Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Luck of the draw

The wind fizzed through the seedless grass stalks as I lay there on the hillside. Not yet warm enough to remove my shirt and feel the sun on my skin, but certainly a promise of a better afternoon than yesterday. I had seen enough of cloudy days for a while, and was in need of a little warmth to restore my vitality.
Peering through my eyelashes, I could just make out the fine traces of the mares’ tail cirrus clouds appearing stationary in the sky, like sweeps of white paint from an almost dry brush across the cyan canvas. Feeling the warmth of the sun through my sweater, it was hard to imagine that those clouds were crystals of ice, hung out to dry on the jet-stream, travelling at high speed. It was only the fact that they were six miles above me that made them appear so still, unlike the occasional fluffy cumulus  that blocked out the sun for a few seconds as it chuntered past and over the hill.

Allowing my eyelids to close again, I took pleasure in the thought that I had chosen to use today as an opportunity to take off and spend time communing with nature, in the company of no-one, and to just let the day wash over me. It was pretty quiet out here – just the breeze to sing to me, with the occasional lark trilling overhead as I’d slowly climbed the hillside. I was in no hurry to get to the top. I had no need even to arrive there at all. This wasn’t a conquering climb. I was more interested in the journey than the destination, and that journey could take all day as far as I was concerned. If I thought I had discovered the right spot – this hollow out of the wind but facing the sun – I might not even go any further.
I had breakfasted like a king – a solid meal that would last me all day, so no need to carry anything with me either. This was really how I liked to travel, wearing just enough to keep me from the cold - not overburdened with unnecessary items “just in case” there was rain, or I got hungry or thirsty. Sometimes it was good to have to make the best of what you had – no insurance, just resourcefulness or resolution. Besides, I was no more than an hour or two from comfort in any direction – nothing much would harm me today.
Lying supine like this with my face to the sun was more than pleasant, it was positively heart-warming. It was almost impossible not to smile at my good fortune at the situation I had arrived in. I breathed deep and slowly, making each breath take a little longer than the last, stretching my lungs to their full extent, and exhaling until there was no breath left inside them. This really was just what I needed –  a complete change of air.
The feel of the turf beneath my back was pure delight – sufficiently yielding to allow my bones to rest easy, yet supportive enough to not create pressure on any particular part of my body. There wasn’t even any jutting stone or misplaced pebble to cause me discomfort. It was as if the earth had been moulded around my form, then sown with grass years earlier, in preparation for my arrival at this place, at this time.
The slope of the hillside was just sufficient to allow me to look straight across the valley to its southern side if I lifted my head slightly. The shadows were long on that side, as the sun was  not high enough in the sky to have long been shining over the ridge. I picked out a house high up the valley side, at the end of a road that ran like a shallow diagonal slash across the hillside, and I thought how unfortunate its inhabitants, to always look out on sunshine, but to live most of the year in shadow themselves. Not for me, that one.
Relaxing my neck, I closed my eyes again, and sank once more into my reverie.
Oh yes – this was the life for me, alright.

I’d had enough of people for a while. It wasn’t that they were uncaring, it was more that they were just too busy to see beyond their own manufactured misery; constantly chasing after the next style, the next acquisition, the next necessity, the next whatever, and getting into all sorts of debt to do it. The problem as I saw it was that they never actually appreciated anything that they already had, and didn’t take the time to learn to enjoy it before moving on to the next big thing.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m no Luddite – whose only desire is to stay put on this earth and never learn anything new, or do anything different. I’m as inquisitive as the next man – possibly even more so than him. It’s just that I find it difficult to get caught up in the perpetual tail-chasing that is modern social living.
I’ve always worked hard in my life, and enjoyed doing so – never thinking that the world owed me a living, and never coveting what I couldn’t afford. Of course, there have been times when I have wished that life could have been a little easier – times perhaps when I could have thrown caution to the wind and taken a little more  time out, but looking back over it all, I am satisfied that all has gone very well.
The sun continued to shine, and I felt myself drifting, with nothing more to think about than the smile on my face, and the knowledge that I could do this anytime I liked, now that my six numbers had come up.

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Chainsaw

He quietly cursed as he pulled on the starter rope. This was the third attempt to get the chainsaw started , and the second time he’d adjusted the carburettor settings. It was always the same when he’d had the machine apart for cleaning; it never liked to start first time. Putting his toe back in the handle grip, he gave the rope another sharp pull, and the saw spluttered – Excellent! Pushing in the choke lever, he pulled again, and the saw chugged into life. This was the dodgy bit. He mustn’t try revving it up yet, or it would die on him, and be the very devil to start again. The sound of the exhaust was almost like laughter, the saw teasing him, and urging him to pick it up and flick the trigger, but no, not yet – it wasn’t warm enough yet. Let it run another minute. The saw slowly settled back to a more regular chuckling noise, and he recognised from the changing tone that the engine was warming up now, and the playful pixie in the engine had given way to a more workmanlike wizard – one who was ready to magic its way through any log  that it was rested on.
He picked the saw up and tickled the trigger, the saw burst into life, and the chain whirred, flicking sticky chain-oil forward. Tweaking the trigger again, he immediately pushed the back of his wrist against the safety bar, which jumped forward, and the whirring chain stopped dead. It was said to stop in milliseconds, but a chain could still do a lot of damage, given the speed it was travelling at full tilt. Still, a few milliseconds was better than seconds in the event of a kick-back or snag,  or stumbling while working which is such an easy thing to do.
Thinking to try out the newly cleaned saw, he revved it and gently laid the chain against the bark at the butt end of a recently felled tree. The chain started to bite and a shower of chips streamed out from the underside of the blade, shooting out behind the saw off to his side. The cut felt good and even, each tooth of the chain cutting the same sized chip as the one before it, a smooth flow of minute slices which would make easy work of the log. Pushing the toothed dog at the front of the body into the bark, he pulled harder on the trigger and levered the saw to put more cutting pressure on the chain. The exhaust note deepened as the engine worked harder to take a deeper slice. This wasn’t necessary, as the saw would perform best if not under pressure, but this was a trial to see how the engine performed under pressure, and it passed with flying colours; no coughing or spluttering; the settings were just right for a change. There was nothing worse in his book than a saw spluttering or failing halfway through a felling cut, leaving him “out on a limb”, with little control over how the tree would behave until it was finally through.
He was pleased too that the newly sharpened chain was in excellent condition – he took great pride in his sharpening prowess. It had been the same with hand-saws – there were very few could sharpen and set a saw these days, very few who had even used a two handled cross-cut before, but that was how he had  started, and it was a fine introduction to learning how to “feel” trees, and just what was going on inside them. It just seemed to him that there was very little point in having an edge tool that didn’t have a sharp edge, be it a saw, axe, chisel, knife, plane or chainsaw. Sure, you could burn your way through a log with a blunt chain and a lot of brute force, but what was the point of that, when your saw could zip through a log like a hot knife through butter with the least effort on your part, and the greatest satisfaction of a job well done?

He knew that he’d never fell another tree. His forestry days were long over, and the Juggernaut logging machines had come to take the work from him. One man in a cab could fell, sned, cut to length and roughly stack a tree in a matter of seconds, and all without even having to lift his backside out of the seat.

Picking up the saw again, he gave the trigger a squirt, and turned, smiling, to the stack of logs he was to cut today.
All his cordwood was delivered these days on a truck, (all of it spewed out by the loggernaut machine) but nobody would ever deprive him of the pleasure of using the tool that had been an extension of his right hand for so much of his working life.

©Rob King 2014