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Saga of the reluctant woodcutter.

Our hero discovers that one does not take lightly the garb one wears while wielding a chainsaw.

Though theories may differ, I have always felt hoarding is a primitive instinct rather than learned behavior. Hidden in the genetic composition of all men, it remains largely recessive in the 20th century, but like night blindness or schizophrenia, it can't be ignored when it surfaces. The trick to keeping it dormant is to refrain from activating the gene by, for example, not freezing that first batch of home-grown raspberries or stashing that first fireplace log in the carport. My former best friend, Cyril Moody, is a case in point, and were it not for my red pig costume, I might be also.

Cyril was an exasperating family man but an excellent buddy. Of all my friends, he was the only one who would put his other life on hold to accompany me on my spontaneous outdoor expeditions throughout the state. Wild turkeys reported on Huckleberry Flats? Cyril and his 4 x 4 would pick me up at the house. Kokanee hitting in Cedarbow Bay? Cyril and his boat could meet me at the dock in an hour. Behind, he left a series of half-built decks, unmowed lawns, and partially painted bedrooms. Sadly, there were no diversions the week Cyril installed his woodstove, and when the job was complete, I lost him forever to the clamorous song of a chainsaw.

While state laws, personal ethics, and poor reflexes minimized Cyril's hoarding of fish and game, nothing could stop him once he began cutting firewood. Cyril became a five-, then a six-, then a 10-cord-a-year man. Never mind that his stove burned only four cords each winter. Never mind that he sold his boat to make additional room for tamarack and red fir in the carport, or that his backyard became a maze of stacked wood and blue tarps. Cyril became an addict; he was obsessed. There was no way he could use it all, but he was cutting wood for the joy of seeing it accumulate.

Instead of shotguns and casting reels, Cyril began talking maul weight and bar oil, two topics I found even less stimulating than an exercise bike. He missed the grouse opener to "put in another cord" and even traded his deer rifle for a wood trailer. Finally, Cyril Moody gave away his black Labrador retriever "so I can put a couple cords in the kennel," and that was the last straw; I tiptoed quietly out of his life in the spring of '87. Sure, I had a woodstove--it came with the house--but I had been buying my fuel, and after my friend's convincing collapse, I decided electric baseboard heat would do me just fine in the future.

Despite this resolve, an unforeseen circumstance early last spring caused me to re-evaluate my lifestyle. An extended drought caused electricity charges in my area to skyrocket, creating havoc with an already Spartan budget. With baseboard heat I could no longer afford accustomed luxuries like medication for my athlete's foot or milk for my mush. Reluctantly, I secured a permit, borrowed a neighbor's chainsaw and red hardhat, burned the pine needles in my pickup bed, and made ready to become a woodcutter.

Although chainsawing attire had never before been a consideration at my house, I assumed from what I had seen around the neighborhood that grubbiness and tastelessness were priorities. No problem. For years I have maintained three separate wardrobes ranging from grubby to tasteless to "it'd make a good rag." Choosing from the first two closets, I extracted a pair of short, plaid-green, polyester pants, a blue-checkered shirt covered with piling tar, and a pair of decrepit, low-cut, black tennis shoes that had never seen a court. Underneath it all went a red, wool union suit I had once worn when attending a Halloween party dressed as a sow pig. It was musty from years of storage and badly moth-eaten, and the rear flap was stapled together, but what made it so distinctive were the two rows of six Playtex baby bottle nipples I had glued to the chest. Though I debated briefly about removing them, I figured the costume might someday be useful again, and no one was likely to see it anyway under my shirt. Without further thought, I donned the hardhat and drove toward North Baldy Mountain.

Despite my recalcitrance for the task at hand, the day progressed pleasantly. A mere 40 miles from home, I located a stand of dead black pine. The sun came out, the chainsaw performed admirably, and my truck was filling quickly. At noon, when I stopped for a sandwich and removed my hot, long-sleeved shirt, a whitetail doe stared at me from just below the road, and somewhere in the forest behind, a ruffed grouse drummed on a log, sounding for all the world like an old tractor coming to life. Good stuff.

I resumed working a short time later, but even as the sun grew hotter, sweat burned my eyes, and the pickup overflowed, I did not stop cutting. The fresh smell of pine pitch was like an elixir, and the clean, even cuts gave me a feeling of self-worth. Here was something that made sense: I was surrounded by nature, I was saving money, and I was being revitalized both physically and emotionally. Frustrations, personal rejection, and other accumulated irritations disappeared in a fragrant cloud of wood chips and sawdust. Mental images of inept accountants, oafish clothing-store clerks, and laughing tax auditors were ripped from the mottled bark and sprayed into oblivion. Power. Control. Fleeting insanity. I was King for a Day. It was glorious. Working until dark, I stock-piled for a second load.

On the way out, my truck complaining under the fruits of honest toil, I remembered the checkered shirt hanging over the stump where I had shed it. Oh well, I thought, I'll get it tomorrow. I adjusted my hardhat and drove on, happily oblivious to the six Playtex nipples jiggling on my chest.

There is nothing subtle about a broken axle after dark. Clunk! It happened when I was barely out of the woods and onto the county road. Having the mechanical inclinations of a twine ball, I didn't even bother with an examination of the offending part. My vehicle was broken. Eventually, it would get fixed, but it was not I who would perform the magic. I had learned many years before that socket wrenches and cold metal responded to neither pathetic whimpers nor angry threats. It was getting chilly, but in the distance, I could see a light off in the trees, and I walked toward it, hoping there would be a telephone and lots of sympathy.

A dog barked as I walked up the gravel driveway and climbed the steps onto a long, railed porch. I knocked and then smiled amiably as a girl of about 12 pulled back the curtains and stared at my face through the glass. The door opened tentatively, throwing the light of the kitchen outside. "Hi there," I began. "I've got a little prob . . ."

"Maaaaa," she hollered over her shoulder. "There's a pig at the door." Inside, there was a shuffling and a large, round woman came into view carrying her knitting under a beefy arm.

"What's the ruckus out here . . ." She stopped short of the threshold, her eyes widening as the ball of yarn and two knitting needles fell to the linoleum. "Oh my ... Oh my ..." she sputtered. Then she shrieked loudly, "Hennn-reee!" and threw herself against the door. In seconds, her male clone rounded the corner of the house wielding a two-bitted axe.

"What the hell are you women . . ." He stopped short of the porch steps and gripped his weapon with both hands. "Awright, fella," he said menacingly, "jus' hold 'er right there." He advanced cautiously. "Git off the porch," he ordered.

"But sir . . ." I tried to explain, still unaware it was my pig costume that was causing the commotion.

"Don' say nothin', prevert," he growled, "lessen ya wants I should mash yer head with this here axe. Git off the porch and lay on the groun'!"

I complied, losing my hardhat in the process. "I suppose a cup of coffee is out of the question," I said from my back, the pine needles jabbing through my underwear.

"Don' say nothin'," the man repeated. He glared at me savagely. "An' 'specially don't oink." He poked at me with the axe handle. "Ma," he said, "call Sheriff Hanks."

Eventually, the mess was cleared up, but not before I was treated to a night in a small-town hoosegow with an inebriated logger who reminded me of a character from the movie, Deliverance, and made me mighty nervous. When I was released the next morning, Sheriff Hanks graciously apologized and drove me to my truck where I discovered my entire load of wood had disappeared. Then, he drove me home where I thanked him profusely before getting out, bought five raffle tickets on a chainsaw, and assured him he should not look for me again in his jurisdiction until he saw the Devil wearing a Santa suit.

During my brief incarceration, I had thought a lot about Cyril Moody and my reluctance to take up woodcutting in the first place. Without misgiving, I dropped the raffle tickets in the garbage can on the way up the driveway. Cyril, old man, I thought, that was a close one. You go to your church and I'll go to mine, 'cause from now on, I'll only be a pig on Halloween.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Forests
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Humor
Author:Liere, Alan
Publication:American Forests
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:Mr. Sign Hill.
Next Article:American Forestry Association 1990 annual report.

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