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The Lincoln-log syndrome.

His feet planted solidly apart, knees bent slightly, the man brandishes the chainsaw like an assassin might wield an AK-47. Through oily, acrid smoke, sweat glistens on his bulging biceps and naked chest, and above the taut, fine line of his mouth, a scarred hardhat is pushed back to expose a curly hank of virile, dark hair.

The chainsaw roars, chewing at the huge pine and spitting its white flesh contemptuously to the ground; the tree shudders as the undercut is completed. The long, toothed blade withdraws, growling impatiently, then bites again into the soft trunk this time from the other side. In seconds the vanquished giant bows, leans forward, and submits. Living tiber cracks and tears as the tree plummets downward amid ripping branches and a lusty, victorious "Tim-m-m-ber-r-r!"

The conquest complete, the man steps back from the stump and spits. Then he spits again. He has watched macho men on the TV sports network. He knows macho men spit a lot. He revs the saw and wades into the sea of fallen branches and needles, simultaneously spitting and severing limbs. The limbs are not his own.

When I first began to dream of building a log vacation home from scratch, the above was what I envisioned. Strong, determined, virile, and a good spitter, I, like my forefathers who wielded crosscut saws and Lincoln Logs, would assault, conquer, and reduce to possession an American wilderness--in this case a 20-acre

woodlot north of town surrounded by condominiums and owned by my wife's mother.

"You want to what?" Lacey was folding laundry, gingerly but hurriedly separating my shorts from the dish towels as if the prolonged union of the two might create an iconoclast that would take over and replace the wallpaper in the washroom. I knew she had fantasies of her own.

"I want to build a log house,"I told her again. "From scratch."

Lacey grunted, smiled absently, and jerked another dish towel from the gaping maw of my boxers. Then she plunged both hands into the laundry basket and came up with a squirming mass of cotton and elastic. She was humming the theme song to Davey Crockett.

"Lacey,"l said angrily, pushing the laundry basket aside, "you're not listening. I want to build a log house; I've always wanted to build a log house. Now that mother wants that 20 acres thinned, I think we should act on our fantasy."

"I'm listening," Lacey said dryly, "but I don't know why."

"Fold," she said. Then she glared and added, "And what do you mean by OUR fantasy? MY fantasy leans more toward warm sand and coconut oil." "Okay, MY fantasy,"l admitted. Then I related to her the image of the man of my dreams-- the man I could be. I left out nothing.

Lacey listened, I must admit, with little more than a couple of mirthful snorts. "But you don't have a hardhat or a chainsaw. You don't have bulging muscles or dark hair, either. In fact, you don't have any hair," she said, proving once again she has absolutely no imagination, is incapable of a good fantasy, and has a mean streak besides.

Despite my wife's frivolous comments, I was determined to pursue my dream, and when I began drawing up house plans and calculating the number of logs I would need, she waded into the muddied waters. Lacey said it was because turning me loose alone in the woods with a chainsaw was a threat to our relations with neighboring Canada and perhaps world peace, but I knew better: Lacey had seen the bay window I had included in the floor plans for my vacation home, and there isn't a woman alive who doesn't want a house with a bay window. There isn't a man alive who knows why women want that bay window, either, but I personally suspect that some sort of weird but pleasurable ritualistic ceremony is performed there just prior to their Wednesday afternoon bowling league.

The next morning, Lacey and I loaded the truck with an assortment of begged and borrowed logging apparati, some of which we neither recognized nor had the slightest clue as to function. Our primary benefactor was Herb Groshoff, our magnanimous but somewhat eccentric neighbor. If Herb was a pair of pants, he would be a "slight irregular." He had already donated a chainsaw, a hardhat, and two pairs of pink fuzzy slippers to our endeavor, but as we pulled out of the driveway, he hailed us and came across the yard dragging a long-handled device with a metal tip and a single tong like an ice hook.

"You gonna take a peavey?" he asked when Lacey rolled down the window.

Lacey fixed Herb with a glare that could have melted his polyester bell bottoms. "If it's any of your business, I just went," she said. When we turned the corner, Herb was still frozen, open-mouthed, on his front lawn, holding his peavey and trying to figure out what had transpired.

Actually, Lacey and I had hoped to cut more than a single log the first day, but as events developed, we felt pretty good to get the one. In fact, when it finally smashed to the ground, narrowly missing the cab of my pickup, I was almost giddy. There was a whole lot more to downing a pine than making an undercut and yelling "Tim-m-m-ber-r-r-r!"

The worst mistake we made was assuming the tree could be made to fall where we wanted it to fall, despite its slight lean in the opposing direction. When, instead of crashing downward, it twisted on its stump, remained upright, and pinned Herb's $400 chainsaw beneath 2,000 pounds of trunk, I was extremely disappointed. Herb, as I mentioned, was a little strange, and I didn't know how he would react if I told him I had abandoned his saw in the woods. It would be difficult to explain that his Stihl was hanging by the blade from a ponderosa pine somewhere on my motherin-law's 20 acres.

Had Lacey not included in our gear as an afterthought her great-grandfather's old chicken-butchering hatchet, I'm sure our relationship with Herb would have deteriorated. Even so, were I ever to encounter a similar situation, I would take my chances with deterioration because I would never, ever again attempt to chop down a 50-foot ponderosa with the logging equivalent of a butter knife.

When the tree finally fell four hours later, the stump looked like it had been gnawed by an intoxicated beaver with a severe underbite, my hands looked like chopped liver, and the saw bar was bent so sharply it resembled a grub hoe. I didn't figure Herb would much like that, either, but getting that first log on the ground was a small victory for the good guys. Lacey told me that toward the end I was whimpering, but I shook it off. I figured I would have plenty of other weekends to fulfill my fantasy. My only actual disappointments were that in the excitement I had yelled "Holy Bleep" instead of "Timber" when the tree came down, and that exhaustion had prevented me from generating enough saliva to spit.

During the following weekends, Lacey and I learned a lot about felling trees. We learned that even when they don't lean, trees don't always fall where you want, a point emphasized when a large pine caught the tool box and gasoline can, driving the can into the ground and flipping the tool box through the air like a comet, spewing its contents like so many asteroids. This wrong-way tendency causes the cutter to scream, but as in my first experience, it is usually something other than the traditional, macho "Tim-m-mber-r-r!" "Run for your life!" was one of my favorites.

We also learned that a well-sharpened chain is unselective, unforgiving, and always hungry. It will easily slice through boot leather and denim, but barbed wire and rocks take longer, and a purple stocking cap will bind up the teeth and kill the engine. Afterward, this same cap won't keep your ears warm and makes you look like you're wearing a plate of purple spaghetti.

Until I began logging, I thought widow-makers were small boats, and I guess if you live on a large body of water, they are. In the woods, however, a widow-maker is a tree that hangs up on another tree as it falls. You can't ignore it, and the process for bringing it to ground is every bit as terrifying as a tax audit. The first time Lacey and I experienced this aberration, I flipped a coin to determine who would mince in under the half-fallen tree and cut down the other tree that was holding it up. Lacey lost but refused to go. "It's called a widow-maker," she said. "That means you go."

With Lacey watching the tottering tree and me watching her for the signal to run, I went to work with the saw. Surely, I thought, this will be my opportunity to display a taut, fine-lined mouth and perhaps a little virility besides. At the very least, I figured, I can spit a couple times. Sadly, it was not to be.

Bringing down a widow-maker was terrifying; my cotton mouth made spitting impossible, and my gritting teeth made my mouth appear overly large. The word "trust" took on new meaning as I wielded the saw almost blindly while watching Lacey's face for the slightest twitch that might indicate a change in the tree's position. Midway through the ordeal, I stopped cutting long enough to remind her I had recently buried a large sum of money, and were I to die unexpectedly, she wouldn't find it in a million years.

Eventually, the widow-maker came down, the first of several to so enchant me during the next several weeks. After the fifth or sixth experience, I was compromising some on my visions of becoming a man's man and concentrating heavily on merely maintaining a few masculine characteristics.

Even this modest goal was challenged one Saturday when I held the upturned chainsaw in my lap while attempting to make a repair. Before long, a burning sensation in my groin area suggested all was not well. Dripping fuel from the saw's gas tank had saturated my pants and underwear, creating a considerable amount of heat on my most tender parts.

Reacting quickly if not rationally, I took off in the direction of the pickup, yowling like a tomcat in love as I tried to shed my clothes. Succeeding only in getting my jeans and shorts to my ankles, where they were intercepted by my boots, I nevertheless continued a mad, yowling hop around the truck, until I stumbled and fell backward. Seizing this opportunity, Lacey jumped on my chest and attempted to douse the burrung with a can of diet root beer. In the meantime, her mother, who had just driven up to see how we were doing, jumped to some erroneous but understandable conclusions. We didn't even know she was in the vicinity until we heard her terrified "Oh, my gawd!"

An hour or so later, the fire between my legs had cooled somewhat, Lacey's mother had returned shaken and unbelieving to town, and I had felled the last tree of the day. When it dropped, its branches caught the tip of another, much smaller tree, bending it to the ground at a right angle and pinning it there like a catapult. When I waded into the foliage and began limbing the larger tree, I inadvertently straddled this catapult, and when my saw released the tension by cutting through the pinrung branch, the smaller tree whipped upright again with a whuppp ! Lacey later told her friends I was flung into oblivion, but that is entirely inaccurate as I flew scarcely more than six feet. Lacey also told her friends I invented several new words, but that is wrong also; I had known them a long time. It was just that I was saving them for a special occasion, and nothing is quite so special to a man as being racked in the groin by a catapulting yellow pine. It beats fingernail smashing and shin knocking all to pieces.

Lacey wanted to laugh, but knew better; there was always the chance I would renege on my promise to build a bay window. "Well, Mr. Davey Crockett," she said when my eyes began to uncross. "That will make the highlight films for sure."

Cautiously, I rocked up to a sitting position. "Did we bring the peavey?"l croaked.

"Right here," Lacey said. "You going back to work?"

"Use it to roll me to the truck, dear,"l directed. "I'm going home." Then, almost as an afterthought, I tried to spit, but the saliva caught the end of my white mustache and hung there like a Christmas ornament on a frosted tree. I grinned feebly at my wife. "Just checking,"l said. Obviously, the man of her dreams was still waiting in the wings.

Humorist Alan Liere peels a lot of logs and lives out his strange fantasies form a home base in Loon Lake, Washington.
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Title Annotation:on felling trees
Author:Liere, Alan
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:Planting for tomorrow.
Next Article:Winning the peace.

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