Bite Saw

I said Bite saw and Let’s see what you can do. The engine roared and the woodslot deepened in its log.

Forty trees had bunched together in the storm. Standing still, they lay like the ribs of a tepee, and most could be ignored. But a few hung together above the sheep shed roof with their rootplates reared up behind them. It’s like they chose to lie horizontally but changed their minds on the way down, and now there’s a chance that more wind might finish the job. Even a child could see there’s enough weight in that timber to flatten the shed like a tobacco tin. 

I like my saw, and I like it when trees lean in the wind like this. It’s best when you cut the slumping trunk and lift the weight so the stump stands back on itself. That’s nice, and neat beside it. You can get to grips with a leaning tree then, but I’m haunted by the memory of the man at Dalreoch who liked this kind of work himself. And going to clear trees which leaned in this way after a storm, he went to the woods with a swarm of his collies around him. They cocked their legs and led the way, and it seems obvious now that one of them would follow a scent into the socket left by a leaning tree. The man cut the trunk and the stump snapped back like a flytrap and he knew at once what had happened. 

That story was old by the time I heard him tell it, but I remember how he lent upon one detail above all others; how the heave of that stump standing back on itself healed every sign of the wound. You’d never have guessed that tree had ever lain on its side, much less imagine a dog so instantly dead beneath it, mashed like an over-boiled spud.

I keep my dogs in the truck for this kind of work, but that’s only one vein of safety at stake. Plenty can go wrong at times like these. My saw bit and the weight moved overhead. Some of these trees weigh several tons a-piece, and they have to be shifted in careful order. I had a friend to help, but he stood back to shout advice with his hands in his pockets. Every time I made a cut, I’d park the saw and we’d walk around the tangle together. We began to see the biggest trees bending, and we took that weight into account. Cut where there’s too much strain and the trunk will burst like a firework. It’s not always easy to foresee, and the best approach is designed to relieve pressure evenly across the whole tangle so that no single point bears the whole weight at once.

By steady, edgy gnawing, I eased the weight. A significant trunk gave at last and rolled over upon itself. Thirty feet above and beyond me, a tremendous branch rolled with the turning tree and swept over itself like the arm of a sleeper reaching for comfort in bed. I broke the saw and stepped back as the whole mass slithered and bucked. Twigs snapped and barked in the canopy; things gave, and from working with my face into the sun, I turned back and saw the wood lit with the last raze of evening sunlight.

I begin to realise that if these short blog articles have any purpose at all, it’s an attempt to catch and frame very specific moments like a camera shot. And this time the punchline lies in two connected seconds almost half an hour apart. The first is that discordant view as I turned to look downlight behind me in a hiss of falling needles. Unexpected things lit noisily in the amber sun: a bright stump-end and certain snapped-off tips; a fern and the blast of my jacket’s lining, hung as it was on the peg of a nearby tree. These objects shone like beacons in the dusk of a thousand other equally deserving surfaces which simply happened to lie in the shade. As I moved, my shadow snuffed and lit these lights like cinders in the stench of sap and the hot machine.

And the second moment came soon after, when the trailer was stacked with timber cut into amber-ended tubes that we call “elephant’s feet”. It was then too dark to work and I was sweating, laughing into the steam of my coffee. We stood in the wreckage of boughs and crackling brash as the healing moon rose like a dab of salve in the purple sky.

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