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"How's yer Poulan workin'?" (humor from big-tree country - Loon Lake, Washington)

As traumatic as relocations are, no childhood move can compare to a midlife migration, especially when that resettlement is from urban to rural, from white-collar French Provincial furnishings to ring-around-the-collar Early Garage Sale.

When I moved from The Big City to tiny Loon Lake, Washington, I transported myself from a world of tall buildings, camcorders, and cellular telephones to one of tall trees and four-wheel-drive pickup trucks where the majority of the working population happily eke out livings in the forest, and where the chainsaw seems to have replaced the Dow jones as the most frequent topic of conversation.

I have been told there are activities more hateful than transferring the accumulations of half a lifetime from one house to another, but those who told me this have since disappeared, and I suspect they were lying. For unadulterated abomination, nothing beats trying to squeeze a 32-inch city range through a 31-inch country door.

After 12 hours of this and similar masochistic endeavors, I was ready for some serious diversion, not to mention dinner. When I saw a sign in the window of Mike's Place Tavern advertising Home-Cooked Burgers-The Best You Ever Ate, I went in. It was my first contact with the natives.

Inside, the bartender hunched over his well-worn bar watching a baseball game on TV, and around the pool table, a sprinkling of loggers and woodcutters washed away the hard day's grime-and postponed the inevitability of tomorrow's grime-with pitchers of cold beer. I took a stool, ordered, and nodded congenially to a man a couple of places down who wore a green hard hat tilted daffily on his head. He had obviously begun washing away his grime much earlier than the others.

When he winked, grinned a sloppy grin, and moved to the stool adjacent to mine, my stomach did that little hop, skip, and jump it always does when I know I'm going to be required to converse with someone whose breath I could ignite with a flint and steel.

"So, howsh yer Poulan workin'?" he asked before he had even settled.

As much as I wanted to create a good first impression on my new neighbors, my labors had made me edgy, and I value congenial drunks only slightly more than phone solicitors. "That's kind of personal, isn't it?" I snapped.

The man leaned back on his stool, wobbled a bit, squinted his eyes, and then sort of shot forward, catching himself just before his momentum crushed him against the bar. "Ain't you the one with the Poulan?" he asked. "Didn't I mesh with yer Poulan a couple weeksh back?"

Sir," I said coldly, "no one but my doctor or my wife messes with my poulan. "

Again, the man wobbled as he leaned backward to focus, and again, he shot forward. "A Husqvarna?" he wheezed.

"Sorry to hear that," I replied. "Perhaps you should quit smoking."

Right about then, the bartender interrupted with a cup of coffee and a smile. "Don't mind Sid there," he said. "He runs a fix-it shop outta his house. Darn good, too. Never forgets a chainsaw, but he ain't beans when it comes to faces." The bartender stepped back, cocked his head, and eyed me carefully. "Jacobsen, right?"

"No-it's Liere," I said.

He scratched his forearm and looked embarrassed. "Never heard of it. Must be one of them new Japanese models. I took you for either a Jacobsen or a Dolmar. "

And so it went. Were it not for my recent history, I think I could have settled much more readily into this small northern community. The move, after all, had been by choice, and I like the people just fine. They have no inclination to pretense. What you see is what you get.

The problem was going to be in establishing some mutuality, finding some common ground. In Loon Lake, Washington, a man's identity begins with his chainsaw, and I did not even own one. In Loon Lake, the natives view with suspicion a man who does not know his McCulloch from his Sachs, and I thought both were department stores.

I trace this inadequacy to the way I was raised. When I was in grade school, my father had a chainsaw, but I never heard it run. I thought it was merely something that is taken periodically from the garage to be repaired, a functionless device like my sister's exercise bike. Taking the saw to the repair shop was, I thought, part of a ritual-like walking the dog. "Well," Dad would say on a Saturday morning, "I guess I need to take the 'ol saw in again."

Yup," Mom would say back. "It has been a couple weeks already. I'spect it could use the exercise." Somehow, when she said this, I always got the feeling Dad wanted to smack her.

Between trips to the small-engine repair, my father would loan his saw to relatives. Later, when it came back, he would spend several hours with it in the garage practicing his cussing, and when he had perfected some of the more difficult 10- and 12-letter words, he would storm into the house, grab the phone, and try them out on those same relatives. After that, I wouldn't see the saw until it was time for another walk.

It was while metamorphosing from child to teenager that I learned chainsaws actually have a function, but it was an uncle rather than my father who taught me this. At the time, barn dances were regaining popularity, and on Friday nights, most of the teenage population of Spokane would race into the country to attend one or another of these wholesome events sponsored by various civic groups or churches. The theory of the dance givers was, I believe, that the smell of good alfalfa would discourage immoral and illegal activities among the dance goers, but what it really did was give us kids a place to hide our beer. Anyway, my Uncle Archie and his girlfriend, Sheeba-both were three years older than I-picked me up one weekend, and we drove to a dance at Samuel's Barn up on nearby Peone Prairie.

Throughout the evening, Archie and his male friends kept disappearing between sets, but the trouble didn't begin until Archie returned to the dance floor from one of those visits with Johnny Walker and discovered Sheeba wound around the hulking frame of Benny Samuel, the son of the establishment's owner. Archie knew he could not take Benny in a fair fight, so he fumed silently, stalked the perimeter of the floor, and then left.

When he returned, he had a chainsaw. It was spitting wildly, and Archie was red-eyed and grim. Without a word, he marched directly to the towering center post in the middle of the barn and proceeded to cut through it.

In a cloud of shrill screams and blue smoke, the roof sagging, Archie then went to work on the cattle stalls. By the time Mr. Samuel and a couple of hired men finally subdued him, he had accumulated quite a pile of kindling. Needless to say, I was impressed by Archie's decisive statement, but I didn't see that a chainsaw would fit anywhere into my future. After all, I hardly knew Sheeba.

My next experience with a chainsaw, and the only time I actually attempted to operate one, was several years later during midwinter on a frozen lake. This time my cousin, Dewey, was cutting a hole for ice fishing. Quickly, impressively, the long blade roared through 18 inches of ice, but before completing the job, Dewey shut the machine down and handed it to me.

"Ever handle one of these?" he grinned.

I shook my head. "Don't go to barn dances any more," I said.

Dewey looked at me curiously and seemed like he was about to take the machine back, but he continued talking. "I'll start the saw, and you finish up the hole," he said. "Whatever you do, though, don't stop till you're done. "

Less than a minute later, the blade roared through the ice and began to throw a spray of slush as I bore down to complete the task.

"Keep at'er!" Dewey hooted, prancing about just out of reach of the frigid roostertail that was now catching me just under the chin and ending up in my boots. "You got 'er now! "

As it turned out, Dewey eventually caught 17 perch that day, and I caught a cold and spent the afternoon in the car trying to make my toes wiggle again. Dewey had been lucky I didn't catch him before the saw ran out of gas. It's surprising how fast a fat boy in a parka and moon boots can run with a chainsaw nipping at his heels.

When I moved to the big timber country of Loon Lake, Washington, that winter experience with Dewey was my only hands-on involvement with a chainsaw, and frankly, I had seen nothing to make me think I would ever want one of my own. Eventually, though, after weeks of being virtually shunned, I figured something out: It wasn't that my neighbors disliked me for not having a chainsaw, but just that without one, I was providing no barometer for measuring my accessibility. Loon Lakers value their privacy and that of others. If two of them meet at the post office or mercantile, the accepted, traditional method of determining whether the other wants to visit is to say, "How's yer saw runnin'?" If the answer is Fine," the conversation is over. The person addressed has other priorities, no offense intended. If the addressee desires more of your time, however, he says, "Not fer beans; how's yers doin'?" or "Can't complain; how'bout yers?"

Still reluctant about buying a chainsaw, but even less thrilled about the possibility of spending my remaining years as the village pariah, I went to see Sid about purchasing a used one.

"I think I'd like something in yellow," I told him. "A quiet, little, yellow one. "

Sid shook his head and looked worried. "Only quiet saw I got 'roun here is that one there in the corner, and it don't run a lick. Innards is shot. " He chuckled nervously. "Give 'er to ya fer 20 bucks. "

Don't run a lick. I had heard those words before from my father's garage, usually sandwiched between impressive strings of professional-quality profanity. It gave me an idea. Suddenly, the whole dilemma became ridiculously simple. "I'll take it," I said.

"Gas can is extry," Sid said, pocketing the bill.

"Won't need it," I said. My saw was perfect the way it was.

On the way home, I stopped by the post office. Inside, one of my neighbors, Ransey Sadler, was studying the wanted posters on the wall.

"How's yer saw runnin', Rans?" I called.

Ransey looked up, beamed, and dug his hands into his back pockets. "Can't complain," he said. How'bout yers?"

"Don't run a lick," I complained, but say ... did you hear the one'bout the widow jones and the cement salesman . . ."
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Forests
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Author:Liere, Alan
Publication:American Forests
Date:Nov 1, 1989
Previous Article:Environment, economics, and forestry's future.
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