I had a great Father’s Day yesterday, at least for a Father’s Day that didn’t include getting a chain saw as a gift.
I was mowing the grass Saturday when I walked under a large tree and had to dodge the protruding sticks of an obviously dead limb. Looking up, I saw a swirl of similarly deceased branches and it occurred to me something should probably be done about this. The tree itself was healthy; I simply needed to prune away the unsightly stalks. I’ve written in the past about how extremely skilled I am with the lawn mower, and thought for a moment about running it up the trunk of the tree to give it a little trim, then realized this was probably too dangerous. What might be at least a little less deadly?
A chain saw!
I’ve always wanted a chain saw but could never articulate a mature justification as to why. They’re loud and dangerous and smell of gasoline and are frequently wielded by movie madmen, which all seem like good reasons to own one. Yet if I was a proper middle-class suburbanite, I’d have to come up with something better than that. Perhaps this clump of limbs was finally a good excuse.
I’ve done my own yard work for a long time, concentrating primarily on the grass and the occasional shrubbery. My home sits on a tree-covered lot, and I guess I’ve always taken the trees for granted. It never seemed like they needed a lot of maintenance. We’ve had to cut a few down when it was obvious they were totally lifeless, but that’s no more technically challenging than making a phone call to a local tree service.
The idea that a tree could be partially dead didn’t occur to me. I thought of barren branches as equivalent to a gangrenous toe that you might eventually need a (tree) surgeon to remove. As long as you didn’t walk on it, as a tree was unlikely to do, it’d probably be okay left alone, and would eventually fall off. Instead, I now realized that the branches were more similar to human hair or fingernails, and that occasional grooming was necessary, at least if you had a job.
The tree does have a job — to cool my home, clear the air and beautify my neighborhood — and now I noticed that several of these were in need of manicures and/or haircuts. Since Great Clips was no longer an option after that nasty incident where I asked a stylist to trim my nostrils, I was going to have to take care of this on my own. Dismissing waxing, tweezing and Nair as practical options, I soon found myself contemplating the chain saw.
I hurried inside to offer my wife and son this admittedly last-minute Father’s Day gift idea.
“We’ve already bought your gift,” my wife said. “And besides, don’t you know how incredibly dangerous a chain saw is?”
“But these limbs are really thick, and our regular saw won’t reach,” I said.
“They’re not going to be any closer to the ground with a chain saw, you know,” she said. “How did you expect to reach them?”
I’ll admit I hadn’t thought that part through. We do have a rickety old ladder I might be able to balance on the uneven ground beneath the offending elm. She quickly nixed that approach.
“I could jump to them,” I offered. “I’m a good jumper.”
Unfortunately, Beth had some experience in this kind of landscaping, working with her father when she was a young girl to clear an entire peninsula near Charleston. She knew exactly the right tool for the job I described: it was an “extendible pruning saw with lopper attachment,” something Leatherface wouldn’t be caught dead using to terrorize teenage campers, but adequate for my needs.
So I jumped in the car and headed over to the local home improvement store. I was directed to aisle 37, home to a variety of old-fashioned tools like rakes, shovels and saws. Unfortunately, on the way, I had to pass aisle 36, which featured a broad assortment of high-tech equipment, including gas-powered trimmers, electric hedge hogs, power whackers and, of course, the forbidden chain saw. Some of these saws were small and inexpensive, and might even qualify as “cute”. Others were high-end monsters, their virility so profound that packaging couldn’t contain the blade, and it protruded erect a full three feet from a slit in the box.
When a worker asked if I needed help, I felt a little like Sen. Larry Craig caught in an airport men’s room, but recovered quickly enough to ask where the manual pruning equipment was. He showed me several options that were close to what Beth had recommended, and I made a few notes to run past her before making a purchase. Now, I’m drooling over what I see on aisle 38 — tools for the home shop, such as sanders, drills, band saws, etc. If I couldn’t buy a chain saw, maybe I could pick up a nice electric drill. Seems like if you drilled enough holes into the base of a branch that eventually it would fall off. Nah, better not.
On Sunday, then, we returned to Home Depot and settled on a “power-lever tree pruner” made by Fiskars. (“That’s a good brand,” my wife noted. “I thought they made cat food,” I responded). It extends to 14 feet in height and includes a “WoodZig” saw that you can attach next to the snippers, giving you a two-pronged approach to tackle unsightly limbs, be they on your tree or on your torso. I carried the long tool carefully to the checkout, holding the handle down with one hand and the blades up with the other, feeling like a spear-carrying extra in a gladiator movie.
When we got it home, I had to try it out immediately. Beth handled the minimal assembly required and I reviewed the safety instructions written for idiots: “Don’t cut near electrical wires, don’t stand on a ladder while cutting, and don’t stand directly under the branch you are cutting.” My wife continued admiring the craftsmanship of the tool while I pointed out a minor typographical error on the packaging — “Carefully remove the saw blade from the packaging and (unnecessary double space between words) align blade end openings with carriage bolt,” it read. She said I was missing the point, though I still maintain that typography is important.
With the curving blade now the most prominent feature, I became the Grim Reaper, heading out to the yard to carve my sloppy hardwoods into shape. The work was simple, yet it was easier said than done to avoid standing under a branch you were cutting. I found it pretty effortless to dodge the falling lumber, though if I’d had that chain saw, I could’ve swung it through the air, turning the thick branches into hundreds of beautiful coasters before they reached the ground.
Or I could’ve created a beautiful ice sculpture! “Beth, don’t we need a beautiful ice sculpture?”