wedge out of the tree on the side he wanted it to fall toward, and then cut  in toward the wedge from the other side of the tree.

There are a couple things I’ve always thought it would be cool to have the occasion to yell. “Stop the presses!” is my favorite, but “Tiiiiiiimmmmmber!” is a close second. Somehow, though, when the tree was actually falling, it didn’t seem right.

The tree came down exactly where Kevin had wanted it to, right down our driveway. Nothing was crushed, no one was hurt, and our garden is going to be much sunnier. The only problem was that we had a tree in our driveway.

They look bigger when they’re horizontal.

The time-consuming part of felling a tree  isn’t cutting it down.  It’s cutting it up.

The time-consuming part of felling a tree  isn’t cutting it down. It’s cutting it up. Once you get it on the ground, you have to reduce it to manageable pieces. The really skinny parts go to the brush pile to get burned. The next-to-skinniest parts get cut up for kindling. The limbs with three- to six-inch diameter get cut into four-foot lengths for shiitake-growing, and the fat stuff is firewood.

The skinny stuff comes off with loppers, but the rest of it is a job for a chainsaw. Fortunately, we have not one, but four chain saws. One is a big hairy Husqvarna, and the other three are little electric jobs, bought at yard sales for not more than twenty bucks. The first two had tragic flaws, but the third, a Homelite, works beautifully.

We oiled up the saws and went to work. Because I have an implantable defibrillator, there’s a lot of power equipment I’m not supposed to use because heavy vibration can, potentially, damage the transvenous leads that go from the device into my heart. I stay away from the big chainsaw, the leaf blower, and any other large, powerful handheld equipment. The little Homelite, though, doesn’t pack enough of a wallop to do damage.

So, while Kevin used the big saw on the big logs, I used the little saw on the little logs. I felt like the little kid in the supermarket who has one of those tiny kid-carts so he can feel just like Mommy, doing the shopping.

We were at it for about two hours. Kevin sawed away at the big branches and the trunk, and I cut up the smaller stuff. When it started to get dark, we called it quits and put the tools away, with only a ten-foot section of trunk remaining.

Kevin tried to count the rings of a trunk cross-section (it’s not as easy as your second-grade textbook made it look), and concluded that the tree was just about our age.

I suppose you could read it as a malevolent sort of symbolism, cutting down a tree as old as we are on our anniversary, kind of like giving a knife as a wedding gift, but that’s not how I see it. When I stood over the sawhorse, cutting the small stuff while Kevin cut the large, I was very aware that this job wasn’t one I would have tackled alone. And it’s not just because I’m not supposed to use a chainsaw – it’s because it’s a dangerous, daunting, heavy job that, strictly speaking, didn’t absolutely need to be done. There are a lot of those around here, and they go a lot smoother when two people, working with a will, tackle them together.

This enterprise of procuring our own food, as interesting and satisfying as I find it, is serious work, and I wouldn’t have embarked on it without Kevin. Not just because he shares the labor, but because he shares the interest and the satisfaction as well. I sometimes write as though this were my project, but it isn’t. It’s ours, and its joys are amplified by our being in it together. The things we’ve done are pleasures in themselves, but each is also a reminder of the solidity of our partnership.

We cut down a tree, together, on our wedding anniversary, and it seemed exactly right.

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  1. Congratulations! Every anniversary is a wonderful testament to the ability of two people to come together and share a LIFE! I think cutting down a tree was a wonderful way to spend the day. We just removed a large maple from our yard that was shading the garden, so I had to laugh and sympathize with the shocking reality of how much wood a fourty year old tree can produce!

  2. Your post gave me the warm and fuzzies this morning. Even the most basic human behaviours – gathering food, clearing land – that we’ve been doing for ten thousand years are actually complicated, time consuming and fraught with life threatening dangers. Having a partner for physical and moral support makes so much more achievable.

    I was never dependant on a partner in my city life, because all the hard work was taken out of most of the day-to-day tasks of living by shops and civic organisations and mass transport. In my coutry life I felt shocked how much I relied on a partner (especially as a fierce feminist). Over time I’ve come to treasure the bond between Mike and me, and realise he needs me just as much for my skills.

    You know 7th anniversary is traditionally wool or copper – are you going to get Kevin a flock of sheep or a smelter?

  3. You are so incredibly awesome. I love the little shopping cart analogy. You’ll always be pushing the big shopping cart in my book. Congratulations on your anniversary. Wishing you both many many more to come. xo

  4. I look forward to reading your blog and just loved this one!Your writing just exempliifies what this lifestyle is all about….being mindful of how we live and thoughtful while we are doing it. Happy Anniversary!

  5. Tracy — I think we should start a “women who’ve logged” support group! Thanks for your good wishes.

    Jen — Let’s see. Sheep … or smelter. Sheep … or smelter. Tough call, but I may have to go with the sheep. I do think that a partnership makes a very big difference in this kind of life. Two people can accomplish more than twice what one person can, particularly if they have compatible skills and a sense that they’re building something together.

    Rick — Thanks!

    Jen Y — Your fairy godmother must have tapped your head with her wand when you were born and said, “Go forth and spread sunshine and goodwill!” I swear you leave a wake of smiling people. Thanks.

    Saundra — Why, you’re welcome here any time! Kind words are an excellent anniversary gift.

  6. In our last two houses we had open fires and therefore needed a regular supply of firewood. It was just a phone call away; delivered to our wood pile in just the right sort of size logs, where it was neatly stacked for us .. and all for a paltry sum. Having read this post I am even more thankful for the wonderful people who did all the hard work for us … I’m sure Andy wouldn’t let me loose with the chainsaw (I have a reputation for being ever so slightly accident prone with sharp cutting implements) and if I had to wait for him to go and chop wood, I’d be very cold indeed!

    I do miss my open fire though.

  7. Nuts! It was a toss up between the Homelite and the Earthwise, and we opted for the Earthwise because it had great reviews. I used to sell Homelite chainsaws (along with McCullough) in a much earlier life, so I know that they make quality equipment. I sure hope I’m not going to be sorry that we opted for the other…

    Congratulations on another year together, and may you have many more!

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