Chainsaws and Capuccinos – 17/10/06

I stood there facing our latest purchase. A logging truck load of timber. That’s maybe 20 chords of wood. A huge amount. Even with our three greedy woodstoves it might last us two or three years.
The logs lay silently, almost solemnly, on a forgotten edge of our property, hard on the mountainside. Now all I had to do was cut them up. Cut them up, split them and transport them to the woodshed.
I stared at our beaten-up and leaking old chainsaw (a well-worn hand-me-down) and thought back a little whistfully to my days as Moscow Bureau Chief for the Daily Telegraph.
Irina, my super-efficient assistant would have known who to call to sort this lot out. Tolya, the office chauffeur, would probably have retained some miscellaneous wood-cutting skills from his Soviet youth.
If we had had to call in the professionals to get the job done, the whole thing would have gone on an expense account. Not that we would have had to do anything so primeval as cut up wood in Moscow.
So, how to use a chainsaw? The first person I asked was Kris, a long-haired and laid-back Belgian neighbour who was passing by on the road that runs through our property. (It’s a goat track really but the Canadians call it BC Highway 31.)
His expression told me there was nothing to it. “You just hold it like this,” he said striking a relaxed pose, rolled-up cigarette glued to his lower lip, “And then let the saw do the rest.”
Mmmmm. It couldn’t surely be that easy. Friends in England had told me that foresters now had to go on special courses before they could use one of these fiercesome machines.
A local shop that sold the saws carried a bewildering array of safety equipment ranging from kevlar tops to safety trousers to steel-tipped boots as well as ear protectors, eye protectors and crotch protectors.
I asked Ed, another neighbour. He looked willing to help but worried.
Eventually it was Jezzer, a newcomer, who came to the rescue. Visiting with two other New Zealander friends, he announced his arrival at the ranch by leaping bareback onto one of our unsuspecting horses.
Cola (named after the ubiquitous drink not the Russian peninsula), his unwilling and unready steed, who had not been ridden for two years, took fright and, gratifyingly, dumped Jezzer on his fidgety arse.
For the next three days Jezzer proved himself a vintage ranchero. He beat in fence posts, slung bails and attacked wasps nests. (That last feat cost him five bites on his already-bruised backside.)
Then he showed me how to use the chainsaw. “Hold it like this. Don’t use the tip. Sharpen the blade like this.” And so on. And so on. All good useful outback skills.
(Egged on by his wayward mates, Jezzer also felled one of our huge, though admittedly dead, trees while my attention was elsewhere.)
Once some of the sawing was done, the next stage was chopping the stuff up. The neighbours looked at us aghast. “What, you haven’t got a log-splitter?” they asked with wide eyes.
Log-splitter was not a word in my vocabulary. I looked it up in an outdoor equipment catalogue. Beautifully-crafted little machines that split wood for you. $2000-$3000 a piece.
We hadn’t bargained for that and the remains of our rapidly dinminishing bank balance was already carefully apportioned.
Each tiny slice was spoken for – mortgage payments, insurance payments, bread, sugar, butter, diesel, dog chews.
In the end we decided to splash out on a splitting axe. $25. That wouldn’t break the bank. It was fittingly called a Grizzly.
This week Operation Make Firewood finally swung into action. I donned my rather swanky lime-tinted safety goggles, some heavy hiking boots (not steel toe-capped but close enough) and a checked lumberjack shirt.
After numerous trips to the chainsaw service, our trusty Stihl was ready to get at it. A bit of chain oil in this hole, small turn on the screw to get the tension just so.
My assistant was Kadri, an industrious Estonian girlfriend of Kristin’s visiting as part of a round-the-world tour. (Hawaii, New York, Meadow Creek and other global spots of note).
When we had sawn the huge logs into slices, off she hauled them to the cutting block. One by one, aching muscle by aching muscle, I split them up like birthday cakes. Each slice had to be just the right size.
After two days, my back is killing me, my arms are rubbery and stiff and my knees are achingly close to collapse.
My once soft and gentle small pink hands – creatures of the keyboard whose most strenuous pre-wilderness exercise had been holding pint glasses – are calloused, dirty and strangely muscled.
It all seems worth it when we look at the long neatly stacked rows of firewood. (The art of wood-stacking was one of many unexpected skills Kristin brought with her from the old country.) More to the point it will keep off the winter chill.
Two or three more days and the lion’s share of the firewood operation should be over – at least for this year.
Then all we have to do is learn to plough snow. “It can’t be that difficult,” I ventured to a neighbour. Apparently it is. All angles and depths and pathway calculations.
In preparation for the task, a huge plough is sitting boxed in our garage complete with baffling installation instructions as to how to mount it on our truck.
With General Winter on the march, it will soon be time to swing into action on that front too.
But first its off to Vancouver for a week. Dig out our fancy towny clothes, sip cappuccinos, watch artsy movies and lounge through those huge, slightly industrial, bookshops.
We may be well on the way to hill-billydom. But we’re not quite there yet.