I was once a forestry technician. For any who wonder what exactly a forestry technician does, we basically plant trees in the spring and spend the rest of the year cutting them down. It all made sense to me when I was paid but in hindsight had they hidden the chainsaws, spring would have involved less perspiration.
I am reminiscing because my brother and I did some tree cutting ourselves at the family cottage. It was a long weekend and we actually cut down two trees. I use the term ‘we’ loosely.
My brother and I each have our own chainsaws. Between you and me my brother doesn’t know how to use his. Although his is more dormant I was on this occasion thankful he has one. I was exhausted before we were even near shade. I spent the first hour pulling the chord on mine. It ran quite well but only for a few seconds at a time. I gave up when oil started oozing out of spots I’m pretty sure contain no oil. I found a part in the grass near my folly and I could find no place to reattach it so I surrendered. I’m a tree hugger at heart but by this point I could barely lift my arms.
I sometimes mock my brother’s abilities and equipment but on this occasion I openly embraced his much cleaner and operable saw. We installed my larger blade and chain on his saw and were ready for forestry. We scampered along the slope in front of the cottage next to the tree that was in age more weed than wonder. It grew on a 30 degree angle opposite of where we wanted it to fall and its limbs conspired with their weight in the same direction. It was half rotten at the base and I struggled to make a notch in the side I wished it to fall. I made a cut on the opposite side fully expecting it to transfer its angle and weight in the direction of my desire. In protest it leaned logically and pinched my blade and my brothers saw. My knees were shaking as I know the danger of twisted, leaning, half cut trees. I was soaked with sweat and seriously considered unbolting my blade and handing my brother back the portion he owned. He doesn’t get out much and had been practicing yelling “timber” all morning so I obliged his obsession.
I climbed the hill to the shed where I put my hands on two axes, a hatchet and a sledgehammer. To this day I am unsure of what my brother was doing at the time. If a tree can be obstinate this one was. I placed the axe into the wound the saw had inflicted prior to being pinched. I pounded it in with the sledgehammer until the saw was released. Again, I am unsure what my brother was doing at the time but I heard him exclaim that the saw was free. “Thanks for that.”
I was basically petrified at this point since there was little holding the tree up and I knew it could kick out or fall in any direction, the least likely being the one I wanted. I did a little more cutting with the saw but I was basically at a point a beaver would be ashamed of. A beaver would have enough sense to leave the rest to the wind but I could see the eagerness in my brother’s eyes. I grabbed the axe again and using the sledgehammer pounded it with all my might in the direction the tree was deciding to go. “It’s going…wait…wait… did you hear that?” my brother exclaimed. In fact the tearing noise was fully audible to me as well and did nothing for my trembling knees. I kept swinging the sledgehammer wildly and it finally started to fall in the exact opposite direction of our initial plan.
It was somewhat anti-climatic as it fell into the limbs of other sympathetic trees and landed on the uphill slope as though settling into a favourite chair. I started to limb and cut the trunk into lengths that will eventually warm my mother. I struggled in the mess of leaves and limbs as I maneuvered up the slope. I couldn’t see much for all the trees but in need of someone to pull cut branches out of my way I had to again wonder where my brother was. I finally sawed a path to the top of the hill where the deceased tree had stretched. I stood on the cottage deck and took in the new view. It was only one tree but the view was entirely different. It only took two hours of fiddling, fear and frustration to see things differently. It all reminded me of the many other things I could not see at times in my life. The barriers and obstacles I have had to get past. I would like to say I have removed them myself but many have only been overcome by grace, grit and my damn brother wherever the hell he is.
I like to call myself a fisherman though I am less so than in my younger years. This past summer I had fair luck here on Lake Huron providing my family with several Bass and Perch meals. I do have my share of luck, for instance it was I who caught fifteen fish and my nephew one on one excursion; he’s two and a half. Outside of that I don’t carry with me any extensive knowledge or talent.
This year I was at the lake before anyone else and found myself on the water alone last night. The seas were rough relative to my light aluminum canoe. I hooked into a beautiful Smallmouth Bass after only three casts and was expecting a bountiful night. At the rate I started I was sure to fill my canoe. The odd wave splashed over the edge of my unnamed boat and I had to brace myself by knee to one of the gunnels to cast my beautiful lure with the wind. After a while I pulled out my smokes and enjoyed what would be my last from that pack. I also pulled out my Ipod. I have never fished to music and at the moment I am unsure of what possessed me to do so. I pulled anchor from the rocky shoal and was drifting quickly past the boulders that make the fishing so excellent. It really was idyllic but like many things in life – change is inevitable.
With a breeze on my cheek, a rhythmic motion to the canoe and music to tie the scene together I couldn’t have wished for more other than fish. In slow motion the boat listed to starboard, my heavy tackle box slid and everything entered the water to the side of the fish swimming on my stringer. The fish was as big as any I had ever caught and I am want to blame it for my capsize but there must have been other factors which lead to me with my head bobbing beneath my canoe. The song played on as I was banged by my floating tackle box, two paddles, a net and my Smallmouth Bass. None of it seemed real as the music floated through my head as if nothing was different. I quickly righted my canoe to save my fishing pole from the bottom and suddenly realized I had nothing to bail out the hundreds of gallons now occupying the inside of my canoe. I clung to the side and counted my possessions certain something had passed me and my life vest to the bottom. It seemed to all be floating in the canoe just fine. I took off my flip flops and tossed them in with the flotsam and made my way to the back of the canoe. I hugged what was either the bow or stern and tried to yank my life jacket from around my ears. And the band played on.
My fifteen minute paddle and ten minute drift had left me further from land and home than one would want to be in sixty-five degree water. Adrenaline kept me warm as I kicked my way to shore. I can’t say it was a pleasant thirty minutes but I was alive. Outside of expense I wished I had my Iphone rather than music, regardless, I didn’t have the Coast Guard in my Contacts anyway. It was a struggle kicking a canoe full of water through the waves but I had Lady Gaga for inspiration. I wouldn’t recommend this activity for aerobic exercise but I was without the sore ass that follows my yearly session on the stationary bike.
I could see figures on shore as I made my way in. One couple who I’m sure saw my low lying canoe with a head bobbing at the back seemed uninterested and carried on down the beach. And the music died. I intend to write Apple and commend them on how their non-waterproof Ipod actually performs quite well while submerged in a pocket underwater. I stowed my now defunct headphones in my pocket figuring they were shot with the waves that lapped at my head and also to ensure that in the event of rescue I wouldn’t appear as a stereotypical self-absorbed teenager lost in music.
I was keeping a close eye on my bobbing tackle box hoping a wave wouldn’t sweep it from my canoe. I was getting tangled in my fishing line and was too tired to enjoy any form of body piercing so I retired from my exercise and reeled in my lucky lure and stowed my pole underwater in the canoe. As I propelled closer to shore I had a good view of my bass, its fins were out of water like a shark and I was grateful to not have to deal with anything like that. I was however becoming resentful of my finned friend as it was clearly alive but made little effort in the direction of intention. When I finally hit a sandbar and could walk I was relieved but only momentarily as I passed over it and into the depths again. A family of several generations had gathered and sauntered over to my landing. “You’re supposed to ride in it.” My purple lips failed to form the curse that rose from my exhausted body. A man my age came a couple of feet into the water to assist me. He noticed my fish and was instantly enthralled. He tried to undo my stringer and asked his daughter to get a photo. I removed the fish and held it up for a picture. Neither of us was smiling and I was disinterested in recording the moment. I dragged my normally heavy and now completely filled tackle box to shore and tipped a few gallons from its seams. We removed everything else and tipped the water from my vessel. He asked if I had far to go and I replied “No, I’ll just walk her home.” And so I began to pull my mainly dry canoe and contents along the shore towards home. I was still barefoot and soon tired of walking on stones and bravely stepped back into the canoe. I was spent and probably looked like a three year old as I struggled by paddle against the wind. I was more than relieved when I made it to the beach in front of our place. I pulled the canoe to shore forgetting about my exhausted fellow passenger. He slid across the sand as dead weight still having less intention of making it to the cottage. Maybe I should have offered him a ration of rum once safely home and he may have hung in there.
Back at the cottage I was beginning to tremble, not much energy remained. Mom helped me remove year’s worth of tackle from my box and we laid it out on newspaper. We agreed it was excessive as we punctured our fingertips. I followed through with my promise for breakfast and filleted my fish under the outside light. With that out of the way I took an inventory. I had lost my favourite hat, a half pack of smokes and two pounds of body fat. My Ipod was inoperable as was my lighter so I lit a cigarette from a new pack with the BBQ flame thrower. I soon after went to bed and spent my first hour and a half shivering uncontrollably despite blankets and a thick hoodie pulled over my head in the July heat. I awoke in the morning clinging to my pillow like I had the gunnel of my canoe. I heal quickly and I will probably head out again tonight if she calms down a little but I will not have music and I will take someone with me. These moments are best shared and two set of legs would be like owning an outboard motor.